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Welcome to Country: opening of the 42nd Australian Parliament [verbatim transcript]

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Parliament of Australia Department of Parliamentary Services

Parliamentary Library Information, analysis and advice for the Parliament MEDIA TRANSCRIPT

This transcript is taken from a recording, and freedom from errors, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

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Welcome to Country

Opening of 42nd Parliament

Speech by Matilda House

12 February 2008

MATILDA HOUSE: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Matilda House Williams. I’m a descendant of Harry, Black Harry, Williams. I would like to welcome you here today to the land of my ancestors, the land of the Ngambri people.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge my ancestors and elders for laying a strong foundation for our younger generation and for those who are coming forward.

Murra Yerribi Yarrabi Dyunial Buranda. Our journey, our future.

First, let me acknowledge the Prime Minister, President of the Senate, Minister Macklin, Leader of the Opposition, members, senators and their guests.

I also acknowledge our elders; our ancestors; and all those who have gone before us, and I acknowledge all Australians in all our diversity.

Welcome to today’s ceremony in this great building that houses the Australian Parliament. And like all houses, it leaks.


I won’t say too more about that.


I’m meaning the water.


This National Capital, Australia’s, the meeting place of Australia’s elected leaders and the seat of government for 80 years, has been known to my people as a meeting place for thousands of years.

In 1927, at the opening of Parliament House, among the crowd stood an old Aboriginal man dressed in his old suit, barefoot, and dogs at his side.

His name was Billy Clements.

On seeing Mr Clements, a policeman asked him to leave because he wasn’t dressed appropriately for the occasion. Mr Clements did not want to be moved on, after all this was the land of all our ancestors.

I stand here before you in this same great institution of ceremonial dress and barefoot— honoured and welcome.

Quite a contrast to that received by this ancestor whose footsteps I follow.

Our nation is marked by great success and honourable deeds, and some not so, some made right and some yet to be made right—like tomorrow’s apology.

I will never forget the High Court decision on the Native Title and the Torres Strait Islander men and women who fought for it. I remember our excitement when the Barunga Statement was presented here.

I remember laughing and dancing with my Wik sister on the steps of the High Court when the Wik decision came down.

And I remember our pride when an Aboriginal man was appointed Secretary of a federal department—another first.

Today is also significant because it is the best time in the history of the Australian Parliament. A Prime Minister has honoured us, the first peoples of this land, the Ngambri people, by seeking a ‘Welcome to Country.’

This transcript is taken from a recording, and freedom from errors, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

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In doing this, the Prime Minister shows that we call, proper respect—to us, to his fellow parliamentarians, and to all Australians.

A ‘Welcome to Country’ acknowledges our people and pays respect to our ancestors, the spirits who created the lands.

This then allows safe passage to all visitors.

For thousands of years our peoples have observed the protocol.

It is a good and honest and decent and very human act to reach out to make sure everyone has a place and is welcome.

On behalf of the first people of this land, Prime Minister, I now return this honour.

On this occasion of the opening of the first Parliament of the new Australian Government, I welcome you, the elected representatives of every part of this nation.

I acknowledge the trust given to you on behalf of all Australians, to represent our interests, to make wise and just decisions and to honour the ancestors in whose footsteps you will follow.

With this welcome comes a great symbolism.

The hope of a united nation, through reconciliation we can join together the people of the oldest living culture in the world and with others who have come from all over the globe, and who continue to come.

And together forging a united Australia so committed to succeeding that we will not be denied.

Prime Minister, my grandchildren have handed you a gift, a message stick, a tangible symbol of today’s ceremony. The message stick, it’s a means of communication used by our peoples for thousands of years. They tell the story of our coming together.

With this renewed hope and our pride, our strength is refreshed.

Like our ancestors, we can reach new heights soaring on the wings of the eagles.

Thank you very much, and welcome to the land of my ancestors.

This transcript is taken from a recording, and freedom from errors, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

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This transcript is taken from a recording, and freedom from errors, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

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