Media release: ‘Grand Old Man’ of Australian politics finds a new voice

It’s been more than 100 years since Sir Henry Parkes, ‘Grand Old Man’ and ‘Father of Federation’, spoke in the NSW Parliament. But he was there on Friday 4 June 1999, delivering a speech in the Legislative Assembly Chamber.

Listening to him were the NSW Attorney-General, Jeff Shaw, representing the Premier, as well as the Leader of the Opposition, Kerry Chikarovski, and an audience of 150 guests, including the Governor of NSW, the Hon. Gordon Samuels.

The occasion was the launch of the Henry Parkes Foundation, a new charitable trust which aims to encourage Australians to find out more about their country’s political and constitutional history, and about how they can participate as citizens. The Governor was present as the Foundation’s patron.

Parkes, played by actor Garry Ridgway, reminisced about his first glimpse of Sydney on arriving in the colony in 1839: “Oh! Tis a goodly sight for those who seek a resting place upon Australia’s strand.” He recalled his first public speech, in favour of universal suffrage, in 1849: “The people, growing in enlightenment, will never rest until they obtain it.” And he revisited his thoughts on federation, expressed at a convention in Sydney in 1891: “The seed is sown and it must spring up to maturity. No power on earth can throw back the cause of the Australian federation.” How right he was!

In introducing Parkes, Dr Helen Irving, one of the Foundation’s advisers, quoted his famous words, “The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all”.

“This remains a valuable metaphor today,” said Dr Irving. “From an awareness of our common humanity comes a sense of the common good. Our country’s constitution and political processes are an expression of that awareness, and the more we understand about them the more effective we can be as citizens.”

The Foundation’s Chairman, Professor Brian Fletcher, said that a citizenship project for schools was one of the first activities the Foundation hoped to support.

“It is in recognition of the outstanding contribution Sir Henry Parkes made to the Federation of the Australian colonies, that the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee has endorsed the launch of the Henry Parkes Foundation,” said Prue MacSween, Deputy Chair of the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee.

Members of the Parkes family who were present said it was their aim to carry forward his vision for Australia in today’s context. “We want to honour our ancestor in real and living ways—to do things that will continue to embody his egalitarian ideals now and in the future,” said great grand-daughter Jane Gray, a trustee of the Foundation.