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Monday, 13 January 2020
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC

Welcome to Government House.  Welcome to Gadigal Land.   Welcome to Sydney Festival 2020.  Welcome to the first of our receptions here at Government House this year. And Welcome to each and every one of you:  artists and performers, local and international, supporters and special guests of the Sydney Festival.  

Our local community knows and honours the land on which we stand.  For our international guests, we are standing on land of the oldest civilisation on earth - a 65,000-year custodianship - represented in art and song and storytelling. The Gadigal, the traditional owners of this particular land, are one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation. In following in their welcoming tradition, I pay my respects to Gadigal Elders, past, present and emerging and to all First Nations’ artists and performers here this evening. 


The opening line of a story captures a unique point in an author’s storytelling journey.  If that line captivates, or intrigues, the reader, the viewer, the listener is hooked.  The opening line of a very good story continues to resonate with each new audience and each new generation. 

Take the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us … in short the period was so far like the present period …” 

And who can forget the image created by those first six simple words from Out of Africa – significantly aided by Meryl Streep’s haunting delivery: “I had a farm in Africa”?

And then there is the memorable opening sentence of Joan Didion’s The White Album[1]: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” 

This year’s Sydney Festival comes at a time when there are those who need to tell their stories in order to live.  Those stories are not the stories of the 2020 Sydney Festival itself.  However, coming in the middle of these devastating bushfires, where the chirp of a bird is precious, there is a poignancy in this year’s Festival like none other.  A felt poignancy around community and around the stories of our communities. 

At this time of blackened landscapes and smoky skies, of fires with minds and personalities and behaviours of their own, of the sound of the wind bringing it over the hill like a gigantic out-of-control steam train, the Arts provides a different catalyst, bringing disparate parts of the community together.   

Thank you, Sydney Festival, and all the Australian and international performers and artists for the part you are playing, lifting our spirits and supporting the all-important fundraising efforts in the community.  

Last year, nearly half a million people celebrated with the Sydney Festival, making this festival both culturally significant and successful in its contribution to the NSW arts sector and the NSW visitor economy. 

As important as its economic impact is the flow-on benefit for our local arts community. Recognised as the largest commissioner of new Australian work in our nation, 20% of this year’s Festival performances are new productions. 29% of the program represents international acts and 71% Australian, of which 17% comprises Indigenous performance, including several featuring First Nations’ language.

What is equally significant is the cross-fertilisation of ideas when artists from around the world come together.  Those creative interactions are often the genesis of new ideas for theatre, art and performance worldwide.

Particular thanks has to go to our Arts Minister – were it within my power to do so I would rename his portfolio the ‘Ministry of Devotion’.  I don’t think I have seen a more active devotee of the arts.

To our energetic and brilliant Festival Director - Wesley Enoch - also Director of the play Black Cockatoo[2] - you have, again, provided Sydney with an exceptional three weeks of theatre, song, music and dance. 

To David Kirk and the Sydney Festival Board, Chris Tooher, Executive Director, and to the entire Festival team, from those who look after ticket sales and the accessibility of people with disabilities, through to the technical wizards, thank you.

Finally, without the generous support of the Partners, Sponsors and Donors, our Sydney Festival would not enjoy the success and the stature it has, not just here in Australia but around the world.

From where ever you have come, from around Australia or from other parts of the world, I am sure that you will take away from this Sydney Festival, memories, connections and friendships that are more than special.  May we continue ‘to tell stories in order to live.’

Please join me in a toast:

To a ‘Bran nue dae’[3] and a new decade of the Sydney Festival!

[1] Sydney Festival 2020, 8-12 January 2020

[2] Sydney Festival 2020, 4 January - 8 February 2020

[3] Sydney Festival 2020, 15 January - 1 February 2020

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