Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura
In greeting you today in the language of the Gadigal, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we gather, I pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging. I extend that respect also to all Elders across Australia.
As we started our new year, with the traditional fireworks display on Sydney Harbour, with its explosion of colour, it seemed in some ways that we were at the start of a new era – the settling in of the new normal of which we spoke during the height of the pandemic. For the last 12 months we have been out and about, going to the theatre and restaurants, being with family and friends. Some of those warm days are back as we enjoy our traditional summer break. We won the cricket.
As one might expect with a new normal, things are not quite the way they were. There is still an apprehension in the community about COVID, which has not gone away. However, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of acting responsibly both in respect of our own health and the health of others. The pandemic also put in the forefront, in ways which we may not have previously fully appreciated, the depth of our scientific expertise.
The Chief Health officer and her deputies became household names. Behind them stood a dedicated team of scientists and doctors. Supporting them in service delivery were the amazing front line workers, who did it tough. Their legacy as committed professionals, along with so many others, including our teachers, is testament to the outstanding spirit of the Australian community.
As the news cycle spun to other things, the natural disasters of the past 3-4 years seemed to fade into the distance. But their impacts have not passed.
We have the good fortune in Australia to live in a society that has what can only be described as an outstanding record of volunteering and community engagement. The work of emergency workers during the pandemic and during the natural disasters demonstrated that.
However, in speaking to organisations around the state, I heard that during the pandemic there was a tendency to become inwards-focussed as community connections were curbed. In coming out of the pandemic, it was as though COVID had sapped some of the energy out of the community.
Whilst that also has had an impact, it does give us the opportunity to recalibrate as we navigate our new normal – to appreciate what is valuable, to refashion, if necessary, the way we do things, to be responsive to needs in new ways, to build people up – not knock them down, to understand different viewpoints. These are the cornerstone of a tolerant society.
Australia is the best country in the world in which to live, with its sweep of diverse natural beauty and its diverse communities. It is a place where you can smile every single day.
No community, however, is without blemish. There are problems in our community, which are different for different people, but they are all our problem. In listening and responding to each other we can all be leaders and protagonists for change, in big and small ways. Often, a hand reaching out in support is the most important gesture of all.
Let us empower each other to live to our fullest potential. Let us all contribute and shape our community. Let us be generous. Let us inspire the next generation.
Yirrabana Australiagal – this way Australians.Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, NSW Governor in 2023