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Sir Michael Parkinson's Australia

Nick Bryant | 16:02 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Since it is the Australia Day national holiday, I am taking a day off, and handing over the blog to the King of Chat. We were treated to Sir Michael Parkinson's Australia on Monday night, when he became the first non-Australian to deliver the Australia Day speech before an audience in Sydney.

Always a great raconteur, there was much to enjoy. From someone who has obviously thought deeply about Australia, and been a regular visitor for the past 30 years, there was also much to ponder. Parky was particularly good on the classlessness of Australia, the umbilical relationship that the Ashes have come to exemplify and the attractiveness of the Aussie sense of humour.

His concluding thought was also interesting: "Curiously for a nation not lacking in confidence it seems to be awaiting inspiration from someone or something." But frustratingly perhaps, he did not probe further.

Anyway, I'll leave you in the hands of Sir Michael. You can read the oration in full here, and below are some of the edited highlights:

Michael Parkinson

"My association with Australia started the day I was born. Upon being told my mother had given birth to a baby boy, my father said he would like to add another name to the agreed Michael. He said he wanted to celebrate a recent event in Australia where England had won a Test match. Therefore he would like me baptized, Michael Melbourne Parkinson. My mother, aware she was married to a cricket tragic, said she too had been thinking about another name. Her choice would be Gershwin to commemorate her love of movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers by celebrating the composer of some of the great music they danced to. Fortunately, they agreed that the chance of bringing up a child named Michael Gershwin Melbourne Parkinson in a pit village in Yorkshire without incident might prove a problem. So they changed their mind, and thank the lord they did......"

On Australia's egalitarianism: "For someone brought up to conform to the strict boundaries of class and privilege in post war Britain; to feel inhibited, shackled even, by the limitations imposed by accent, education and the fact of being a miner's son; for this person to encounter fellow human beings to whom none of these things mattered at all, was a joyous revelation.

"Indeed I think I truly fell in love with Australia when years later I watched the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, put his arm around the Queen. Those who believed it was a terrible lapse of protocol, that Mr Keating should be sent to the Tower and tried for treason, completely missed the point. Mr Keating wasn't being disloyal, he was merely reaching out in friendly gesture, as one human being to another."

On the Ashes: "At the same time as exposing the worst of animosity between our two nations, the game also promotes the best examples of familial love. It has allowed our countries to express their rivalry, but more importantly their mateship, through displays of sportsmanship and unexpected kindness..."

On humour: "[The] droll sense of humour is what I find most attractive in the Australian character. This was never more evident than when Australia achieved the impossible by putting a smile on the face of the Olympic Games. The Sydney Olympics nowadays are regarded as the shining example of what the Games should be. Why? The journalist Simon Barnes gave this explanation in The Times: 'Australia had the guts to debunk the twaddle that goes with the Olympic Games, to take away the pomposity and celebrate a concept that means far more to us than the banalities about world peace - that is to say humour.'

"Dame Edna Everage once said - and we must never tire of quoting the classics - that Australians are good at sport because of "the sun, the diet, the healthy outdoor life and the total lack of intellectual stimulation." In doing so the Dame was merely explaining the cultural cringe which existed in Australia 30 years ago. How different now..."

On the national spirit: "Writing this speech trying to convey the humour and good nature of the Australian people, and searching to explain why this is still the lucky country, has been difficult at a time of terrible disaster in Queensland. And yet to the outside observer nothing becomes your people more than the way they respond to the horrors of flood and fire. In 2009 the bushfires of Victoria, today the floods in Queensland have reminded the world of the resilience and courage of the Australian people.

"It is reassuring to the rest of us - helpless spectators that we are - to be reminded that such appalling tragedies bring out the best in human nature, demonstrating that the notion of community, the principle of being a good neighbour are not merely slogans but the practical means by which communities survive in desperate times. It also reminds us just how a penal colony became a great nation. The history of this place is the triumph of a few who by common purpose and strength of necessity built a prosperous nation in a remarkably short time...

"Curiously for a nation not lacking in confidence it seems to be awaiting inspiration from someone or something. When it finds whatever it is looking for, nothing will stop it.
In trying to sum up what I feel about my second home, I keep coming back to Scott Fitzgerald's observation that America was a land commensurate with our ability to wonder and so, I believe, is Australia.

"If we think for a moment of those 11 ships arriving in 1788 with their forlorn cargo and then look around us and then think what the next 200 years might bring it is surely not stretching our sense of wonder to imagine Australia as one of the most powerful and progressive nations of the world. Ah! You say, that would indeed be a miracle. Well think back 200 years and then look around you now. Is not what you see miraculous?"


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