Unveiling of John Williamson AM statue, Tamworth NSW
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Kamilaroi People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.
Linda and I are delighted to be with you at this ceremony to unveil this statue of John Williamson AM.
John, congratulations. To be immortalised in bronze is a great honour. You’ll be in good company, with statues of country music legends Smoky Dawson, Slim Dusty and Joy McKean close by.
Your contribution to the music industry for more than 50 years now is well known to this audience and fans of country music all over. Ask any Australian to associate a name with the Tamworth Country Music Festival and a great many would say John Williamson.
But you are more than a musician.
You served as the inaugural Vice-Chair and later as President of the Country Music Association of Australia and continue to be a passionate advocate on social and environmental issues.
In 1992 you were appointed a Member of the Order of Australia ‘For service to Australian country music and in stimulating awareness of conservation issues.’
In your own words you may have ruffled a few feathers on occasion, but there’s no doubting your love of Australia and commitment to issues important to Australians. You are a respected voice in our national conversation, admired for your wisdom.
Throughout your life and career you have worn your heart on your sleeve.
From those early ‘Talent Quest’ days with your family growing up in Quambatook, northern Victoria, to ‘Old Man Emu’ which catapulted you into the limelight in 1970, to ‘Mallee Boy’ and through to the many awards and honours, you have stayed true to yourself.
Your catalogue of work captures beautifully the Aussie larrikin and our unique Australian landscape. Your words and music – and your ability to connect with people – instil hope and optimism. You make us feel good about ourselves.
As you said to painter, Anh Do, back in 2018: ‘No-one has your fingerprint. It’s yours and you own it. Find your strengths and work on them.' There’s a message in that for all of us, particularly young people.
I also want to acknowledge the work of sculptor, Tanya Bartlett, and the fundraising efforts of a local community group. Tanya – you have an amazing talent. You have three ‘fingerprints’ already here in Peel Street with a fourth about to be unveiled.
And, to the Community Group whose idea it was to erect a statue of John in Australia’s Country Music capital – thank you! The statue will be a wonderful addition to the streetscape.
In closing, I want to quote a few lines from Cootamundra Wattle, from the Mallee Boy album:
‘Don’t buy the daily papers anymore, woman
Read all about what’s going on in hell
They don’t care to tell the world of kindness
Good news never made a paper sell.’
I’m pretty sure today’s ‘good news’ of the unveiling of a statue of John Williamson AM will see the papers run out the door!
John – congratulations on all that you have achieved. You are great Australian. It is a special day for you and wife, Meg.
I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone here today when I say you deserve this statue – this recognition, this honour – as you have enriched the lives of many Australians.
Enjoy this moment.