Royal Historical Society of Queensland Queensland Day Dinner
I thank the Royal Historical Society of Queensland for this opportunity to present a few observations on the extensive regional travel that Kaye and I have undertaken in this Vice-Regal role.
I have also taken the liberty of giving these remarks further historical context by referring to noteworthy regional visits undertaken by my predecessors over the past 160 years.
The differences are sometimes startling.
In April 1860, Queensland’s first Governor, Sir George Bowen, wrote to the Under-Secretary of the Colonies in London with this advice: ‘You should never send a Governor here who cannot ride and shoot.’
This followed Sir George’s description of his visit to the Darling Downs, via Cunningham’s Gap – all on horseback.
I do not know the extent to which the early Governors walked to their destinations. Others did, the Anglican Rector Benjamin Glennie, who was of Governor Bowen’s era, regularly walked all over his 8000 square mile parish, from Warwick to Toowoomba. But Glennie it is said, disliked riding his horse. I expect Governor Bowen had access to many horses.
I encourage you not to imagine the current Vice-Regal representative travelling to Warwick on horseback let alone on foot. I direct your attention instead to the fact that Sir George Bowen was out and about – and out of Brisbane within days of his arrival in Queensland.
His first visit, in December 1859, was to Ipswich. Soon after, he visited Gayndah, followed by his journey to Warwick.
Sir George’s instructions from the British Government made clear that he was expected to travel.
Even so, I doubt that he and subsequent Governors needed prompting to realise that restricting their official duties to Brisbane would never do in a State as large as Queensland.
Unlike Sir George, of course, I had no instructions from the British Government, but I found that none other than Her Majesty The Queen was still very much apprised of the matter during our first audience with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace in 2014.
The Queen noted, graciously, that Queensland was a very large State and that extensive travel was an essential feature of Vice-Regal duties in our State.
I have been able to respect Her Majesty’s advice, and my own pledge at my Swearing-in to visit ‘all communities within the State’, something I can accomplish with much greater speed and ease than many of my predecessors.
Until as recently as the early 20th century, those predecessors found travel by boat the quickest way of reaching many parts of the State.
Most of the earlier Governors arrived in Queensland by sea. Some took full advantage of this. Lord and Lady Lamington, our 8th Vice Regal couple for instance, stopped at Thursday Island, Cooktown, Townsville, Rockhampton and Maryborough before ever setting foot in Brisbane.
Lord Lamington was our Governor at Federation: Lord Lamington, the Right Honourable Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane Baillie was his name.
Railways began to present a viable means of long-distance travel in the State from about the 1880s, allowing Governors to travel to more remote centres.
This was done in style, in a special Vice-Regal carriage whose beautifully constructed 1903 version still exists.
We had the honour of travelling in that carriage from Emerald to Barcaldine and Longreach in 2016, following in the footsteps of 7th Governor Sir Henry Norman who, in 1892, became the first Queensland Governor to arrive in Longreach by train.
But there were always places beyond the easy reach of boat or rail and some Governors made extraordinary efforts to visit them.
There are some amazing photos in the archives, particularly, for me. of a banquet in 1890 for Governor Norman, on the Stoney Creek Bridge on the Cairns-Kuranda railway line, then under construction.
The photo exudes rugged, primitive remoteness- the whole thing looking rather precarious. How did the Governor get there? On horseback I imagine: what dedicated pioneering spirit!
But the most remarkable travel, I think, goes to our 10th Governor Lord Chelmsford, Governor from 1905 to 1909.
In June 1908, with his Aide and five others, he travelled by buggy from the Atherton Tableland to Camooweal and beyond via rough tracks or no tracks at all, a journey of some 1,400 kilometres.
I leave to others an expert dissertation on the subsequent history of transport in Queensland. Suffice to say that the advent of the motor vehicle and eventually aircraft changed the face of travel out of all recognition.
Though perhaps in a salute to the past, I travelled to the Bomber Command Commemorative Service at Amberley last Sunday in our Rolls-Royce 1974 vintage: and I was privileged to have as my companion from Memorial Garden to Mess, a 97-year old veteran Lancaster pilot Mr Ken Walker.
Some of the romance of travel may have been lost, but advances over the decades have allowed Kaye and me to meet many more Queenslanders, in more places, and much more often than ever.
Those ‘places’ include Masig Yorke Island in the Torres Strait, Karumba and Yarrabah which we visited last month, remote communities on Cape York and many towns in Western Queensland – Quilpie, Thargomindah, Bedourie, Birdsville and Boulia spring immediately to mind.
On Wednesday I was in Charters Towers to open the 48th State Conference of the Isolated Children’s Parents Association conference- 2 hours up to Townsville by air, road transport from Townsville 1.5 hours each way, but we were able to include a council briefing over dinner, then the conference opening on Wednesday: busy!
Back in time for the State of Origin Game, an important commitment for the Queensland Governor! Busy, I say, and as Kaye regularly responds when asked about the routine; “happy busy”.
And indeed, tomorrow, we travel where NO State Governor has trodden before…to Hungerford in the South West, hugging the border. Latest population count 9 residents in town and another 50 living in the District.
Not only is the town possibly the smallest in Queensland it also has another unique feature drivers coming into town need to open a gate to enter the main street and close another gate to drive out the other side of it.
One of the then population of I recall 10 suggested to Kaye that we might visit; that suggestion came during the opening of new airport facilities in Thargomindah.
We embraced the prospect, and courtesy of a training flight with the RFDS (by road Hungerford is somewhat remote) we will be there for a ‘field day’: what a quintessentially Vice-Regal opportunity!
The relative convenience of getting from A to B aside, it has long been abundantly clear to Kaye and me that the impulse of Queensland’s Governors to travel was driven by much more than instructions and duty.
We have been able to hear Queenslanders speak to us of their dreams, ambitions and concerns for themselves and their families, their pride in the places they call home.
We have heard the stories of the hard work, sweat and tears expended by their forebears to create better lives for current generations.
We have enjoyed their irrepressible humour, and been humbled by their toughness and resilience, their friendliness and generosity.
A further advantage of easier and more rapid travel is that we can quickly reach areas affected by natural disasters. We have been busy doing just that, particularly this year.
Having spent years visiting regions gripped by the prolonged drought, there is cruel irony in the fact that we travelled to Townsville, Hughenden, Richmond and Julia Creek in February this year to support Queenslanders whose lives and livelihoods had been devastated by unprecedented floods and horrendous stock losses.
And I also visited Mackay and several small communities in Central Queensland to thank organisations that had responded to the ferocious bushfires that affected the region in late 2018.
These are often confronting and sombre experiences.
But no matter whether in good times or bad, meeting Queenslanders is always an inspiring and uplifting experience for us, personally and professionally.
It is also one of the greatest privileges of the Vice-Regal role. I cannot imagine that the views of my predecessors as Governor were any different.
This evening, in this company, I am delighted to acknowledge a particular group of those Queenslanders – the guardians of the history and heritage of our State’s regional communities.
They might be guardians of the enormous depth of indigenous culture, history and connection to country.
Or the many volunteers in local historical societies who have researched, recorded, preserved and promoted the more recent history and heritage of ‘their’ place.
There are too many to acknowledge this evening, so I will instead take as an exemplar Dr Judith Grimes, whom I recently presented with an OAM for service to local history as an author of books on local, district and shire histories of Maryborough, Nanango, Wooroolin and Memerambi.
There are wonderful people like Dr Grimes to be found in cities, towns, townships, and shires all over the State. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to their dedication, their generosity, and their enormous contributions to their communities and to Queensland.
I pay tribute also to the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, whose equally whole-hearted dedication to the promotion of our State’s history has benefitted Queensland and Queenslanders since the Society was established in 1913.
I was proud to become the most recent of the Society’s many Vice-Regal Patrons, thereby extending that relationship to 106 years and counting.
Having focused on the past, I close my remarks by looking to the future.
The Queenslanders whom Kaye and I have met, and are yet to meet, are in the process of creating the next chapters in our State’s history.
That is an exciting prospect.
I wish the Society and all those who work in this field every success in maintaining their vital role as witness to, and careful preserver of, the history created by generations of Queenslanders to come.