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National Emergency Medal and ACT Emergency Medal Presentation Ceremony, Canberra


Good evening, all.

It is an absolute pleasure for Linda and me to be with you on a very special night, as we recognise local contributions as part of a national effort in combatting the 2019-2020 fires.

I want to begin by thanking Aunty Violet. Thank you very much for your Acknowledgement to Country.

If you have been to 'Yarralumla' on any occasion in recent years, you will know I normally say that if you're a Canberran you'll know how beautiful this part of the country is, and we thank the Ngunnawal people for looking after it for us for generation after generation and pay respects to their elders, past and present.

It's a funny country we live in.

Tomorrow, Linda and I were going to head off to the northern rivers area of New South Wales to revisit a number of the communities that have been recently devastated by the floods. But the SES has warned us off from that given the deluge, which has just about hit the area.

One of the villages we were going to visit was Rappville. You might recall Rappville was devastated by the fires in 2019-2020 and now has suffered flood damage as well.

The hotel they worked so hard to rebuild and recommit themselves to - the centre of the life of the town - has been flooded. So it's a funny country that we can't get back to a fire-hit area because of floods. We were also off to Nymboida and Ewingar and a few of those other towns that suffered the same fate in 2019-20.

But, closer to home here, we were watching anxiously, like most Canberrans, as smoke billowed to the south of Canberra. Indeed, I have a series of photographs I took from an aircraft travelling down to East Gippsland at that time with those cumulus clouds that built up, that local weather effect, and it looks like a nuclear bomb had gone off to the south of Canberra. It was an absolutely terrifying sight.

I was safely flying over the top of it. Many of you in the audience today were on the ground doing the hard yards, protecting your fellow citizens here in Canberra and the surrounding regions.

Tonight, we're here to say, as others will say countless times, thank you for what you did for this community. Thank you for the big heart for community you all have that you reach out in difficult times to help.

Thank you for possessing what we at Government House call a 'richness of spirit' that we see writ large around Australia. It's a richness of spirit that is pouring out over northern New South Wales and South-East Queensland at the present time.

The National Emergency Medal is an important part of Australia's Honours and Awards system.

You are receiving a medal that says, in our list of achievements, activities and contributions to the country, you rank in that national system.

That's an important message to you. That from the Government to the people of Australia, we appreciate greatly what you have done and we want to recognise it. It recognises committed, courageous and sustained service to our nation.

Again, for those who were out in the fires to the south of us in the Orroral Valley, and also at Pialligo - 86,000 hectares of land burnt out, about one third of the ACT land mass. Linda and I have been down and visited communities along the Murrumbidgee River and so forth just south of town and seen that devastation firsthand, spoken with RFS members, both ACT and New South Wales, and heard their stories about those fires. Some of the stories are absolutely terrifying. Those memories stay on.

And in the middle of that, we experienced one of the largest hail storms in the history of the ACT. Emergency Services and all these attendant agencies were asked to pivot, turn, respond and sustain over a difficult period. And not only here, because, if I ask you to put your hands up, many of you deployed elsewhere during that season as those fires went from Peregian Beach in Queensland all the way around to Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Again, you have demonstrated that you support Australian communities and I am prepared to go out and do something about it. That's what this medal means tonight.

Now, Linda and I have attended about 10 ceremonies to date, as we've travelled. We can't get to all of them, of course. I think I've signed off on about 26,000 medals to date. I say that number not to diminish individual contributions, but to express to you the enormity of the contribution that has been made. The size of the event we're involved in, you cannot downplay it in any way, shape or form.

Every 12 months I write to Her Majesty to explain to her what we've experienced here in our country. In one of those letters I referred to, as you do being a former Arts student, Dorothea Mackellar's poem, 'My Country', and the second verse which begins, 'I love a sunburnt country'. I said to Her Majesty that, yes, you know all these bits, you've heard this poem many times before. But in the second last verse it says but regardless of what this country throws at us, she pays us back threefold. She pays us back threefold. And you know why, Your Majesty, she does that? Because of the quality of the Australian people. Again, that's what we're recognising tonight.

Thank you - as both Governor-General and as a resident of the ACT - for what you've done for the community here. I have enormous respect for your Services, Departments and Directorates and the work you have done to preserve and keep safe this community.

Tonight we're going to celebrate what was a difficult time. As I travel around the country and visit communities, I say we must find occasion to celebrate. We've been hammered enough. We need occasions to celebrate. So, let's celebrate tonight your achievements, your big hearts for community, and the richness of spirit that you are such a fine example of. Congratulations to you all.

On a closing note, to the families. I don't put you last because it's not important. To the families that support you, I know the value of families to supporting people in uniform, regardless of the type of uniform. My sincerest thank you for everything you've done to enable these men and women to go out and serve their community. Your support is just as valuable in making that contribution as any other effort by any other person.

Thank you.