2008 Oration

Weaving the Australian tapestry: creating a society ‘of beauty rich and rare’ from threads of harmony and contradiction

The 6th Henry Parkes Oration. The Hon. Linda Burney
17 October. National Library of Australia, Canberra

Read the full text of the speech as a PDF.

Linda Burney

The Hon. Linda Burney

[EXTRACT] …When I think about Australia, I think first about the land – our great continent, the driest on earth, with its wet tropical wilderness, arid centre, and snow covered mountains.

I think about the original inhabitants, from whom I am descended. And that momentous day in January, 1788, when the 11 ships of the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour.

The Gadigal people standing on the shore – watching…unaware of the dramatic upheaval that was about to occur.

I think of the millions who have fled here to escape terror and violence, or those who came looking for jobs and a better life. And of the individuals like Henry Parkes, Louisa Lawson and Jack Marsh who have been part of the Australian story.

When I think of Australia I cannot help but contemplate her contradictions.

Dorothea Mackellar’s drought and flooding rains,our belief in the fair go that is being tested as wealth becomes concentrated in certain stratas of society, and where poverty is entrenched in many of our postcodes.

I think of how an Aboriginal painting will sell at auction for a million dollars, yet on the news that night we see another story about Aboriginal children with lower health standards than their counterparts in third world countries.

Yet it works.

Our Australian tapestry is fascinating, strengthened by the weaving together of many threads and colours.

The last 220 years make up a small section compared to the 60,000 years or more of Aboriginal life that preceded it. But think of what is crammed in to those two centuries! And of what is yet to come.

I don’t believe democracy has “had it”. But it needs our attention:
– more responsibility on the part of leaders and the citizenry,
– more truth telling.

Tapestries tell a story. They can take a long time, and many hands, to make, and they can be repaired.


Linda is a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW Parliament – for the seat of Canterbury in 2003.

She is the NSW Minister for Community Services, and has also held the positions of Minister for Fair Trading, Volunteering and Youth, and Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Training. She is currently Vice President of the ALP.

A former teacher, she has an Honorary Doctorate in Education from Charles Sturt University, and was named as one of 10 “True Leaders” of Australia by the Australian Financial Review’s Boss magazine.

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