It’s a little known fact that Henry Parkes was one of Sydney’s early whistle-blowers, calling out corruption in the colonial customs service. He arrived in Sydney in 1839, aged 24, with his wife Clarinda and their new baby daughter, who had been born on the voyage out from England. Virtually penniless, he took a job as an agricultural labourer but after six months was able to get a position as a ‘tidewaiter’ with the Customs Department. A tidewaiter was responsible for recording items coming ashore from visiting ships so that the relevant customs duties could be applied.
Apparently, Henry became aware of various rorts involving alcohol being taken by Customs employees in breach of the rules. After alerting his superiors without success, he wrote to the newspapers using the name of ‘A. Citizen’ detailing what he had seen. “I might multiply instances,” wrote Mr Citizen, “but I hope I have said enough to call the attention of government to the correction of what I conceive to be a great abuse.”
According to Ian Thom, chair of the Henry Parkes Foundation and great great grandson of Parkes, “Sydney at this time was in a severe depression and Henry had a secure Government position, so rocking the boat at work was risky. Even at that young age, however, his principles were strong enough to overcome the chance that he could lose his job.”
“Henry Parkes never took advantage of his public position to enrich himself in corrupt ways,” said Mr Thom. “In this respect he was honest to a fault, battling money troubles throughout his life. We are thrilled to have Professor AJ Brown as our 2019 orator, speaking on a topic that in many ways underpinned Parkes’ career and is still so relevant today.”
This year is the 130th anniversary of Henry Parkes’ famous federation speech at the Tenterfield School of Arts, and the 2019 Henry Parkes Oration will mark this anniversary on Saturday 26 October by returning to Tenterfield to explore the important role of whistle-blowers in keeping public institutions honest.
Professor AJ Brown delivers the 2019 Henry Parkes Oration 2019
Where: Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts, Tenterfield NSW
When: 2pm, Saturday 26 October 2018
Free: but booking recommended. Phone (02) 6736 6100; email firstname.lastname@example.org