Address, Welcome to Country Ceremony

02 Jul 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Our Parliament meets on Ngunnawal land.

Here, 65,000 thousand years of Aboriginal culture meets mere centuries of Westminster tradition, which the Leader of the Opposition and I represent, being here together and I acknowledge Anthony as I do all of my Parliamentary colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister who joins us here today.

We gather in respect – acknowledging the Ngunnawal elders, the ancient ceremony of fire and smoke that will commence shortly has become part of the tradition of this building, and thankfully so.

It was just over a decade ago that the first ever smoking ceremony accompanied the opening of Parliament, and I thank the Speaker and the President of the Senate for their continuing support of this as it shall always be in this place.

We couldn’t imagine this day without this ceremony. And nor should we.

It is appropriate that at the entrance of our parliament, just beyond the Great Verandah is the beautiful mosaic on the forecourt.

Michael Nelson Jagamara’s Possum and Wallaby Dreaming.

Brush tail possums.

Red kangaroos.

Rock Wallabies and more – Jagamara's Dreaming ancestors all gathering for an important ceremony.

Stirring in its subtlety.

As the artist said himself, the 90,000 hand-guillotined granite pieces present, and represent a place ‘where all people come and meet together, just like we do in our ceremonies to discuss and work things out together’.

And that captures the work, the job of this place: to ‘work things out together’.

In my maiden speech to Parliament, I said that ‘a strong country is at peace with its past’. This is a work in progress.

Being at peace with our past, being at one with our past.

While we reflect on how far we have to go, consider though how far we’ve come.

This year, my Government appointed Ken Wyatt as the first ever Aboriginal person to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians - and as a member of Cabinet and I welcome him here this morning.

And I’m pleased, as I know the Leader of the Opposition is, that he is joined in the Parliament by the Member for Barton, Linda Burney, and Senators Patrick Dodson; Malarndirri McCarthy and Jacqui Lambie. But together, between Linda and Ken, I think Anthony and I are both very optimistic about the partnership that can be forged.

Indigenous important voices that I’m confident will be joined by many, many more in the years to come.

It was a different story at the official opening of what we now call the Old Parliament House back in 1927.

Not a single First Australian was invited to celebrate.

However that didn’t stop two men.

Jimmy Clements – better known as King Billy – and John Noble.

They left their home at Brungle Mission near Gundagai and began a long walk to Canberra.

They trudged over the mountains.

Until they arrived in the nation’s capital. 

The 80 year old King Billy stood firm in front of the new Parliament and protested ‘his sovereign rights to the Federal Territory’.

The police ordered him to move on – fearing his shabby clothes and the dogs at his bare feet would offend the sensibilities of the Duke and Duchess of York who were in attendance.

An incredible thing happened.

The crowd, Australians, took King Billy’s side. 

They called on him to stand his ground. He did.

A clergyman declared that he ‘had a better right than any man present’ to be there, and that was true.

King Billy won that fight.

And the next day, he was among those citizens officially presented to the Duke and Duchess.

His long walk to Canberra paid off.

Almost eight decades later, footballing great Michael Long would also begin a long walk to Canberra – and would famously meet with the then Prime Minister John Howard to discuss issues facing Indigenous communities.

As Michael’s wife Leslie put it so well ‘when one person starts walking, someone will walk next to them…and they’ll say ‘I believe in that too - I’ll walk with you.’

So here we are. Walking together.

All Australians, Indigenous or not, walking together side by side.

Towards reconciliation.

Towards equal opportunities.

Towards Closing the Gap once and for all.

Walking in the same way a determined, steely eyed, 80 year old Wiradjuri man walked to Canberra almost a century ago.

We have a long way to go. We know. But we will walk that journey together.