His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales
Firstly, I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners and custodians of this land on which we gather – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have sustained and nurtured this land for tens of thousands of years. I acknowledge their living culture as the world’s oldest, and affirm my respect for their elders, ancestors and descendants.
There are a series of brass plaques on the concrete walkway between Circular Quay and the Opera House.
You may know the ones to which I refer.
When you get up close, you notice that each of the plaques refers to a famous writer and their works.
In my perambulations around the Opera House, one in particular grabbed my attention.
It was the one referring to David Malouf – Australian writer of such award-winning novels as Johnno, An Imaginary Life, Fly Away Peter and Remembering Babylon, and this year’s recipient of the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.
On his plaque, was the following quotation, written in 1978:
‘Australia is still revealing itself to us.
We oughtn’t to close off possibilities by declaring too early what we have already become.’
This paradox made me stop and think.
It also made me think because of what I know of this author’s background – born in Brisbane to a Lebanese father and an English-born mother of Portuguese descent.
In many ways, his story epitomises the Australian story of multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is inherent in the DNA of our nation which saw people from many countries undertake vast journeys to live in a land considered remote by many.
One of the messages of our nation’s story of migration is that however we identify culturally, we will build and share a common destiny.
What we share is stronger than what separates us.
This is also the message of our history, in which religious freedom has been embedded.
Among the First Fleet and subsequent arrivals to the colony of New South Wales from 1788, there was a mix of religious denominations.
Later, having observed the sectarian intolerance in Ireland, one of my predecessors, Sir Richard Bourke, the 8th Governor of New South Wales (1831-37) formally recognised the importance of – and the relationship between – religious freedom and peace and prosperity, through introducing The Church Act of 1836.
This Act diminished the power of the Anglican Church in the colony, while not going as far as the American principle of separation of Church and State.
The unique New South Wales compromise was one of equal treatment by the State for all religions. Religious denominations could receive government funding for some of their activities, in return for cooperating with the State in building and establishing hospitals, schools, and other social services. This principle has ebbed and flowed in the strength of its application, but still remains at the core of our society where religious freedom and diversity are enshrined.
As 38th Governor of New South Wales, I have come to realise, as I learn more about the Governors that preceded me and the historical plans of the British Crown, that while New South Wales may have originated as a place to dump the unwanted convicts of Britain’s vast overflowing prisons, within a very short while, it came to be seen as a form of social experiment. Indeed, John Dunmore Lang, the first Scottish Presbyterian Minister of the colony, called it ‘a transcendently important experiment.’
When the vastness and fertility of this continent was fully understood by a nation 20,000 kilometres away, the Governors of this State were given the licence to go out and build a nation – a nation that was free, diverse and prosperous and, within a very short period of time, where people could live as equals.
However, a nation is not built through bricks and mortar. It is built through the positive efforts, interactions and synergies of people in pursuit of a peaceful, fair, tolerant, dynamic and diverse nation.
This, I think, is that to which David Malouf alludes in his words – this work is ongoing and will never be completed.
But it is up to all of us to be involved in the creation of it. Together, we can achieve a State and nation that represents this brand of beautiful multiculturalism.
In the late 1980s, we lived in Malaysia. I was an advisor to a Malay infantry battalion. I was the only non-Muslim in the area of Sungai Petani. I learned a great deal about the practice of Islam during that time. The first time I heard the call to prayer was when it woke me very early in the morning after we had arrived.
For over 200,000 people in our State, the call to prayer also speaks to them.
Our nation has one of the world’s most diverse populations and a wonderful mix of cultures and religions.
We must never let our differences lead us to conflict. We must strive to build relationships, not create estrangement. We need to be a truly blended society, not simply one that seeks to have different cultures co-exist.
When we connect in a spirit of dynamic cooperation, respecting each other’s differences while recognising the commonalities that have drawn us together to live as one people, we are truly magnificent.
This I have experienced at many events, including the Bankstown Children’s Fair, the Multicultural Mawlid Concert and the Islamic Charity Project Association Ramadan Dinner.
And, indeed, in the coming together of the community at Martin Place following the Lindt Café crisis in December of the previous year, and in our response to bushfires and floods.
We saw it, last week, in the imagery and spirit of unity we witnessed at Muhammad Ali’s interfaith funeral service in Louisville.
One of my staff experienced it, quite recently, at the start of Ramadan.
While walking from Government House one glorious evening, one of those gorgeous sunsets embraced the stretch of grass leading down to Macquarie Street.
The Harbour Bridge right around to the west was framed by brilliant swathes of turquoise, pink and orange.
In front, a young man walked. He greeted her as their paths crossed and then, as he walked further on in front, he paused, lay down a mat on the grass and knelt facing the western sky in prayer.
Tonight, we also embrace the spirit of peace, unity, giving and prayer at this Iftar Dinner, as we also reflect on those who struggle amidst war in many parts of the world, and for food and shelter, here in Australia and around the globe.
Ramadan is known as a time for not just giving up food and drink during daylight hours but for giving generously and compassionately to those less fortunate and to the charitable organisations that help them.
There is no better way to celebrate friendship than through inviting people to break bread with you and this is a tradition that crosses all national, cultural and religious backgrounds.
Tonight we break the fast with dates, fruit of the date palm, symbolic of the tree of life and eternal life, and traditionally known as the fruit that the Prophet Muhammad ate when he broke from his fast.
This evening, we celebrate our community coming together at the common table to share food, friendship and reflection at the end of the day’s fast.
Iftar is a wonderful opportunity for members of different backgrounds and cultures and diverse belief and faith groups to come together and learn about each other and to build on the feelings of solidarity, inclusiveness and belonging in the community.
Around our nation – and in many other nations of the world – millions of families are also coming together at Iftar, and have invited friends and neighbours to their table.
In Sydney, at night markets in Lakemba; at restaurants in Auburn and Bankstown; and at family tables at Parramatta, in Dee Why and Hurstville, and right across our City and our State, families and friends are gathering to do the same.
I congratulate the Islamic community and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation on your organisation of both this Dinner and the 30 and more home Iftar Dinners you have organised across Sydney this month to bring all people together, regardless of background.
Linda and I are also looking forward to attending as guests at a home Iftar Dinner arranged by Affinity in July.
On behalf of the people of New South Wales, I wish you all the best as you observe the holy month of Ramadan.
This evening’s Dinner is a wonderful occasion highlighting inclusiveness, friendship and dialogue as key contributors to social harmony.
I am honoured to support this event and convey my warm wishes as we come together at the Iftar table to celebrate our community of many faiths and cultures.
Linda and I look forward to meeting you this evening.
Arabic and Turkish phrase that translates to “Hello” and “Welcome.”
Lugarno Postscript: Notes and Furphies (1979)
 JD Lang – Historical and Statistical Account of the Colony of New South Wales, page 231
Arabic greeting that translates to “May peace be upon you.”
Arabic phrase that translates to “May your Ramadan be blessed/generous.”
Governer of NSW link: https://www.governor.nsw.gov.au/governor/selected-speeches-and-messages/nsw-parliament-friendship-and-dialogue-ramadan-iftar-dinner/