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Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales

Government House Sydney honours First Nations by fostering a shared sense of belonging for all Australians. We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, who are the traditional custodians of the land on which this House stands, and pay our respects to Elders past and present, and all Aboriginal people here today.

I am delighted to host you here today at this launch of the 2020 program of the AmCham Academy and excited for what is ahead for you this year.

Some of you will know that before becoming Governor, I had a long career in law. Over the years I dealt with many corporates, numerous criminals, a few of whom were corporates (!), a number of vexatious litigants and innumerable legal arguments both good and bad.  Only once did I have cause to engage in the use of national emblems, but I have never had cause to immerse myself in vexillology.

Vexillology[1],  (as we know), is the study of flags.  As a serious study of its own, it is a recent concept, ‘formalised’ by the US scholar Whitney Smith in 1961.  But it has a long pedigree, numerous rules and many standards. 

For example: there are certain basic patterns –, the canton, the Greek cross (which is found on the Swiss flag) the Symmetric cross on the flag of Georgia, the chevron on the flag of Palestine and so on.

There is an almost uniform way of flying the flag –s o that it reads from left to right from the observer’s point of view with the flagpole on the left.  An exception is with some Islamic flags containing script, written from right to left so that the obverse is designed with the hoist to the observer’s right.  

Flags are flown upside down to signal distress and at half-mast to honour a death.

Flags are all around here at Government House. On your way through the front gates you passed four: the Australian flag; the flag of New South Wales; the Aboriginal flag, evocative of the desert with its red, yellow and black, and the blue, green and white flag of the Torres Strait Islanders.  

The design of the Australian flag was the result of a national competition.  From the reported 32,823 entrants there were, serendipitously, five winners, including Ivor Evans, a 14-year-old boy from Princes State School in Melbourne, so awarded because their designs were almost identical. Unfortunately, that meant that the 200 pound prize had to be split 5 ways.[2] There was a period when, with some poetic licence, one could say there were two versions of the Australian flag, one with a red background and the other blue, which was proclaimed as the Australian flag in 1953. 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were each proclaimed as a flag of Australia in 1995 under the Flags Act. 

Three flags fly on top of the House; the National and State flags at the front and a little further back towards the Opera House the Governor’s Standard is flown when the Governor is in the State.   I must say I had never expected my general whereabouts to be on such public display.  

As for “Old Glory” as originally proclaimed in 1777,  there were 13 stars – which, in the terms of the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777, [3]  represented: a new Constellation, whereas the Southern Cross on the Australian flag is the most familiar star pattern in the southern hemisphere.  But we do have in common the red, the white and the blue – symbolic of our shared British heritage.

Like our flags, the US and Australia have a lot in common. Our long and close relationship has been built over many years of co-operation, trade and diplomacy. We may have celebrated a “Centenary of Mateship” in 2018 – but the relationship between the US and New South Wales stretches back much further.

The first American Consul was appointed here in Sydney in 1836, which makes the US Consulate General in Sydney the oldest American foreign service post in Australia. Consul-General Hudson-Dean today continues to build on a fine tradition of over 180 years of foreign service in Sydney.[4]

To provide some context to this, in 1836 this House was very much under construction, and it was still 65 years until Federation, and the first flying of what is now our national flag on the 3rd of September 1901.

In 2017-2018, the US was our third largest two-way trading partner, and our largest foreign investor by a wide margin, with two-way investment at the end of 2017 of over 1.5 trillion dollars.[5]

It is no wonder that nearly 500 companies in Australia are members of the American Chamber of Commerce, and that in New South Wales alone, 33 companies have signed 70 participants for this year’s Academy program.[6]

The quality of our relationship was evident in that very human moment when US Firefighters received spontaneous applause as they arrived at Sydney International Airport in January this year.[7] By the end of January 237 US wildfire personnel had been deployed in this bushfire season.[8]  

This has been part of a two-way relationship between our firefighters for over 15 years. In 2018, a team of 188 Australian and New Zealand firefighters assisted their US colleagues deal with challenging fires in California and neighbouring Oregon and Washington.[9] I also know from discussions with firefighters over the last 3 months that they have learned much from their American counterparts.

This assistance has not been without tragedy, with the deaths of US aerial firefighters Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, whose airtanker crashed in here New South Wales on the 23rd of January. This crew had completed more than 140 missions since the 1st of December 2019.[10]  That is an extraordinary contribution and one cannot imagine the sorrow of their families living with the fact that these brave men were not coming home.

I would also like at this point to highlight the significant contributions AmCham member companies have made to the bushfire relief over recent months. To those represented here this evening, thank you for your donations, donation matching, in kind contributions and offers of paid leave for volunteers.[11]

So, back to those stars.  Stars shed light, help us navigate the world, provide us with information and lead us to where we want or need to go.  The fact that you are part of this program is a recognition that you have those stellar qualities!

To all Academy participants - I encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity the program offers: to learn, to ask questions and to create new networks. I will be looking forward to regular updates from the Consulate throughout the year.

Let’s toast the AmCham Academy and this year’s participants.        


[6] Information provided by Memberships & Event Administrator, AmCham NSW.

[7] A mobile phone video of this moment was featured across US news outlets

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