Reception in Support of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland
Our Society President, Dr Denver Beanland and fellow Council members; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I at once acknowledge the traditional owners of these lands and extend respectful greetings to Elders and emerging leaders.
It is a great pleasure to welcome members of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland and their guests to Government House today.
Before we commence, may I publicly thank Denver and Vice President, Michael Halliday in his capacity of Cook Society convenor, for coming to Fernberg last week to sign messages of condolence following the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
I am sure The Queen and members of the Royal Family will be deeply touched by these heartfelt gestures of support from the people of Queensland – a people who are ever grateful for the deep and genuine interest the Duke took in them over so many years.
Now as you know, in 2020 it was not possible for me to launch the Royal Historical Society of Queensland’s conservation work at the Dig Tree Reserve.
And then the rescheduled March 2021 launch was stymied by otherwise welcome rain out west, and became a virtual event!
I am delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to acknowledge the Society’s transformation of that remote spot at Cooper Creek, inextricably linked with the fate of the Burke and Wills expedition.
When I learned about Burke and Wills at school, the story emphasised the undoubted ‘gallantry, daring and … fidelity’ of the main protagonists, to quote the 1861 enquiry into the expedition.
There was probably less said about serious shortcomings in the expedition’s planning and implementation, also highlighted by the 1861 enquiry and by historians since then.
Even so, in boldly striking north from Cooper Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria through terra incognita – though not at all ‘incognita’ to the Indigenous Australians of the area – and reaching the limits of human endurance before the final tragedy, the expedition captured the imagination of Australians.
The site in question is 1,200 kilometres west of Brisbane, making the logistics of undertaking the Society’s conservation work at Cooper Creek daunting.
Undaunted, the Society carried the project through to completion, providing additional protection for the Dig Tree, constructing a pathway, boardwalk, information boards, and 3-D replicas of the six tree blazes in their original clarity.
This work has greatly enhanced the already outstanding heritage value of the site and made a visit to the Reserve a far richer experience.
I extend my whole-hearted thanks to the Society for this marvellous achievement, in particular those Society members whose vision, hard work and perseverance were instrumental in bringing the project to fruition.
I thank also the Bulloo Shire Council, the Queensland and Australian Governments and Nappa Merrie Station for their invaluable cooperation and contributions.
Speaking of the Bullo Shire, in 2019 Kaye and I made a memorable visit, with Royal Flying Doctor Service logistical support, to the tiny hamlet of Hungerford.
That town – population at the time, 9! – is on the ‘dingo fence’ south of Cunnamulla. To get from New South Wales into Queensland there, you have to unlock a gate. To this day, I do not yet know who holds the key!
That memorable visit is vividly recounted in the new Government House publication I launched last month, ‘The Governors of Modern Queensland’, authored by Madonna King and David Fagan.
To recognise the pivotal role the Society has played for more than a century in highlighting, advancing and disseminating knowledge of our State’s history, I am delighted to confirm you will all leave today with a courtesy copy of this book!
Your wonderful record of preserving our precious heritage is deserving of great pride on the part of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, and of acclamation from the people of our State.
Thank you, and enjoy the hospitality of Government House.