Bill's Speeches

CONDOLENCE MOTION: DR EVELYN SCOTT AO - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA - MONDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2017

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Thank you, Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for his words.

Today, we honour a proud warrior for her people, a dauntless champion for reconciliation, a fearless truth-teller for our nation.

Her dear friend Pat Turner remembered her, saying:

“Her presence was commanding, as was her contribution.”

In her iconic black hat, Evelyn Scott stood tall and by her deeds and her courage, she helped others walk tall.

Evelyn's grandfather came to Australia in chains, from Vanuatu, put to work cutting cane in North Queensland.

As a young woman growing up in Townsville, Evelyn was witness to the invisible chains of discrimination, where Aboriginal people were classified as minors, denied basic rights to housing, to land, to employment and education.

And so she took to heart her father's credo: “If you don't think something is right, challenge it.”

She challenged it, she changed it.

At her state funeral, the first one ever held for an Aboriginal woman in the state of Queensland, friends remembered a matriarch who set the family table, describing it as:

“Like a 5-star hotel, no snatch-and-grab breakfast.”

But they remembered a person also with a consuming passion for justice.

Jennifer Darr spoke fondly of how when Eve was getting ready for an argument, you knew it was coming.

“Those big brown eyes would be big like saucers, her mouth was tight, her left hand would take its position firmly on her hip.

And then you had two choices available to you - watch out or take cover. The fireworks were about to start.”

Evelyn's fireworks illuminated our nation for many decades: at the forefront of the decade-long struggle to achieve the 1967 referendum, as the head of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and as the Chairwoman for the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation between 1997 and 2000.

Mr Speaker, the late 90s were hard years for the cause. The optimism sparked by the Mabo decision and Paul Keating's leadership on Native Title had faded, allegations of ‘political correctness’, the ‘guilt industry’ and ‘black armband history’ dogged the reconciliation conversation.

Yet in hindsight, those times were perfectly suited for Evelyn's grace and her tremendous capacity to motivate and to unify.

There was no more powerful expression of her leadership than when 250,000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation. that walk supported by marchers all around that nation that, proved reconciliation was not a fringe issue or a niche issue, it was a peoples’ movement.

A national priority central to Australian's understanding of our past and our faith in a more equal future.

Mr Speaker

Evelyn Scott lived every metre of the hard road to reconciliation, every setback, every detour, every obstacle put in her path.

But her faith, her optimism, her belief in the better angels of Australia's nature never wavered.

It is fitting we close with her words:

“In true reconciliation, through the remembering, the grieving and the healing, we can come to terms with our conscience and we can become as one in the dreaming of this land.

What a rich and valuable heritage to leave our children, a 56,000 year culture, thriving in a country at peace with its conscience.”

“Will you take our hand?” she said.

“Will you dare to share our dream?” she said.

Evelyn Scott dedicated her life to the pursuit of that dream.

So today, as we offer our condolences to her loved ones, we thank them for lending her to the service of this nation for so long.

Let us commemorate her life in the most fitting way possible, by redoubling and renewing our efforts to achieve true and lasting reconciliation.

ENDS


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