Friday, 23 September 2022
Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Ii and Accession of His Majesty King Charles Iii
I rise today to add to the condolences on the passing of Her Majesty on behalf of the people of the ACT and Norfolk Island. As others have noted, over the past fortnight we have paid respect, honouring the Queen's life and service. In doing so, I also want to acknowledge the feelings of First Nations people and the history these events have caused us to revisit, as we should honestly and with compassion. What comes next will be a conversation about our future. My hope is that we can have that discussion with respect.
I met Her Majesty in 2008 at Windsor Castle during a tour of the UK with the Wallabies. I was struck by her ability to find interest in whatever conversation she was engaged in. Despite the extraordinary number of people she must have met every week, she seemed to be able to bring a real warmth and attention to whoever she was speaking with. Rather than simply sharing my own thoughts or experiences, I would like to take the opportunity to share a few short reflections from people in the ACT and Norfolk Island. Reflecting on these stories, we are reminded of the character of Queen Elizabeth as a dedicated public servant and a person whose warmth touched many people in our country and abroad. We are reminded that the Queen served through a time of great change and of how different the world looks now to when she was crowned.
Firstly, I would like to share the story of Gordon Robson, an 89-year-old. Gordon recently told me he remembers the Queen's Coronation in 1953 as if it were yesterday. At 19, he was picked to go to London for the occasion, beating 96 other candidates from Queensland. At the very last minute, his contingent were asked to stand guard at the palace and participate in a changing of the guard. Nerves were electric. As he recently told the ABC, no-one knew about it and so it was panic stations. Fortunately the day went off without a hitch. As Gordon said, 'It was a hell of a trip. It was just magical and so overwhelming, just knowing the Queen was sitting in a chair watching. We were doing it for her. RSM Britain was heard to say to one of our officers afterwards, "That was one of the greatest changing of the guards I have ever seen." We were thrilled. It was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.'
The next is from Carolyn in Canberra, which I will read directly: 'In 1952, when Elizabeth became Queen, it was a time when women were not heads of countries or at the tables of boardrooms or even office managers. At the time, married women were not even allowed to work in the Australian Public Service yet, at the age of 25 and as a mother of two young children, she took on the responsibility as the head of several countries. I often wonder what she wanted to do when she was young, before she knew her destiny was to be Queen. Her duty extended right to the end, just days before passing. Her first British Prime Minister was born in 1874; her last in 1975.'
From Janet in Canberra: 'I have always admired the Queen and her ability to do her work. She was not perfect but she did an amazing job for an extraordinary length of time. We must remember she was a human being, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.' From Mary on Norfolk Island: 'In 1974 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Norfolk Island, one of the furthest and most remote reaches of the Commonwealth. My late husband, Bernie, was honoured to be chosen to show the royal family around the Kingston area, travelling around in the Queen's car. Bernie was amazed at their intense interest and curiosity in the historic area and their extreme graciousness.'
Yesterday we took time to mourn the passing of Her late Majesty. As we know, and I have been reminded by my community, there is yet more to mourn. First Nations people have been mourning for centuries for their ancestors, for their children and for their lands that were stolen. We have yet to finish this mourning, this sorry business. Ahead of us are some difficult conversations about our heritage and how we grow from here.
I am conscious that the job of reconciliation feels impossible under the shadow of the British Empire. We are called to have these conversations soon, when we're honest about both our history and what has brought us here. When we bring into focus how much we have in common, what binds us together, we can then forge a path forward that allows us to strengthen our bonds and pride in this great country.
We have a shared love for this incredible continent; a desire to build great lives for our families; a commitment to ensuring all Australians have the opportunity to reach their potential; a character that rises to the challenge, that shows its best when the chips are down and communities face natural disasters. We have a growing recognition and celebration of the oldest continuing cultures in the world. This requires the uncomfortable acknowledgement that modern Australia was built on the dispossession of First Nations people. There is much work to do here, as we have heard over the last two weeks. Neither you nor I, President, and no-one else in this place or the other personally oversaw this, but we have the great privilege of being able to help further the conversation about what Australia can look like and to take meaningful steps towards helping make that happen.
What are the things we must do to begin to face up to this history? How do we ensure that we take-up the generous offer of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and have a voice that can guide truth and reconciliation? How do we have these conversations in a way that unites rather than divides. This is a huge challenge but an even bigger opportunity for all of us. We can acknowledge the Queen's steady presence in a changing world while also furthering the conversation about what it means to build our future together here in Australia in that changing world.
I will leave you with this First Nations proverb read by Her late Majesty at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting:
We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love … and then we return home.