This speech was given at the official opening of the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens on September 1st 2001. It was added to the Charcoalition website due to its apparent contradiction with his government’s later approval (subsequently repealed) of the Mogo Charcoal Plant.
“Counsellor Chris Vardon the Mayor of Eurobodalla Shire Council, Russell Smith the Member for Bega, Laurie Brereton the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs who snuck in with us, Steve Waugh, Shire Counsellors, Richard Roberts Chair of the Gardens Management Committee and Don Walter Chair of the Friends, Mrs. Pat Spears, Frank Howel from the Sydney Botanic Gardens, Ladies & Gentlemen.
“Thank you for the welcome to the country. I warmly acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land and I am delighted to be here in Eurobodalla the land of many waters. The beautiful South Coast: there is nothing like it and I remember another weekend down here with Trevor Kennedy – we hiked through Nadgee Nature Reserve, and this is the land that Cook first sighted when he reached the east coast of Australia. And because we have conserved it as a nature reserve it is exactly as Cook saw it. The last coastal wilderness in New South Wales and the sea plains, the pockets of forests, its beautiful sand dunes reaching to the Victorian Border and its wonderful coastal lakes. And as you come up the coast by plane you see the numerous coastal lakes that distinguish this part of the East Coast of Australia. You see forests reaching the coast; reaching the headlands as you do at Murramarang, one of my favourite National Parks and every year I make a point of doing that coastal walk at Marramarang where coastal forests reach from the mountains the sea. The great monuments: God’s cathedrals like Pigeon House named by Cook as he charted the coast. The glorious coastal range and that jewel, that last natural harbour, Jervis Bay. What a splendid part of the Australian environment the South Coast is.
“Now I was proud in 1999 to be able to declare no fewer than a hundred new National Parks on this part of the South Coast with big extensions to existing National Parks. And like this site they are just a gift from this generation to all the generations who’ll come. It’s this generation having a conversation with the Australians who come after us saying “Here’s something we’re gifting to you”. We’ve got to be careful about our inheritance to see that we pass it on. When I think about the debate on Australia’s population options I think of the South Coast because of its fragility and when a business leader says that Australia ought’a aim to have a population of fifty million I think of what that would mean to the South Coast. It would mean ubanisation between the mountains and the sea. There would mean a loss, it would mean the damming of the Shoalhaven, it would mean a loss of the fragile coastal lakes, it would mean urbanisation of the existing farmlands, of scenic open space given over to tracts of housing and shopping malls and that’s not a future I want. And I want you to take an interest in debates over Australia’s population future because they have huge implications for all of eastern Australia between mountains and the sea.
“Australians first began to realise the uniqueness of their forests on January 26th 1788 when Philip and his team of battered and bruised sailors and convicts and marines had a toehold at Sydney Harbour. At Sydney Cove they looked at those looming, frightening, jagged, threatening forests. There was only one among them to my knowledge who discerned the beauty in them. It was Watkin Tinch who even in 1788 described these forests, like the forests around us here, as, quote: “as rare and beautiful plants with which this country abounds. It was” he said “a scene of novelty and variety”. He could have been describing these very gardens that we are dedicating today. Many of the first immigrants still long for Europe and its different botany. They wanted the green and pleasant land of Blake’s Jerusalem. They wanted gardens like Hugh, Sizzinghurst, Chatworth. But if you’re drawn to roses and daffodils you don’t come here. This is an Australian Botanic Garden and this is for the Australians of our modern sensibility who have grown to love this land and to love its forests; who familiarised ourselves with it and who admire the Aboriginal Australians for their deep and intimate knowledge of the landforms and the smells and the seasons of old Australia.
“Well around here are plants native to Eurobodalla Shire in the South Coast. Some not found anywhere else in Australia; many not found anywhere else in the world, and it’s a precious legacy to the Australians who come after us. The 16 year history of the Gardens is extraordinary – as extraordinary as the plants themselves. We have heard about the saga of the original vision of Pat Spears, the endless hours of hard work by the friends. You have heard about that devastating day of those awful bush fires we all remember of early 1994 that devastated much of the State. And today we honour the tenacity that saw the dream rededicated and the gardens rebuilt and replanted. And it is appropriate that it is International Year of the Volunteer. We commit ourselves again as Australians to the volunteer spirit. So let me salute Chris and the immense contribution of the Eurobodalla Shire Council. You are always telling me how fast this region is growing, how successful it is. You come and see me under your various guises: Chair of, President of the Shire’s Association you slip in you raise some general issues about the future of Local Government in the State and then you hone in on your own Shire fighting tenaciously for the things you believe in and you want. I’ve never met; I’ve gotta say I’ve never met a more persistent advocate for his part of New South Wales and you can take very great pride in what you’ve achieved with your community here today.
“The most visited sites in Australia, after cinemas and libraries, are Botanic Gardens. Australians are great gardeners and over the years we’ve grown to know and to value the plants of our own continent and to appreciate them properly. And what are gardens?. They are reservoirs, they are scientific laboratories, they are where we’ve got discoveries locked up for the future. We can’t crack their secrets but future generations will. The scientific importance of gardens comes first. They’ve got enduring educational value. Youngsters from the local schools will come here and learn vividly about the plants of this country and as an Israeli said to me once “Patriotism arises from a knowledge of your country’s history and geography”. And young people here will have their patriotism fuelled by a growing knowledge of the plants of this continent. This is a place too of restoration to revise and help land care back to the country that we in our carelessness have taken. It is a great resource for the people of the South Coast and for these reasons it is a great honour for me to be with you, and it gives me great pleasure to declare open these beautiful enriching gardens. Thankyou”.
Thanks to Jennifer Becchio for transcribing the above text from a video tape of the event