This year’s national message for Australia Day is ‘Reflect. Respect. Celebrate’.
There is a lot to reflect on. This is a sombre Australia Day. Our country has been heavily burned and we have lost lives and habitat.
The magnitude of the bushfire tragedy is significant.
- 32 people have perished in Australia this bushfire season. Most recently, three US crew members tragically died after their Large Air Tanker crashed while fighting a bushfire in southern NSW on Thursday.
- Millions of acres have burned across the nation – dwarfing the Amazon fires in Brazil last year.
- Satellite images have shown smoke plumes covering an area equivalent in size to two-thirds of the Australian continent, drifting across the globe.
- Hundreds of millions of animals have perished, with Koalas seeing as much as 30 per cent of their habitat destroyed, and potentially at risk of becoming endangered in some areas.
- More than 2,500 homes full of family memories lost.
Comforting words can do little to restore optimism in those who have been devastated. We are however buoyed by some things:
- Tens of thousands of people rushing to become volunteer fire fighters to help their fellow Australians.
- The courageous efforts of our firefighters who have worked exhaustively to save many more buildings than the number lost. I understand that in NSW, regarded as the epicentre of the bushfire tragedy, for every home or facility lost in a bushfire ravaged area, another six are being saved.
- Donations are nearing $500 million through the generosity of Australians and others further afield too.
There are a number of enquiries running into this catastrophe. Particularly, there is a real opportunity to advocate engaging our Indigenous communities in firefighting strategies – both to enhance already strong ranger skills in the firefighting area and to expand Indigenous involvement in the firefighting services.
Our first Australians are one of the oldest continuous cultures on earth, dating back approximately 65,000 years. Their ancient knowledge and intimate understanding of fire and the land can contribute significantly not only to the ongoing firefighting efforts but also to deepening our understanding of the environment around us. Indeed, our first Australians survived and even thrived through the ice age. Less well known, but it is entirely possible, they became the first to control the environment as opposed to being controlled by it. I always recommend Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ should be compulsory reading for all students.
There is enough valid research to know now that in 1788 we entered a continent not only of many nations, but a civilisation of great philosophical and technical capability. Some could, but most of our ancestors could not, recognise it.
On Australia Day, many will celebrate becoming Australians at citizenship ceremonies around the country. There is no question that our prosperity and survivability is due, in no small measure, to the fact that Australia’s total population growth can be largely attributed to net overseas migration. We celebrate our new citizens as nation builders and enablers of our strength. I hope we never lose sight of the critical contribution immigration makes to our security.
It is also a moment to celebrate what we have built here. We are arguably the world’s greatest minerals province. We are massive producers of the sinews of contemporary production, but also of fourth generation industry as our mines for critical minerals enter production. Increasingly, people want to visit here, be educated here, invent here, and create here. We are a sober people but there is room for excitement.
We also celebrate the outstanding work of those who give back to our community. Our best wishes go to our WA Australians of the Year who will represent WA at the national Australian of the Year (external link) Awards on 25th January:
- Annie Fogarty AM (Australian of the Year)
- Prof John Newnham AM (Senior Australian of the Year)
- Yarlalu Thomas (Young Australian of the Year)
- Suzy Urbaniak (Local Hero)
We look forward to finding out which West Australians have been announced as recipients of awards and honours in the Australia Day Honours list. Any Australian citizen can be nominated for an honour by an individual, a community organisation, a professional body or similar group – nominate someone today.
Stay safe over the long weekend and don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to call Australia, and Western Australia, home.
The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia