The Governor-General, His Excellency, Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC and His Honour, Mr. Ted Egan AO, Administrator of the Northern Territory, recently packed their swags for an outback trip to encourage more Australians to cross the Great Divide. The Governor-General was exactly the right choice to head what was an important campaign. The theme tells it all- ‘Back to the Bush, Bridging the Divide’. The fact is that 85-percent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast, and of those, two-thirds live in a capital city.
As Ted Egan, who is National Patron of the Year of the Outback 2006, said on an ABC Landline programme on the visit broadcast on 21 May, 2006, “… the person who is the best symbol that that I know of the outback is the Governor-General of Australia because he was born at Wiluna, son of a stockman, and look what he's achieved.“He went into the young army at a young age, became a General, won the Military Cross for bravery. Governor of Western Australia and now Governor-General of the nation. We're thrilled that he has come along and we reckon it will make a big impact. We're constantly saying to him, (sings) ‘Take me back to the bush right away, take me back to the bush, mate and that's where I'll stay.’
Nevertheless, some of the senators at the Senate Estimates Committee hearing on 22 May 2006 (there is a link on our site) weren’t so sure. For some odd reason, they usually try to suggest in these hearings that Government House is a tad out of touch, which coming from the senators is a bit rich, as they say. This time they insisted on calling the man who handled the luggage, tents and so on, the Governor-General’s “valet”, which he clearly wasn’t. But you will understand the implication. Then their Senatorial Lordships ( two can play at that game) wanted to know whether a gift was offered to The Queen on her recent visit ( yes, a framed photograph of her vice regal representatives), whether there were any costs associated with the visit of Prince Edward (no, there weren’t), and all sorts of information about the paintings at Government House which hang mainly in the reception areas of Government and Admiralty House to showcase Australia, the implication being they should have been hanging in the art gallery (where the chances are they might well be in storage). One obvious question was whether there is a… nudge nudge wink wink…a croquet lawn at Government House. It seems that if part of the grass was once so designated by somone, it hasn’t been used for that purpose for many years . But you get the idea.
The hearing took about one hour- you would wonder how much it actually cost. Not just the additional costs, but everything. You know, the way the republican politicians do it about Royal tours- they even include the costs of the police. This may delight the former republican “Royal Correspondent “ to one of the political online services -who seems to be reduced to writing letters to them-, but hardly anyone else. And certainly not those Australians who met the Governor-General General. (Incidentally, I see Mr. Daryl Melham MHR continues to put questions on notice about vice regal and royal matters, including one about awards in the Royal Victorian Order, which he would surely know is in the personal gift of the Queen of Australia. But I think he may have realized from our last raising this that it did look as if this sort of question was an obsession. So in asking the costs of the royal visits, he also asks series of questions on the cost of just about anybody else who visited us-that is officially. It is all very strange and not much to do with the immediate problems of those who live in the part of Sydney he represents.)
But back to the outback. With the ‘Year of the Outback, 2006’ Chairman, Bruce Campbell , the party travelled in a 4WD convoy leaving Adelaide for Birdsville on 10 May 2006. From there they flew to Charleville and Longreach, where the first part of the trip wound up six days later. No doubt Canberra called, but the campaign to raise interest in the outback resumed on 23 and 24 May in the mining town of Wiluna, several hundred kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, where the Governor-General was born, and at the end of the Canning Stock Routein Western Australia. The photograph below was taken at the Wiluna Remore Community School. The party also visited the Tanami Coyote Gold Mine in Western Australia, which Governor- General officially opened, and where they met with miners, executives and the traditional owners. Bruce Campbell welcomed the Governor-General’s participation saying the ‘Back to the Bush, Bridging the Divide’ trip symbolically represents his return to Australia’s heartland.
“The presence of the Governor-General and the Northern Territory Administrator, Ted Egan will ‘shine the spotlight’ on this ‘Year of the Outback’, our regional and rural communities and the array of amazing individuals, innovations and wonderful attractions”, Mr. Campbell said. ‘Australia's Youth Infront’ is the theme for Year of the Outback 2006 and two ‘Ambassadors for Youth’ from Lead On, a growing community based program, will be travelling to expand on community based projects for people who don’t want to go to the cities. The trip will also recognise the role of the early explorers in opening-up Australia’s vast inland.
The Governor-General said he would be concentrating on the many good things happening in the bush, the vital role of the rural sector in the national economy, new options for young people and urban dwellers looking for a change of pace or a fresh environment. “ What I'm trying to do is to visit all the country towns between Adelaide and Birdsville and to try and tell people who live in the cities in our country what a great place the bush is. “ Asked by the ABC reporter Pip Courtney when was the last time he had ‘roughed’ it, the Governor-General replied :” Oh, I had 40 years in the army. That was – I mean, this is not new to me in that sense, but I haven't been out with a swag for a year or two. “
The reporter said that that the trip was ‘a chance to sit by the campfire, cook damper and hear Dreamtime songs before retiring to a tent.’ The Governor-General used the opportunity to put his view on the teaching of Australian history. According to Pip Courtney, he wants ‘much more about Aboriginal beliefs’ included. He said: “And I really want to try and get that achieved. Indeed, I think the Prime Minister has picked up on it a bit and I think many, many other people are interested. So I hope that we can move in this direction to achieve that, and if we can do so, I think the bringing together of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people will move at a very, very rapid and productive way.”
From comments included in the ABC programme, the people of the outback seemed very happy with the visit. ( And just on the ABC, this is exactly the sort of programme which we expect from the national broadcaster –something which the commercial broadcasters are unlikely to do, and something which Australians ought to be able to see, presented fairly and objectively.)
Now it may disappoint some of the whingers, but there were no negative comments broadcast, no doubt because there weren’t any. The following came from all sorts of people, young and old, indigenous, miners, farmers, all Australians:-
Brooke Mengersen said : “I thought it was excellent that the Governor-General would come out this far and visit us…very enthusiastic about people staying in the Bush. It's good. I think some of us need the encouragement to stay out here.” Brittnie Acland said :” He is a very nice person, actually. Really nice and just like any of us, really. “ Keith Rasheed said the trip is a ‘real tonic’ for people who live in the outback.” It's vitally important because it shows really that you're interested and because you're interested, other people become interested.” Bob Dillon observed : “That was exciting, yeah. It's the first sort of government official I've ever met. Great to see them sort of blokes come out here. It's good to see how we live and what the country's like.”Margaret Brown said:” I think it's probably the first time that a Governor-General has come out here, and I think the place is buzzing with excitement.” Dave Coverdale said:” It's good that he has taken his job fairly seriously, I think. Yeah, good of him to do it, yeah.”
These comments illustrate that the Crown, our oldest institution and central to our system, is above politics, something unachievable in any of the republican models so far proposed by the republican movement. The rank and file Australian know this, as they know that when the Governor-General or the Governor visits their community, he or she has no political agenda. This is reflected in their welcome.
From his comment, Mr. Darryl Bell must also understand and believe in the rights of the Crown which Walter Bagehot famously described, that is the rights to advise, to be consulted and to warn. (Unfortunately, from their questions on this point, Their Senatorial Lordships do not.) Mr. Bell said:” I think he has a lot of say in the Government, just quietly. He would have a fair say to Mr. Howard or whoever the ministers may be that there are issues there and they need to try to sort them out a bit.”
Further details , including maps and two photo galleries are available on the Governor-General’s official site