High Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I must say I am enormously grateful to the High Commissioner for his very kind words and indeed his invitation to both my wife and I to come and join on this very special occasion of Australia Day. Above all else, we wanted to really wish you all a very special and happy Australia Day. For us it’s a great opportunity just to join you and above all else to show solidarity and huge sympathy for everything that Australia has had to go through in recent weeks and months and many are going to have to endure for coming weeks.
Particularly, as I’ve heard, the floods are encroaching slowly but surely into areas of Victoria. Of course our hearts go out particularly to all those who have lost loved ones amongst their families and who’ve been so incredibly badly affected by this appalling natural disaster and yet, have shown such extraordinary ability to survive, endure and somehow make jokes about the horror that everybody is facing. I couldn’t get over just reading for instance, about ladies who are busily shooting brown snakes trying to get into their houses and people who are dealing with the crocodiles, the spiders and all those things I remember so well. Let alone the ants. When I was in Australia all those years ago in 1966, a lot of people forget that aged 16 or 17 when I spent six months, I learnt a hell of a lot.
I was able to go around relatively privately and find out an awful lot about that part of the world. As you can imagine I have a huge affection as a result. I’ve been through my fair share of being called a “pommy bastard” I can assure you! Look what it’s done to me. My God it was good for the character. If you want to develop character, go to Australia. As I say I have a huge affection for it.
Just hearing the names of the towns that have been affected, those wonderful places like Toowoomba, Gympie, Kilcoy and Dimboola. Just those names are so resonant with nostalgia and meaning. Just thinking about those names just conjures all those people who are having to endure so much at the moment. I just think of all those farmers and their properties. They’ve had to move their stock having spent 10 years enduring drought. Suddenly, as happens, if you’re not careful you get an extreme change to huge floods. But these people are showing unbelievable courage and assurance in the face of all these disasters and we are incredibly lucky that there are so many generous hearty people around.
I know there are companies, banks and others who are prepared to step in and help with the vast clean-up operation. We know how incredible the emergency services are when these disasters occur. We know also how much people in communities are helping each other. Suddenly adversity produces extraordinary generosity of spirit and people working together, in a way perhaps, that hadn’t quite happened before. All these things are perhaps sometimes positives that we have to remember when there are so many other negatives and so many other horrors to think about.
All I wanted to say on this occasion is we are thinking so much of all those out there in Australia. It seems so inadequate. It seems hopeless, almost in some ways, to say this. What else can we do except try to show real sympathy and understanding. So on this particular occasion may we just wish you every success in the future despite the challenges? Our prayers are with all those in Australia who are trying to endure these huge difficulties. So Ladies and Gentlemen, Happy Australia Day.