Commonwealth Day was celebrated across the world on 12 March 2007. (As we have noted on the ACM site, , the day will be celebrated on 19 March 2007 in Adelaide because of a clash with a public holiday.) The celebrations in Sydney at Parliament house were organized by the NSW Commonwealth Day Council, chaired by Graham Drayton. That morning, guests, as well as a large number of tourists and passersby, were entertained in the forecourt by the rousing strains of the pipers of the Scots College band. Later, with an honour guard, they greeted Her Excellency the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, who was then piped into the main dining room, the Strangers Room, where a large assembly had gathered, including members of the consular corps led by the Dean.
The ABC contacted me that morning about the relevance of Commonwealth Day, especially for our youth. I pointed out that the vast Commonwealth of Nations is made up of countries who rejoice in a common heritage , although other countries are knocking on the door and one has already entered. (I did not say this, but I am waiting for the day when those former colonies, the United States of America join.) I also mentioned the fact that the Commonwealth does require its members to accord to their populations internationally agreed human rights, and that breaches can lead to suspension or even expulsion.
Well before the luncheon, a student debate was held in the Legislative Assembly chamber, which the Speaker, the Honorable John Aquilina informed us, is the oldest functioning chamber in the Commonwealth of Nations. It is not as grand as that in the Victorian Parliament, but “the bearpit’, as the chamber is affectionately called, is far more beautiful than it seems to be on television. In particular, the carpet does seem to jar horribly on the small screen, which is not at all the impression you have in what is a surprisingly intimate and gracefully furnished space. And to speak in that Chamber, and to sit on the front benches, will be something the students will long remember
The debate was between teams from the Combined High Schools and the Combined Associated Schools. Although both teams were excellent, the Associated (private) Schools won. The subject was well chosen, and allowed for intelligent debate. It was that aid to Commonwealth countries should be conditional on human rights. I had the great honour of chairing the debate from the Speaker’s chair, and there would not have been a more appropriate adjudicating panel- Lloyd Cameron, Patrick Caldwell and Tony Davy. Later at the lunch, the former President of the Legislative Council, the Honourable Max Willis, RFD ED awarded the winning team a cheque for $1000.Students provided the singing of the National Anthem, and a wonderful musical interlude , with a student saying Grace before the meal . Mr.Peter Cavanagh, the Treasurer of the Council offered the Loyal Toast. Before we heard a fascinating address from General Peter Cosgrove AC MC, the Governor was invited to present The Queen’s message. Before Her Excellency read the message, she mentioned that she had been greatly moved when she read it.
The text follows , together with a link to hear Her Majesty, The Queen.
“Today’s Commonwealth is home to nearly a third of the world’s population. Its almost two billion citizens come from so many faiths, races, cultures and traditions.
I think that one of the reasons for the success of this organisation is that it draws not only on certain shared values, but also from the principles and practices of everyday life, which can be observed day after day in the cities, towns and villages of our 53 member countries.
Over thousands of years, the very basis of community life has been the pooling together by individuals of their resources and skills. Rather than having to be good at everything, people were able to practice their own skill or craft. The lesson of community life is that to flourish we must help each other. To do this, there has to be a sense of fairness, a real understanding of others’ needs and aspirations, and a willingness to contribute.
Despite its size and scale, the Commonwealth to me is still at heart a collection of villages. In close-knit communities like these, there are beliefs and values we share and cherish. We know that helping others will lead to greater security and prosperity for ourselves.
Because we feel this way, our governments and peoples aim to work even more closely together. And as individuals, we find that taking part in Commonwealth activities can be inspirational and personally rewarding.
In today’s difficult and sometimes divided world, I believe that it is more important than ever to keep trying to respect and understand each other better. Each and every one of us has hopes, needs, and priorities. Each of us is an individual, with ties of emotion and bonds of obligation – to culture, religion, community, country and beyond. In short, each of us is special.
The more we see others in this way, the more we can understand them and their points of view. In what we think and say and do, let us as individuals actively seek out the views of others; let us make the best use of what our beliefs and history teach us; let us have open minds and hearts; and let us, like the Commonwealth, find our diversity a cause for celebration and a source of strength and unity.
This is a thought worth bearing in mind as we gather on Commonwealth Day: we are a thriving community; we value our past; we make the most of our present; and we are working together to build our future. By respecting difference and promoting understanding, that future will be a better one for us all.”
Link to hear The Queen’s broadcast
Postscript,17 March, 2007:
Further to our report of the commemoration of Commonwealth Day in Sydney, this is undertaken by a band of volunteers organized as the NSW Commonwealth Day Council, which is chaired by Graeme Drayton. This is a New South Wales celebration and is in no way intended to take the place of a national celebration. We know there is a celebration in Adelaide on 19 March, also organized by some wonderful volunteers, which we have noted in our National Events. If there are other celebrations organized in other cities and towns around Australia we would delighted to report them.