March 12

Commonwealth Day, Sydney 2009


Commonwealth Day was celebrated across the world on Monday 9 March 2009.

In Sydney, the celebrations were coordinated by a voluntary body, the Commonwealth Day Council of New South Wales, which is chaired by Ms. Janet Stewart. (Council member David Bennett has developed a website ( on the Council’s activities.)

The day began with a debate in the beautiful Legislative Assembly chamber of the NSW Parliament, an event approved approved and greatly supported by the Speaker, the Hon Richard Torbay. The debate was between teams from the NSW Public Schools and the Combined Associated Schools and the subject was “That the Commonwealth at 60 needs a facelift.”

The Public Schools team was made up of Justin McMahon, of North Sydney Boys’ High School, Solange Handley of Smiths Hill High School and Antony Paul of Sydney Boys’ High School, all coordinated by Lloyd Cameron from the Department of Education and Training.

The Combined Associated Schools were represented by Tom Williamson of Barker College, Daillus Wilson of St. Aloysius’ College and Mark Khunnithi of Cranbrook, coordinated by Patrick Caldwell.

[ Sir Ian Turbott, Kt., AO., CMG.,CVO.]


I had the honour and the very pleasant task of presiding over the proceedings. The debaters were formidable and entertaining the audience but no doubt made the adjudicators’ decision difficult. 

In the meantime a band from the Scots College performed in the forecourt – you could hear this coming into the chamber – while children formed a guard of honour in the foyer, each holding the flag of one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, an impressive display.

Her Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir and  Sir Nicholas Shehadie, together with the Speaker, the Hon. Richard Torbay and the President of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Peter Primrose, were piped through the flagbearers  into the Strangers Room where a large assembly of about  250 including members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, various Commonwealth  Societies including Mr. Frank Gartrell President of the Royal; Commonwealth Society and other distinguished guests stood in their honour.

The MC for the function was the well known television personality Mr. Mike Munro, who also adjudicated the debate with Mr. Paresh Khandar from the NSW Bar chaired by the Hon Max Willis, former president of the Legislative Council.  Mr. Willis wisely delayed the announcement of the winners until after the lunch, which no doubt aided the contestants’ digestion. It was to be the Public Schools’ team.

Before the lunch the assembly was led in two verses of the National Anthem by a school boy who had a remarkably powerful voice. Mr. Peter Cavanagh the Treasurer of the Commonwelaht Day Council offered the Loyal Toast.

Her Excellency the governor then introduced and read a moving Commonwealth Day message from Her Majesty  The Queen, which was followed by lunch. ( The speech is published separately on this site)

The keynote speaker was a gentleman whose contribution to the Commonwealth was has been  remarkable, Sir Ian Turbott, Kt., AO., CMG.,CVO.

Educated in New Zealand he served in the NZ Expeditionary Force from 1940 to 1946, seeing active service in the Solomon Islands, the Middle East and Italy, for which he was decorated. He then entered the Colonial Service ultimately being made The Queen’s representative in Antigua and then Grenada, where he was Governor.  

On coming to Australia he has held various diplomatic , charitable, business and academic positrons, including that of Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney.

His address touched on aspects of his unique experience in the Commonwealth, and his understanding of the value of this body. After some medial entertainment the function ended

It was universally agreed that the function had been a great success, and that the role of the young people present was testament to the continuing success of the Commonwealth. 

There was only one flaw; there was no acknowledgement of the considerable work done by the Commonwealth Day Council of New South Wales.     


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