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Monday, 15 February 1999
Page: 1847


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) (4:18 PM) —For those of my generation, Neville Bonner was an outstanding Australian, a legend in his own time and a household name. Nothing I can say in this condolence motion will further add to the recognition, respect and admiration that was given to this great man. I will very briefly comment on a couple of minor but very personal experiences that I had with Senator Bonner.

I was always so proud that Neville Bonner was a Liberal—and, to a degree, it reinforced my commitment to the Liberal Party as a party for all people. I was ever so proud of the party when Neville Bonner came to be elected as Australia's first Aboriginal parliamentarian. He always used to emphasise in those early days—and I was only a bit of a kid then—that he was `a Senator for all Queenslanders'. He was always very proud of his Aboriginality, but he emphasised that he was in the Senate as a Queensland senator and he was there to represent all of Queensland.

I remember when I was a bit of a young thing, still floating around in my home town of Ayr, I had a flat that had become renowned for the parties that used to be held there—this was before I was married, of course. And I remember Neville Bonner coming to town one day in his travels as a Liberal Senator for Queensland and he stayed in my flat. I always thought that that showed what a great man he was—he did not really care where he stayed, and he was as happy to stay in my flat, even with its reputation for wild parties, as he was to stay anywhere else. He was that sort of a person, and you could relate to him. I barely knew him, but he called on me because he knew I was involved in a very small way in Liberal politics and I was so pleased that he did that and was able to stay with me overnight.

The other incident is a little amusing, but it showed what a great man Neville Bonner was and what great respect people had for him. I was in the Apex Club, which is a young man's service club. We were having our North Queensland convention in Innisfail—I think it was in the cultural centre, which had several big auditoriums in it—and 200 or 300 young men were attending. On the Sunday morning—this was after a heavy Saturday night, as those things tended to be—we were discussing fairly mundane business when, suddenly, there was a bit of a stir at the back of the hall and in strode Neville Bonner with a couple of minders. He walked straight up to the front table. In the middle of whatever we were discussing, the Apexians stood as a person and applauded him so warmly. He got to the top of the table and sat down. The chairman of the meeting looked at him and he looked back. The chairman eventually got up and whispered to him and it became obvious that Neville Bonner had come in, quite uninvited, to the wrong room in this centre.

Never to be outdone, Neville, with a bit of encouragement from the audience who started clapping him when that was explained, got up and gave a 10-minute off-the-cuff address about his role and the role that service clubs played. It was a warm experience for both the Apexians and, I think, for Neville Bonner, that he was so well-regarded and such a significant figure that he was able to get away with what would, for other people, have been an embarrassment. I am happy that Neville Bonner got his life membership of the Liberal Party in recent years. It is, indeed, great recognition for a great Australian. I am honoured to have known Neville Bonner and I extend to Heather and his family my condolences.