· Councillor Pat Tanks, Mayor, Longreach Shire and Mrs Tanks
· Ms Fiona Lake
· Distinguished guests all
Thank you for your warm welcome to Marlena and me, on our first official visit as Governor-General to this wonderful region of Australia. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we’re gathered, and I acknowledge their traditional wisdom and living culture.
For the past week we have experienced the very best of outback Australia, from Adelaide to Port Augusta, Quorn to Wilpena Pound, to Parachilna, Leigh Creek, Red Gorge and Iga Wart in South Australia, on to Lyndhurst, Marree, Dulkaninna Station, Cooper Creek, Andewilla Waterhole, and Birdsville. And here in Longreach which as much as any other region, epitomises the very best of the Australian heartland.
In recent months I have been saying how there’s something in the ‘genes’ of our ancient continent that inspires Australians to work together and to care for one another. Certainly, a sometimes unforgiving but often captivating landscape has caused people to be innovative, to pull together, to defeat depression, war, drought, fire and flood.
It’s often said that Australia has become the great nation it is – a mature, friendly democracy – because Australians have not lost their capacity to face adversity square on. We are adaptable, we are innovative (prepared to “have a go”), and we believe in a “fair go”, namely justice and mutual respect.
Much of what forms the Australian character hasn’t happened by chance. Rather it has been born out of significant hardships endured and overcome by our pioneers, who were prepared to “get on with it.”
Fine examples locally include explorers William Landsborough (noted as Australia’s ‘forgotten explorer’ who had faith in the development of Queensland’s Central West) and Nat Buchanan who reported the good grazing country in the region of the Thomson River while searching for the overdue Burke and Wills expedition.
It is quite impossible to realise just how much was endured by our pioneers. One remembers that “goods came from Bowen by bullock team, and mails by packhorse, but they were often delayed for weeks, even months on the way by flooded creeks.”
Pioneers recall going four or five months without flour, tea, sugar or soap. And how sugar bags were measured to make overalls and hats, shoes were made from calf and kangaroo skins, furniture, beds and chairs from bullock hides stretched over saplings, smaller chairs from the casks that the dried apples (the only luxury) came in.
And the early struggle for survival was not helped by the audacity of Harry Readford (Captain Starlight) and others who stole 1,000 head of cattle and ran them overland toward Adelaide in 1870.
But what of today?
I know your regional community is, like others in Australia, focussed on the challenges of providing employment opportunities, catering for an ageing population, attracting young people to remain in the community, and maintaining suitable infrastructure and educational and medical services to support families.
And as you are showing, there are solutions. For example, Longreach, to its great credit, as Queensland’s largest outback township, has fashioned itself into a highly desirable tourist destination with magnificent facilities such as the outstanding Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Outback Founders’ Heritage Museum. Other institutions such as the long established Longreach Pastoral College (now the Australian Agricultural College), together with your magnificent sheep and cattle industries, goats, aquaculture, bush tucker, cottage crafts and organically grown beef underpin the wealth of talent, science and nous in the district. What a tremendous model you have created here for other communities to emulate.
I hope that with all these initiatives you are also emphasising the advantageous life style of country communities including its strong sense of family, security and tranquility.
I would suggest that you invite ambassadors in Canberra to visit the region to see for themselves that investment in niche industries and potential immigrants will provide good returns.
Your regional initiatives underpin the theme I have been emphasising across Australia, urging Australians to aspire to become what I call a “Nation of Excellence – the Global Example”.
A nation whose people – both individually and collectively – strive to be the very best at everything to which they turn their minds and hands. A nation that boasts the most stable families, the best institutions, the strongest economy, the best trades and professions, the best environment; an admired national ethos.
But of course Longreach has done far more than build up successful enterprises. Recently in Turkey for commemorative ceremonies at Anzac Cove and Lone Pine, I thought of the townships I was about to visit this week and the enduring contributions made by the young men and families of Longreach to Australia’s role in World War One. The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour records local names such as Robert Baillie, killed in action, whose memorial is located at Lone Pine, and Robert Bogie, also killed in action whose memorial is at the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, Gallipoli.
And there were many, many other natives of Longreach who served during World War One, their graves in France and Belgium, and others who tragically paid the supreme sacrifice in the later conflicts of World War Two and beyond.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here to learn more about Longreach and to spread the word about outback Australia to the millions of Australians living along our coastline, to encourage them to come out and take a look and perhaps stay. Mayor Tanks and councillors, Marlena and I thank you for making our visit such a memorable one. We very much look forward to returning to this wonderful region in the not too distant future.
One of my other very pleasant duties this evening is to formally open Fiona Lake’s wonderful photographic exhibition of Stockwomen and Stockmen.
Like Australians everywhere I am keen to know more about our outstanding cattle industry and the inspiring people who make it happen – the men and women who have the vision to create farming enterprises, who somehow manage the fluctuations of the seasons and commodity prices, who understand the environment, those who muster the mobs, the ringers and who all continue to create the Australian outback character.
I think we all share a great sense of pride in our rural communities, not only for their successes over many generations, but also for their grit, determination and skill – and dry sense of humour.
Indeed in Fiona’s exhibition how pleasing it is to observe an industry that is constantly evolving in the 21st century, whilst remaining tethered to the great heritage which has been part and parcel of Australian life for more than two centuries.
All of us who have travelled throughout Australia or lived remotely feel the connection, and have our own stories of what the land and its events represent. I’m so pleased to see that Fiona Lake has done such a magnificent job in telling her own. It seems to me that Fiona’s search for excellence through the lens, has been approached in such a way that it easily evokes life in the bush even, I would suggest, for those who have never been west of Australia’s great coastal sprawl.
Ladies and gentlemen. May I say again how delighted Marlena and I are to be in Longreach, and we look forward to meeting you this evening. Finally, it is my great pleasure to declare the Fiona Lake photographic exhibition officially open.