Skip to main content

University of Newcastle Graduation Ceremony, Newcastle NSW


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Awabakal and Worimi People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good afternoon, graduands … congratulations! Because of the pandemic many of you have waited a long time, 18 months, for today. I’m informed many of you have already embarked on your post-university career.

Good afternoon, families … thank you for encouraging and supporting the graduands in their studies.

Good afternoon, university leaders and staff from the respective schools and departments – thank you for your expertise in helping develop the potential in our aspiring Australians.

It’s a great day; it’s a great occasion – well done to all assembled.

As an occasional speaker I am not an academic, as you have heard from my background, therefore I won’t speak about any of your subject matter. I have been more the patient than the master of what you have studied, with the occasional appearance before your predecessors.

I want to talk to you today about the country you are going to be serving and working in, the people and your role in addressing their needs.

Can I take you through my last week – on Saturday and Sunday Linda and I were in Cooktown, where we participated in and observed the annual reconciliation re-enactment ceremony between the traditional owners and Captain Cook which occurred in 1770 when Cook had to beach his ship in the Endeavour River. Performed before 1,000 people this was the traditional owners and local Cooktown people re-enacting an act of reconciliation that occurred there in 1770. It brought tears to everybody’s eyes. How many people here today have heard about that first act of reconciliation in Australia? Very few, I would think.

On Monday we flew from Cooktown to Rockhampton to have a meeting without about 200 people representing the Rockhampton community as well as the Order of Australia Association – looking at people who have made a commitment to volunteer and assist their fellow Australians at a community level. From there we flew to Maroochydore and visited the Thompson Institute, which is a ground-breaking Institute as part of the University of the Sunshine Coast, looking at neuroscience, treatment for PTSD, dementia and youth mental health.

During the week in Canberra we held receptions for Painaustralia, which looks after people suffering from chronic pain, advocates for them and leads research, particularly with a focus on veterans. Yesterday morning we hosted a reception for Dementia Australia, talking with people who are living with dementia and their carers about what life with dementia is like.

This morning we re-opened City Hall here in Newcastle. Prior to coming here we visited the Mineral Carbonation International Pilot Plant, looking at how we take CO2 out of our energy producing processes in the world.

I share that list with you not so that you will be sympathetic and say we have a busy life but to share the breadth of what goes on in our country and what people are doing for each other in this country.

Now, I appreciate over the last year that you have had a very difficult time in completing your tertiary education. I study Indonesian. I am the worst online student. I have not submitted too many assessments on time over the last 12 months. And, so, I admire you. You have shown enormous perseverance in some complex fields of study to be where you are today and for that you should be extremely proud. Not many people before you have been asked to do that. I know that your parents and supporters here today will be particularly proud of what you have done.

The country you are going out to serve particularly needs the skillsets that are represented in this hall today.

Part of my job with Linda is to engage with the Australian public. Since I became the Governor-General in July 2019 – you know the list: drought, flood, bushfires, a pandemic, cyclones, and now a mice plague. As I said this morning at City Hall I often look to the hills to see if there are four horsemen coming over the top of them to deliver us with our next affliction.

But in every place we have been we have found Australians with an enormous richness of spirit. Australians who might have lost everything in a bushfire yet are out there helping their neighbours. Australians who are standing in front of you with the clothes they are wearing having been given to them by the local BIG W because they have nothing else to wear, but still giving to other people.

You live in a society, but now you will serve in a different way a society that is rich and resolute but that needs assistance. And, as you know with a pandemic afflicting us at the present time, there is an enormous demand for the fields you represent for service to the community.

Again, Linda and I have visited and spoken with many organisations involved in delivering exactly what you are now trained to do to the Australian public. I suppose that one of the silver linings in your choice of career is ‘work’ will not go away. There will be pressures on our community to deliver services that you represent in the future.

A personal plea! If you are a city doctor, nurse or health official, go bush! We need you out there. If you are looking for a new lifestyle that doesn’t include a beach, go west. We need you out there. There are communities that are desperate for exactly what you can deliver to them. So, please, think about that.

As you sit here today at this graduation you’re probably thinking 'Well done me!' We have a saying in the Military: we promote you not because of what you’ve done but because of what we think you are going to deliver. And that’s where you are today in my mind. Congratulations on getting to here but now you have an enormous responsibility to your country and your fellow people – to serve them.

Some of you will stay in your chosen field for years because that is your favourite thing to do. Some of you will, over time, take on leadership roles in your profession. Can I urge you to look at that and consider those roles very carefully because they are critical. We would not be where we are as a country today and managing our response to the pandemic if we did not have people who sat in your chair 10, 15, 20 years ago but have decided over time to take on a leadership role in their particular fields. Keep your minds on that. Yes, in the next few years you will learn the basics, you will get your core skills and you will develop from your learnings. But now you have a bigger role to play for your country.

Two quotes I’d like to leave you with. I pondered about the first one because when I graduated in 1975 – do the math; it’s a long time ago – I had to scratch my head. What did the occasional speaker say to us on that day? Unfortunately, I can’t remember. You may be in the same boat!

Professor Michelle Simmons, a quantum physicist with the University of New South Wales and a former Australian of the Year, originally came from the United Kingdom. When I spoke with her a few years ago I asked her why she chose to leave the UK and become an Australian citizen. She said because Australians take on the big problems. That’s you. Why would one of the brightest quantum physicists in the world come to Australia? Because Australians take on the big problems. And that is what your education is preparing you for right now. With regard to where we are going as a country, there are many issues before us at the present time: reconciliation, how do we address climate change, and so on.

When I was sworn-in as Governor-General I quoted the Australian author David Malouf, who wrote: ‘Australia is still revealing itself to us. We oughtn’t to close off possibilities by declaring too early what we have already become.’ That is, we are not a finished product. For all the warts we have and the goodness we have, we are not a finished product. And that product will be refined, defined and developed by you and others of the same ilk who are graduating and who are going to serve our country.

Of course, we are not perfect. There will always be challenges. But we are confident in your ability. I like your generation. You question, you query, you interact and you drive change. As I’ve said in a number of speeches, you are not like my generation and thank goodness you’re not. You will bring a fresh, new view to our country. Many of you have already done that; continue to do it.

My father said to me when I was your age that three things will not last: hair, flares and The Beatles. He was right about hair. Flares come and go. The Beatles will go on forever! That marked my generation. What will mark yours and what will go on forever? They are the questions that I think this university has prepared you to answer.

So can I thank the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor and those sitting on stage today, particularly those who will present you with your degrees, for their work in producing and bringing you to this point today. Congratulations! You should rejoice. I know your parents are. You should feel a pride in what you’ve achieved. But the next step is the biggest, and that is where to from here.

I wish you every success. I wish you to go exactly down the career path that you would like. But in the end, remember that it is not about you and it is not about me. It is about the people you serve, the people you look after, the people whom many of you have taken an oath to look after and how you are going to use this knowledge to shape, change and produce a better Australia.

Congratulations and best wishes.