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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10145

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (19:10): It may seem strange, but in my electorate of Dawson in North Queensland the historic European Battle of Lepanto takes a special significance 440 years after the battle itself. Six years before the battle on the island of Malta 600 Knights of St John commanding a force of 8,000 men prepared to defend Malta. The Turkish fleet was desperate to take the island of Malta, but they were repelled. The Knights of Malta would be called on again as part of the Holy League to prevent the Mediterranean becoming an uncontested highway for Ottoman forces. Had the Holy League failed at the Battle of Lepanto, the face of Europe would be very different from what it is today.

At dawn on the morning of the battle, Pope Pius V and a handful of the faithful prayed the rosary and asked Our Lady to intercede for a Catholic victory. Prayers continued in Rome while the battle raged in the Gulf of Lepanto, ending in what some historians regard as the most decisive naval battle anywhere in the world since 31 BC. Pope Pius V created a feast day, Our Lady of Victories, or Our Lady of the Rosary as it is also known, to commemorate that victory. This feast enjoys a special place in the hearts of Maltese people as it is intrinsically bound up with the history of Malta. This feast, Our Lady of Victories, also enjoys a special place in the hearts of those in my electorate of Dawson.

In the late 1800s, a shipload of Maltese migrants were indentured to work in the cane fields of North Queensland. As a result, the North Queensland city of Mackay has one of the largest Maltese populations in the world. Maltese families were attracted to Australia by migration campaigns urging many Europeans to try their luck in Australia.

But it was not luck that was required to make it in Mackay in those early days. Clearing land and planting cane was hard work. Harvesting cane by hand was very hard work. But the Maltese people are tough, resilient and passionate. Just as they did at the Battle of Lepanto, they rolled up their sleeves and persevered with hard work until the job was done. Most laboured for sugarcane farmers, but they soon earned enough money to buy a farm and start a farm themselves, often in partnership with fellow countrymen. Such partnerships were formed in all kinds of business endeavours and the city of Mackay today is a result of the very strong Maltese influence. An active Mackay Maltese Club ensures continued celebration of the Maltese culture and influence on the region. The club has a new executive now, but I want to acknowledge the work of Carmel Baretta who was the first president of the club, someone who has served in the club for a long time.

I had the very great pleasure of attending the Feast of Our Lady of Victories in Mackay on Friday, 9 September. It featured one of those spectacular processions with a statue of the Virgin Mary, of the kind you would witness somewhere in the Mediterranean, being taken through the streets in the Procession of the Rosary, followed by an open-air mass and a celebration dinner the next night.

For everyday families living in Mackay there are strong reminders of our Maltese heritage. Maltese names are everywhere, from business names and street names to respected community leaders, from the Deputy Mayor of Mackay, Darryl Camilleri, to the head of the Mackay cane growers organisation, Paul Schembri. There are business names like Borg's Real Estate and Zarb Road Transport, and even sporting greats we know like the former North Queensland Cowboy Paul Galea, or 'Galare', as the commentators used to mispronounce it. We are constantly reminded of the hard work and dedication of our early pioneering families. We are also reminded of the unerring faith of the Maltese and the good works that flow from that faith with the presence of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus at St Francis of Assisi Aged Care Home.

In closing, I would like to quote from a piece by the late Bishop of Sandhurst, the Most Reverend Joseph Grech, who had visited Mackay in years past to celebrate Our Lady of Victories. He wrote about Our Lady of Victories and the Maltese character:

Our ancestors were not afraid to face any difficulty that came their way. They were always ready to adhere to their convictions even if that meant that they had to undergo much suffering and pain.

Today, we might be living in another country, which has provided us with so many blessings and opportunities. However, deep inside us, there is still a heart that is formed and sustained by a history of bravery and faith.

I am proud to report that that strength of character and faith is alive and well in Mackay and North Queensland is all the richer for the Maltese influence over more than a century.