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Paul House offers a welcome of power and inspiration

Paul House… “Yindyamarra wirrimbirra maradhal gu-bu, giyira gu-bu, yandhul gu-bu. Respect is taking responsibility for the past, the present and the future.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

JON STANHOPE was invited to the Welcome to Country ceremony preceding the opening of the 47th Parliament of Australia today and was moved by what he heard.

THE Welcome to Country preceding the opening of parliament today (July 26) was introduced by Ngambri matriarch Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and delivered by her son and Ngambri elder Paul GIrrawah House. 

Jon Stanhope.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton each responded, graciously and with sensitivity, to the welcome before members of the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as Parliamentary staff and some hundreds of invited guests. 

There was also a large cohort of media and the radio, television and print reports of the Welcome to Country will possibly attract an audience of some millions of people around Australia.

Paul House delivered the welcome in both English and the language of his ancestors, the traditional custodians of the land on which Parliament House and Canberra have been built, the Ngambri peoples. 

He simultaneously acknowledged other Aboriginal peoples who identify as traditional custodians of lands incorporated into the ACT namely the Ngunnawal peoples or who have historical connections to these lands, notably the Walgalu, Ngarigu and Wiradjuri and extended his respects to them.

On a personal note, Paul acknowledged his direct ancestry, which included Jindoomang/Onyong who was born at Weereewa (Lake George) in the early 19th century and was buried at Tharwa in 1852. He also acknowledged Onyong’s son Henry “Black Harry” Williams, who was born in Namadgi in 1837 and from whom Aboriginal members of the expansive Williams family now resident in Canberra derive their surname.

Paul’s Welcome to Country was powerful and inspirational. It was also generous, provocative and emotive. I would recommend that any Canberran interested in or committed to reconciliation seek it out, read it and reflect on what Paul said and the message it contains for all of us. Notably, at its conclusion, Paul received a spontaneous standing ovation.

The following few extracts from the welcome are representative of it:

“Yindyamarra wirrimbirra maradhal gu-bu, giyira gu-bu, yandhul gu-bu. Respect is taking responsibility for the past, the present and the future.

“This Welcome to Country is made in the spirit of peace and harmony with all peoples of modern Australia. Our main aim as local custodians is to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect through the acknowledgement of our ancestors and the recognition of our right to declare our special place in the pre- and post-history of the Canberra region. 

“The name Canberra is derived from the name of our people and country, the Ngambri. The name Canberry was gazetted on January 22,1834.

“Evidence of our occupation, ownership and nationhood can be seen everywhere throughout our country. Our signature is in the land, not just in our DNA.

“We should reflect for a moment on the significance of this occasion by honouring the heroes among our First Peoples, who, over 234 years have maintained the integrity of our ancient connection to our lands against relentless forces to extinguish us by successive generations of colonisers.”

Paul then acknowledged several individuals and specific Aboriginal communities that through their dedication and commitment had achieved enduring change for First Nations people.

The Welcome to Country concluded with a passionate call for the Parliament to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart and to begin the process for a referendum to enshrine a First Peoples Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. 

Also of significant moment was a demand by Paul for the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be incorporated into Australian law. 

While he did not identify any article of the Declaration as of particular relevance to the ACT, I’d imagine, in light of the growing lateral violence and other increasingly destructive consequences for the local Aboriginal community of the ACT government’s perverse refusal, along with fellow travellers such as ABC Canberra, to acknowledge the Ngambri peoples as traditional custodians, that he may well have had Articles 31 or 33 of the UN Declaration in mind.

Article 31 provides: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional culture expressions.”

Article 33 provides: “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.” 

Then again, on what basis do any of us have the right to deny not just indigenous Australians but any Australian the right or capacity to change how they identify particularly in circumstances where the change was precipitated by a body of research that challenged a pre-existing understanding of the nomenclature relevant to one’s ancestry. 

It is true that some Aboriginal peoples in Canberra who now identify as Ngambri did once identify as Ngunnawal. Surely, however, that does not of itself change or affect the nature of their connection to this country. As John Maynard Keynes famously said: “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

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Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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3 Responses to Paul House offers a welcome of power and inspiration

Julie Tongs says: July 26, 2022 at 5:02 pm

Great article Jon I absolutely agree Paul House is an inspiration and the respect shown to Paul and his mother Dr Matilda Williams House in Parliament today was awesome 🖤❤️💛

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Ed Wensing says: July 26, 2022 at 5:43 pm

Hi Jon
That’s a wonderful piece on Paul’s Welcome to Country for the opening of the 47th Parliament. As Paul also said: ‘Give honour, be respectful, be polite, be gentle and patient with all. Then people will respect you.’ It really was a joyous occasion and a very humble speech about peace and harmony and respect. Good to see you there.

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