When journalist George Negus, the guest speaker at yesterday’s official celebrations of Australia Day in the Ballina Shire, took the podium, he suggested, tongue in cheek, that the MC Sandra Jackson had forgotten to add ‘Rapidly Ageing Sex Symbol’ to his tremendously long list of credits and he wished to redress the error.
All jokes aside, Mr Negus then spoke about the first people of this country, he put forward a plea to Indigenous Australians to not ask us for back rent before saying that we would be up the proverbial creek if they did.
He continued along this train of thought speaking about a common attitude toward being sorry.
‘Somehow or other, and I think this is something else we shouldn’t feel too smug about when we talk about how wonderful this country is – which it is by the way – is the fact that we think because we have said “sorry”, that was it’, he said.
‘Good on us! We’ve said we’re sorry and now it’s all over, we can put that “Indigenous problem” to one side and forget about it.
‘It was the starting point, not the end. That was the starting point of bridging the gap, as our political friends call it.
‘We’ve got a long way to go. Somehow or other in the last 200 years, we have turned the almighty privilege of having an Indigenous population – whether we invaded, whether they gave it to us, whether we took it, whether they didn’t like the idea or not – we have taken this amazing privilege and turned it into a problem, which we still haven’t solved.’
Mr Negus then went on to tell upwards of 500 guests gathered at the Lennox Head Cultural and Community Centre, that Australia wasn’t the greatest country in the world.
‘The reason that Australia is not the greatest country on earth is because there is no such thing,’ he said.
‘Everybody has problems. Everybody has shortcomings, everybody has deficiencies. Everybody has things they are doing quite wrongly.
‘Great? Yes. Absolutely no doubt whatsoever. In the “great” stakes, we’re right up there.
‘We are after all only 23 million people out of 7 billion.
‘I’ve been around the traps internationally and I can’t think of one capital anywhere in the world from Moscow, Beijing, Washington, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires … they don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I wonder what the Australians think of what we’re doing at the moment”.
‘Sorry folks. Leave your ego at the door. We’re not that important.
‘But, having said that, not being important in numbers, doesn’t mean to say that we are irrelevant when it comes to world affairs.
‘We have done some amazing things and guess what we are right now? We are the president of the United Nations Security Council. Does that mean we are running the world? No it doesn’t. But it means that somebody has recognised that we have things to offer at the international level.’
Mr Negus had the audience captivated for over 20 minutes and concluded with his wishes for the future and his opinion that, as a nation, we are not finished yet.
‘We have no control over what my son’s generation is going to do with this country,’ he said.
‘Don’t think that the X and Y generations are just going to sit there and let the country be run the way we have run it.
‘I think there is a lot left for young people to do and I am actually quite looking forward to a country run and governed by Xs and Ys.’
The official celebration for the Ballina Shire began with the flag raising, lead by the Ballina Pipe Band and with the flag hoisted by TS Lismore Navy Cadets. The cloth rose with the voices of the Headliners Chorus.
The official welcome to country was then delivered by Indigenous Elder Uncle Lewis Cook and was followed by a didgeridoo performance by Daniel Kapeen.
Both the Ballina Shire Mayor David Wright and local MP Don Page addressed the audience before 25 people became new Australians and the traditional Australia Day Awards were presented by George Negus and Cr Wright.
Tracey Everingham was awarded Citizen of the Year. Introducig Tracey to the audience, the MC spoke of her diligence since 2002 in supporting both children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities across the Northern Rivers, and then went on to talk about her volunteer work with Biala Special School and the Support Unit at Southern Cross K-12 School.
Over 12 years Tracey has raised in excess of $250,000 to support children with special needs across the shire.
Other winners were: Bruce Gallaher (Senior Citizen of the Year); Les Wiles (Volunteer of the Year); Digby Moran (Arts Cultural Award – Digby’s award was accepted by his daughter May King); Brendan McKeown (Sports Award); the Community Event of the Year award which was presented jointly to the Rotary Club of Ballina-on-Richmond for the Las Balsas 40th anniversary civic dinner; and the Ballina Chamber of Commerce for the Ballina Prawn Festival.
Celebrations concluded with a morning tea which melded into a traditional sausage sizzle and Australia Day market in the Community Centre carpark.
~ Photos Eve Jeffery