I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
Many of my generation will recognise the words to Dorothea Mackellor’s timeless poem of Australia in ‘My Country’. That story of a land constantly at battle with the elements remains as relevant now as when it was written more than a century ago.
Those iconic words join an aural history which stretches back more than 60,000 years through the dreamtime, to form part of a narrative describing who we are as Australians and our connection with the land.
Homesick in England and away from her family, the young Dorothea, who might never have dreamed of Skype or Facebook, was left with pen and paper to convey her love for this land.
And it is our love for this harsh, often mean-spirited and occasionally generous country that unites us all on our national day.
As the dry fingers of drought inevitably return once again, turning our home country to dust and brown and despair, what can we take from our timeless and relentless struggle with this wilful, lavish land?
Perhaps the hard lessons we are taught by this country are what make us Australian.
The capacity to laugh in adversity sustained our men and women in uniform from Tarin Kowt to El Alamein. The certainty that with courage and persistence we will prevail inspired our cricketers to win 5 tests to nil against the Old Country.
As Chancellor of the University of New England, every graduation day I see people certain in the Australian belief of a fair go rewarded for having taken the often challenging road to improve their lives though education.
It might be hard to celebrate a land that delivers us such regular heartbreak, but Dorothea and the dreamtime stories knew – as I do – that we can afford for one day to cherish our faith that the rains will come, to rejoice for at least a single day that eventually all our children will come home again, and to give thanks that we have been blessed to live in this great country.
Whatever you have to be grateful for about our beautiful home, I wish you a very Happy Australia Day.
Chancellor of the University of New England