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Sunday, 26 January 2020
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

I am honoured to be here this morning.

Yvonne, thank you for your Welcome to Country. I continue to be humbled by the generosity of spirit demonstrated each time such kindness is extended, as we gather on Aboriginal land.

 I also thank the performers and presenters at this Ceremony this morning.

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and all Aboriginal people here today and around our nation, represented by the 250 Aboriginal flags we see before us.

The WugulOra ceremony, as the opening ceremonial event of Australia Day, following on from the Vigil held here last night, commemorates for us the story of connection to this land.

Indigenous culture and connection to country is the foundational story of this continent and its islands. As the theme of NAIDOC 2015 reminded us: We all stand on Sacred Ground.[1]  You and I, we work, shop, walk and sleep in the land of the oldest living culture in the world.[2] If we allow ourselves to feel the land under our feet, we begin to understand this connection.

65,000 years of continuous Indigenous culture!  What a wonder it is to listen and to learn  - and when we do  - what do we hear:  we hear the story of we hear custodianship of and care for the land. 

Last year, I came across a beautiful piece of Aboriginal cultural practice from northern Australia – Dadirri ... a practice found throughout this land:

"Dadirri is deep listening

It’s listening to the land

Listening to the spirit

Speaking through the land

Listening to the stillness

The stillness in the water

The wind blowing

The birds singing

The ground humming."[3]

And when we do listen to the land we learn how to care for the community who walk on the land.

Intrinsic to that is care for and of the community who walk on the land.     

Sadly, overshadowing everything at the moment is the catastrophic impact of the bushfires on the land, particularly on the Eastern seaboard,  and on those who walk on the land.   

Lorena Allam’s words helped me to get a sense of this. A few days after watching the fires approach Jervis Bay on New Year’s Eve she wrote:

Like you, I’ve watched in anguish and horror as fire lays waste to precious Yuin land, taking everything with it – lives, homes, animals, trees – but for First Nations people it is also burning up our memories, our sacred places, all the things which make us who we are.

It’s a particular grief, to lose forever what connects you to a place in the landscape. Our ancestors felt it, our elders felt it, and now we are feeling it all over again...”[4]

Gathering here this morning has given me pause to reflect on  the theme of this Australia Day 2020: Everyone, Every story.[5]  In this beautiful location, named after the wonderfully feisty Cammeraygal woman, Barangaroo[6], the 250 Indigenous flags tell the first story. 

In the past few months - as Dennis and I have moved around the state - it is apparent that ‘everyone has a story’ and all of our stories are connected.  The drought and the bushfires have brought that home – in the time given by volunteers, in the generosity of individuals and corporations in kind and in money, in the way the Yuin and other communities have reached out to the entire community notwithstanding their own devastation; in the way the whole community has worked together.

Everyone, every story” is all of us and all of our stories.  


[4] Lorena Allam is descended from the Gamilaraay and Yawalaraay nations of north west NSW and is the Guardian's Indigenous affairs editor. 

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