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Annual Federation Dinner, Corowa, New South Wales: address.



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HIS EXCELLENCY THE RIGHT REVEREND DR PETER HOLLINGWORTH, AC, OBE,

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF

THE ANNUAL FEDERATION DINNER

COROWA, NEW SOUTH WALES,

SATURDAY, 28 JULY 2001

Thank you Glenda. And my thanks to members of the Corowa District Historical Society for the invitation to take part in this significant event tonight.

While the Federation Dinner has taken place annually for the past 17 years, this year has a special significance for Corowa and for the nation.

For a town like Corowa, which has never lost its sense of the past, 2001, the year for the Centenary of Federation is cause to celebrate and share a proud history.

The opportunity to visit here during my first month in office underscores for me the enormous privilege of being appointed as Australia's 23rd Governor-General in the year of our centenary as a nation.

It is therefore a great pleasure to be here tonight among a large group of people, all of whom take such a keen interest in Australia and its nationhood - past, present and future.

May I say a particular word to the ancestors of those who took part in the Corowa Conference of 1893 and in the Federation movement more generally. I understand this is the biggest ever gathering of descendants, and how proud you must feel to be here tonight at a time when growing numbers of Australians are taking such a keen interest in your heritage and how it has affected all of our lives ever since.

Corowa is a symbol of popular initiative.

The story of the 1893 Federation Conference in many ways represents the emergence of Federation as a people's movement and, in that sense, it is central to explaining to Australians of today why the centenary is not simply the anniversary of a system of government.

It's about the remarkable achievement of Federation, which brought six Crown Colonies together, a fact which so many Australians today take for granted precisely because it hinged not on the outcome of a revolution or armed struggle, but of a popular vote in peaceful circumstances.

It's about too-easily forgotten moments in history, which influenced the course of our nation. Like the

moment in Corowa 108 years ago when Dr John Quick from Bendigo proposed that a new convention should be called, this time with delegates elected by the people. May I quote some words from Professor Geoffrey Bolton in his excellent book on Edmund Barton:

"Stimulated by an increasingly restive gathering, who by the second day of the conference were complaining of too much talk and not enough action, Dr John Quick of Bendigo came up with a critically important recommendation. The second Federal Convention should comprise ten delegates from each colony elected by the voters instead of being nominated by their parliaments. This would provide a democratic legitimacy which politicians alone could not command. Quick's suggestion was enthusiastically adopted, and it gave Corowa a lasting significance. Federation's credentials were established as a grassroots movement linking democratic aspiration with the earthier commercial advantages of Australia-wide free trade."

And the proposals from the convention in the form of a draft constitution would then be submitted to the people of the six colonies by referendum.

The Centenary of Federation then is very much about the role the people have played in shaping a modern democracy and a nation.

For many of you here tonight, the Centenary of Federation has been a focus of activity for a number of years - of academic research, community work, lobbying efforts, the teaching of local children. Long before much of the rest of the country paid attention to the anniversary, your links with this historic town gave it real meaning at the local level.

I should add here that the public recognition Glenda has received in being named Citizen of the Year for this district demonstrates the great value of the work that's been done by the District Historical Society. I do not want the occasion to pass without publicly acknowledging that sterling work.

By actively promoting Corowa as the "Birthplace of Federation", you've drawn visitors from across the State and the nation, and attracted significant numbers of school children exploring the nation's origins.

Of course, visitors only need to stroll down the main street towards the bridge to gain a practical experience of the significance of Federation.

To imagine the other side of the Murray as having a separate identity and destiny is as inconceivable to the people of Corowa today as it was to the town's residents in the lead-up to Federation. The popular slogan of the day referred quite simply to "One People, One Destiny".

From its earliest market research studies, the National Council for the Centenary of Federation found that the people of the border towns demonstrated far greater awareness and understanding of the nation's history.

They could more easily identify the Founding Fathers and define the meaning of the term Federation.

They were also more confident in expressing opinions about planning for the centenary celebrations.

For them, the connection between past and present was a tangible one, almost a part of the community's identity.

And, as former chairman of the National Council for the Centenary of Federation, I'd have to say that this early research - the differentials in knowledge that we found, people's desire to share their own stories, their profound interest in learning more - went a long way towards shaping our approach to the centenary in the broader national context.

Such an approach has incorporated events, projects and communication materials which have a strong focus on history and on the role of ordinary Australians in building the nation.

Starting in London just over 12 months ago now, and culminating in Sydney on 1 January and Melbourne on 9 May, the centrepiece events of the centenary have commemorated key events in our past - the passing of the Australia Act of 1901 in the British Parliament, the granting of the Royal Assent, the Proclamation of the Commonwealth, the swearing in of the first Governor-General and the first sitting of the Federal Parliament.

While some commentators have criticised this focus on Australian history, the broader population has consistently indicated through the Council's ongoing research that they see this as the most appropriate and valuable way to mark the centenary - this, by way of vindicating our chosen strategy of national awareness raising.

And they have turned out to events, large and small, in their hundreds and thousands.

Of course, these events have not all been scholarly and cerebral.

With a total of more than 2000 events on the program for 2001 - from conferences and seminars to a Federation Fathers beard-growing competition in Eden and a Festival of the Saveloy in Tennant Creek -Australians have combined their yen for knowledge with a great sense of celebration and fun.

With the centenary year just over half way through, it's probably too early to define the legacy all of this might leave across the nation.

For Corowa, some of the benefits are quite concrete - a new bridge, the magnificent restoration of the Oddfellows Hall opened earlier today, and a new-found recognition of the town's significance through publications, documentaries and other materials produced during the year.

The town is reasserting its place in the nation's history and I believe that 2001 has enabled the people of Corowa to reclaim a certain, justifiable pride in their heritage and their role in the overall scheme of things.

And that's particularly true of the schools, which have taken full advantage of the centenary, getting behind it with creativity and gusto.

Certainly, one of the most important, potential legacies of the Centenary of Federation, here and across the nation, will be the memories and incentives it's offered to Australian school students - the leaders and

citizens of the future.

I know that Corowa is as interested in the nation's future as it is in the past and in hosting the Corowa People's Conference later this year, the town will provide the backdrop, once again, for important discussions on the Australian Constitution and the future governance of our nation.

I wish Corowa well for all the activities taking place for the remainder of the centenary year, and thank Glenda and fellow members at the District Historical Society for the enormous contribution you continue to make to success of the centenary.

The Corowa Free Press described the conference dinner in 1893 as "a repast which would have done credit to any city caterer".

Such sentiments go without saying these days in this district which boasts of fine food and good wine.

Tonight's dinner has surely been a great success, and I thank you for your initiative and for the hospitality you've shown to me and to Ann.