DFAT NAIDOC Flag Raising Ceremony: Remarks by Acting Secretary Gary Quinlan

Speech

Speaker: DFAT Acting Secretary Gary Quinlan

Canberra

4 July 2016

I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on and thank Jude Barlow, for her very embracing, very gracious Welcome to Country and Thelma Weston for her very gracious Acknowledgment on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. I extend that respect of course to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

On behalf of the Department I'd like to welcome members of the Diplomatic Corps and distinguished guests and colleagues, everybody from the Department, and also representatives from Reconciliation Australia.

I also obviously want to thank the cultural troupe, the Wiradjuri Echoes, for reminding us about warmth this morning. And finally, extend a warm welcome to members of the Department's Indigenous Employees Network.

I think everybody knows that the theme this year for NAIDOC Week is "Songlines: the living narrative of our nation". "Songlines" or "Dreaming Tracks" as they're also known, describe the stories of our Indigenous cultures, the narratives, the conversations, the pathways, the important oral histories that chronical what are the world's oldest continuous civilisations.

All civilisations had at their very beginning, stories. Storytellers were primordial contributors to the development of every civilisation, every community, and we're recognising the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander "Songline" communities during this week.

It's those Songlines that render the creation stories of Indigenous Australia and give shape to the intrinsic links that these communities have with their significant sites and sacred places and which reflect their very deep, spiritual association with the land.

The importance of "Songlines" and storytelling is also a focus for the Department this year. We as a Department have to ensure that we're representative of the diverse populations and communities of Australia and that we can represent that diversity overseas.

We do a lot, but we always have more to do. Indeed as we mark NAIDOC week here in Australia, our diplomatic missions overseas are also celebrating NAIDOC, promoting achievement in the arts and culture of Indigenous Australians through a whole variety of activities and events. And where possible, flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags alongside the Australian flag at offices across our global network.

Raising the flag that way is a very important statement about our identity as Australians. By flying the three symbols – the Australian flag, the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag – we are honouring every Australian and recognising the primordial contribution  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have made to the development of this country and we're showing the pride we feel in that fact.

This year the Department is going to field a number of opportunities for our staff to engage with modern Indigenous storytellers.

For National Reconciliation Week our Indigenous Champion Ewen McDonald hosted the esteemed Arrernte journalist, Karla Grant, as she explored stories of contemporary Indigenous Australia with people who came along.

Ewen will similarly host Wiradjuri advocate and social commentator Stan Grant to discuss, this Wednesday in the Gareth Evans Theatre, the very topical and decisive issue of recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.

Constitutional change in this country is always hard. As one of the 25 founding members of the Australian Republican Movement I can assure you it's not an easy task to bring about change in this country.

The election over the weekend of the first Indigenous woman to the House of Representatives, Linda Burney, is a bright star for our future trajectory. So let's just hope that we keep moving along that path.

We'll also have storyteller, Larry Brandy, join us on Thursday to share with the kids stories and songs of his Wiradjuri heritage. We'll be holding a session in the Currawong childcare centre and another in the atrium where all children, accompanied by carers of course, will be welcome.

The department will look for other ways through the year to continue these conversations to help all staff understand better what we're commemorating this morning.

Working on issues related to our Indigenous history, and origins is an organic part of the work that our diplomats do overseas. On my first posting, as a junior diplomat in Dublin, one of the first jobs I had was to work with some academics from Australia and Britain on the repatriation of Indigenous artefacts and indeed remains as well to communities here in Australia. I also gave occasional lectures at three universities in Ireland about Australian Studies and the most popular lecture always was the one about our Aboriginal history.

While in our mission to UNESCO in Paris and we were able to bring the first ever performance by an Aboriginal cultural troupe, a performance troupe, to UNESCO. UNESCO had never previously had had direct exposure – this was in the early 80s – to an Aboriginal performance troupe before, and it was a sell-out. It was a sensational performance.

In later years, I have been involved in identifying or projecting Australian culture and history through Indigenous art exhibitions. We have always done a large number of these. 

Then in the UN in New York, our diplomats have had a very active involvement as one of the leading countries in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, including with Megan Davis, Liz Meltzer and people like this. We typically had the largest delegation to that meeting every year, and probably the most influential delegation, and that's how it should be. DFAT officers are deeply involved in activities of this kind.

Anyway, we need to get on and raise the flags. I'd like to remind people that tomorrow evening there is the reception here to launch the exhibition of "Ghost Nets" which you've probably seen inside, from a remote community in northern Queensland, alongside a collection of Torres Strait Islander artefacts from the National Museum here in Canberra.

I'd encourage everybody to engage beyond this morning in the other activities we've got organised this NAIDOC week and thank you all again for being here this morning. I think we can now proceed to raising the flags. Thank you.

Last Updated: 11 July 2016