Mid Coast Christian College captains Isabella Coleman and Indianna Day opened Taree's Australia Day function on Wednesday with an address that left the crowd in awe.
A transcript of the speech was given to the Times by the school to share, as follows.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we all gather today, their connections to the land, sea and community. I pay my respect to the elders both past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending this ceremony today.
My name is Isabella Coleman, and I am proud to be a descendent of the Budjiti People,
and this is Indianna Day. We are so honoured to be here today representing our school, Midcoast Christian College.
I think we can all agree that today marks the anniversary of a significant moment in Australia's history.
On this day, 234 years ago, Captain Arthur Phillip led the first fleet into Sydney Cove, taking possession of the land in the name of King George III. For many convicts disembarking at that time, and for so many people since, Australia offered the possibility of a fresh start. We are a land of boundless plains, endless possibilities - new beginnings.
However, for those who already inhabited the land, this day marked the beginning of many ends.- Isabella Coleman
However, for those who already inhabited the land, this day marked the beginning of many ends. This day marked the beginning of displacement, disease, conflict, the decline of a population and the loss of cultural and family connections.
If we had to select our relationship status with Australia Day on social media, we would probably have to say "it's complicated". Australia Day means many things to many people. And while we might all equally love this country, we acknowledge that the anniversary of colonisation brings a mixture of sentiments.
When we were asked to give a speech in the theme of Reflect, Respect, Celebrate, we were both moved and challenged. How could we do this theme justice and speak to the heart of every person here today? How might we dig deep to find the shared values that can bring us closer together?
The truth is, Australia today is a place worth celebrating. Every day, we are grateful for all Australia has to offer. Our generation has grown up enjoying the security of peace, as well as economic and political stability.
We enjoy freedoms and privileges such as gaining an education and accessing free healthcare. We have goals and aspirations for our future that we are free to pursue whole-heartedly. To stand before you today as two young women and share our hearts with you is a privilege that is still denied to many girls and women around the world. We don't take that for granted and that is definitely something we celebrate with you today.
However, to simply celebrate our country without pausing for reflection on our past feels somewhat superficial and inadequate.
...to simply celebrate our country without pausing for reflection on our past feels somewhat superficial and inadequate.- Indianna Day
Today, as we celebrate this amazing country, whether it be by the pool, at the beach, over a BBQ or on the couch, we hope you will join us in taking the time to reflect on our past and grow in respect for our fellow Australians. Often at school, our teachers ask us to reflect on things.
Perhaps we might be asked to reflect on a documentary we have watched in class or a text we have read for homework. Other times, we are asked to self-reflect on a task we have completed, or even on an interaction we have had with another student or teacher. We are asked to do this because reflection often helps us see things from a different perspective. It helps us to see areas for growth and improvement, and it helps us develop empathy for others.
All of these things lead to self-improvement and greater respect & consideration for each other. Reflection - what a powerful thing for us to do as a whole nation today.
As we reflect on the story of Australia, we see great tragedy and loss, as well as great resilience and endurance. The First People of Australia suffered losses so far reaching that they continue to impact families to this day. Yet despite this, we continue to see Indigenous leaders such as Uncle Mick Saunders in our schools, teaching Aboriginal culture and language and supporting Indigenous children and their families.
This fills us with admiration for the capacity of our nation's First People to maintain spiritual and cultural connections despite continually coming under attack.
Sadly, we cannot change the past, but we have the power to create a brighter future. We hope and pray that the future of our country will be marked by mutual respect and kindness towards one-another.
Sadly, we cannot change the past, but we have the power to create a brighter future. We hope and pray that the future of our country will be marked by mutual respect and kindness towards one-another.- Isabella Coleman
More recently, as we reflect upon the enormous challenges we have faced over the past few years, we are overwhelmed with gratitude and respect for the many Australians who have dedicated their lives to helping us through drought, bushfires, floods and Covid-19. None of us have been left unscathed by the events of 2020 and 2021.
But through these challenges, we have witnessed first-hand the very best of humanity. We have watched people willing to put aside their differences and help their neighbours in need. We watched as rescue workers risked their lives to protect people they had never met. We have seen people willingly make sacrifices to stop the spread of Covid, often at great personal cost.
Australians might love a good argument, and passionately debate everything from things as small as a "dodgy" call by an umpire in a kid's cricket match to things as large and impacting as government policy. But somehow, we Australians also have a unique ability to put that all aside and unite in times of hardship. Our hope and prayer is that Australians will only increase their capacity to work together, to support each other, to listen and learn from one another and to find unity in diversity.
Finally, as we celebrate this amazing country here today, we would like to recognise and congratulate those people here who officially become Australian citizens today. We are so excited for you to become citizens of what we think is the very best country in the world. We are richer for having you here. Today Australia becomes part of your story and you become part of Australia's story.
Congratulations and welcome.
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