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Speech in response to Civic Welcome at Bourke Shire Council.

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Councillor Wayne O’Mally, Mayor, and Mrs O’Mally Councillors Mr Phil Sullivan and traditional people of the land Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for your warm welcome to Marlena and me, on our first official visit to Bourke Shire. It is a great pleasure for us to be visiting far western New South Wales, and congratulations on running such a good show on Saturday. I was particularly impressed with the number and quality of wool entries and the craft sections, as I was with the neatness of the streets, homes and gardens in the township of Bourke, reflecting considerable community pride.

The regional, mining and outback centres of Australia underpin our nation’s wellbeing and history. You produce much of the country’s wealth, and it is important I see that for myself, and thank your community.

As I move throughout Australia, what I have seen for many years, and in my discussions with regional councils and community leaders, are the repeated patterns of the rural/urban drift and the gradual decline of infrastructure and the services needed to sustain these communities. The question we all have to answer is how do we best create opportunities to encourage young people to remain in their communities, or conversely to attract city folk to settle in regional Australia?

And so, thank you, Councillor O’Mally, for the opportunity this morning to meet community representatives, and to be briefed during the day on your fruit, cotton and jojoba industries, technology, businesses and community issues.

I have been particularly impressed with your environmental techniques to manage the land in sustained drought conditions and how you are developing other industries such as leather box bush honey, goat farming and fodder barley. I note too the success of feral pig eradication programs in maintaining sheep flock numbers, and the research now being carried out to deal with mulesing.

Ladies and gentlemen. Your region is also important to Aboriginal people. There are at least 10,000 known Aboriginal sites in the Murray Darling Basin.

Aboriginal history can be traced back at least 45,000 years, with archaeological evidence from such things

as shell middens, quarries, rock shelters with archaeological deposits such as stone artefacts, open camp sites, rock paintings and engravings, axe grinding rocks with their grooves, burial grounds, and sacred and ceremonial sites.

I welcome more scientific and historical research so that we might better understand the enduring and valued features of aboriginal culture and customs.

Ladies and gentlemen. The Bourke region is geographically important as the centre of a large grazing and agricultural area, although the prosperity of Bourke in 2005 couldn’t have been envisioned by the first Europeans who travelled through here.

When Charles Sturt passed through the district in 1828, he thought that the whole area was ‘unlikely to become the haunt of civilised man’. Not surprisingly, it was during a prolonged period of drought when Sturt and his fellow explorer, Hume arrived here. On his return to Sydney, Sturt did nothing to encourage settlement.

But by the mid 1850s, Bourke was a thriving community and a vital transport node along the Darling River. For decades the town was the transport centre for the whole of south west Queensland and western New South Wales. Its port was the only efficient way to transport wool to the coastal market, and at its height in the late 1900s, over 40,000 bales of wool were being shipped down the Darling annually.

In 1862 when the township was surveyed and the first businesses opened, Bourke had ‘come of age’, holding its first court case - in the open air as it happened - its prisoner on a bushranging charge.

Stories of pioneering hardship and deprivation were common place, as indeed it seems are the tall stories. One observer noted that he had seen mirages ‘back of Bourke’ so real that when the camels rushed for them, the poor brutes would bounce back off them and return with big bruises on their foreheads; and that the place was so hot that thermometers had to be kept in the ice chests so they wouldn’t burst. And apparently all this and more was told by a man who came from a place where they whipped the fresh cream from the dairy with stockwhips.

The renowned Henry Lawson who lived for some years here, claimed that ‘if you know Bourke, you know Australia’. In many ways he is right.

Bourke has a marvellous story of diversity. Few other centres could pride themselves on:

● being home to a grand pastoral industry established in the 19th century;

● being a stop-over for Cobb and Co. coaches;

● possessing fine colonial buildings, the old weir, wharf, and lift-up span bridge;

● having Mount Gunderbooka with its wonderful springtime wildflowers and Aboriginal cave art;

● being the centre for Afghan cameleers and bullock trains; and

● possessing greats like Nancy Bird Walton who was stationed here in the 1930s, engaged mainly on

medical charter work.

These activities and personalities and many other events have helped consolidate your legendary region

which has, for many years, continued to attract thousands of visitors wanting to experience something of Bourke for themselves.

Of course there is more to the Shire than simply ‘what it looks like’ or historical memories. Inevitably there are challenges and difficulties, such as the current drought. I hope to learn more about these problems today, and to assist where I can.

Nevertheless, if one chooses to define success in purely economic terms or programs, then your region is making good use of its natural and human resources.

For example, we can see that in:

● the influence of the wool and cattle industries (worth $70 million per annum to the community in

good seasons), and the expansion of citrus and horticultural and other irrigated industries such as table grapes and jojoba (worth $70 million annually in direct payments to Bourke) ;

● the development of cotton export markets in China;

● the 700 jobs provided by the irrigation industries in direct farming, hydraulic services, harvesting

and packaging; and

● the promotion of tourism (annually which accounts for 90,000 visitors and is worth $12 to $15

million) through developments such as the ‘Back O Bourke’ exhibition centre.

Ladies and gentlemen. Youth development is an issue close to my heart, and as Governor-General I will continue to promote, especially through the development of mentoring programs.

Well orchestrated mentoring, including in subjects such as literacy and numeracy, can be extraordinarily valuable to young people in terms of improving confidence, capability and self-esteem.

Mentoring also has another dimension; in supporting young people who in showing capacity in a particular area, be it in say music, mathematics, science or sport, may need someone of influence to open the doors to opportunity and choice.

I am also promoting the value of young Australians belonging to some type of well-led, well-organised youth group or program. I know from personal observation and participation, that youth groups do improve the self-esteem, leadership potential, personal discipline, teamwork, environmental awareness and employment potential of the young - be it in scouts, environmental groups or sporting organisations. Well done on having a regional cadet unit here.

As I move throughout Australia I am posing the question to communities how they might further contribute their skills and experience for these purposes.

Councillor O’Mally, thank you for making our visit such a stimulating one and for supporting our program in regional New South Wales. I know how tough it has been for so many of you in this fourth year of severe drought. I commend the citizens of Bourke for the courage, determination and skill you have displayed in dealing with this problem and the social consequences arising from it.

I intend learning far more about Bourke by the end of the day, and Marlena and I both know we will be leaving, determined to tell the story of your innovation, your triumphs and difficulties overcome to our fellow Australians.

Thank you.