2014 School Captains Speech

A tribute to the legacies of Sir Henry Parkes, presented at the 125th anniversary celebration dinner of Parkes’ federation call to the people in the Tenterfield School of Arts on October 24, 2014. Delivered by the Tenterfield High School captains,  Josie McIntyre and Josh King in the presence of the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Tony Abbott.

Josie McIntyre: “To make myself as plain as possible, Australia has now a population of three and a half millions, and the American people numbered only between three and four millions when they formed the great Commonwealth of the United States. The numbers are about the same. Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace”.

“I believe that the time has come, and if two Governments set an example, the others must soon of necessity follow”.

“This means a distinct executive and a distinct parliamentary power for the whole of Australia, and it means a Parliament of two houses, a house of commons and a senate, which will legislate on these great subjects”.

These words have been taken from Sir Henry Parkes federation speech, 1889.

Josh King: The man, Sir Henry Parkes. The visionary, Sir Henry Parkes, a man ahead of his time. A man that led a generation to where they didn’t want to go but with strong persuasion and huge amounts of courage this man and visionary stood strong in his beliefs to bring forth the federation of Australia.

Good Evening, Chairman Mr Peter Jeffrey, Prime Minister of Australia, The Honourable Tony Abbott, members of the Henry Parkes Family, ladies and gentlemen.

As we stand here this evening, with the honour of celebrating the memory of Sir Henry Parkes, one of the unsung heroes of his generation, inspirational in the changes he has brought throughout Australia that help shape this proud nation. We take this time to reflect on the man that he was, the movements that he has made and the influential decisions that he brought about to which are still the foundations of our parliamentary system. And by staying true to his beliefs and strong in his resolve Sir Henry Parkes unbeknownst to him at the time courageously changed the landscape of Australia to what you see today.

We take this moment to invite everyone in this room to imagine Australia at war without federation. The thought is nearly incomprehensible, one country going to war with several different armies. In the words of Sir Henry Parkes

Believing, as I do, that it is essential to preserve the security and integrity of these colonies, then the whole of our forces should be amalgamated into one great Federal army…We have now, from South Australia to Queensland, a stretch of about two thousand miles of railways and if the four colonies could only combine to adopt a uniform gauge, it would be an immense advantage in the movement of troops”.

“The great question which we have to consider is, whether the time has not now arisen for the creation of this Australian continent of an Australian government and an Australian parliament”.

When you think about that and the era in which it was spoken and the opposition it would’ve faced, we are in awe of the man. As we spent the time researching Sir Henry Parkes, our knowledge was small but now on reflection we realize the significance of this event each year. The realization of what this man achieved and how he set about achieving it, to us as 17 year olds is not only inspirational but breathtaking. Tenterfield should be proud and honoured to have this as part of its heritage and history. To think that one of the biggest changes in Australia’s political life, if not the biggest change, was not bought about in the centre of Sydney or the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, but here in Tenterfield. One man, with one vision, on the steps of this very building. That’s where federation began.

Josie McIntyre: In Tenterfield alone there is a school, a museum and this annual event all in his honour as well as our Federation Park in the remembrance to the historical events of which we are celebrating today, but  when you look outside the boundaries of Tenterfield there is a town, a suburb and a road named in his honour, but then cross the oceans to Canley England the place of his birth and there you will find the importance of his work in a foreign land has been recognised with the erection of a primary school in his name. But not only after his death was the importance of his work recognised but in 1888 he was awarded the title of G.C.M.G being Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. This honour is awarded for rendering extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country, even in 1888 his peers recognised his greatness.

125 years ago, Sir Henry Parkes stood on the steps of this building and delivered his now famous speech on his vision for federation. If someone had dared to whisper to him that day that in the 21st century people would still be coming together to honour him and his legacy we dare say he would not have believed it. To tell that man 125 years ago who not only had a passion for federation but was one of the major driving forces behind public education that in 2014 the sitting Prime Minister of Australia would come to a small country town, would listen to a speech made by two rural public educated school captains, we are sure he would’ve been proud. What a humbling thought that we take from here today something that could just be one of our strong beliefs that we fight for, could not only influence our generation but many generations to come.

 27th May 1815, the birth of Sir Henry Parkes, no one could have known that this man would play such a significant role in what would become Australia, as we know it today. His passions, his commitment and determination in bringing about the changes to public education and federation were the mark of the man. They were then and they remain today the legacy of Sir Henry Parkes. What an overwhelming thought that almost two centuries later the significance of this date and the legacy are still being honoured.  We are humbled this evening by the respect shown to the importance of the occasion by the presence of the Prime Minster the honourable Tony Abbott. We feel you must be honoured Mr Abbott to work within the political landscape that has been shaped by Sir Henry Parkes and his peers.  It is a reflection of the man that you took the time to be present here this evening.  It is a true testament to not only you prime minister but to Sir Henry Parkes and it shows to us the students of Tenterfield high school that you the honourable Prime Minister of Australian not only respect but value the contributions made to Australia by sir Henry Parkes the man we celebrate tonight.

We would now like to finish by reading to you the inscription that is found on the monument erected in his honour at his place of burial in Faulconbridge.

“The centenary of his birth, the government and people of Australia remember with feelings of gratitude and admiration the patriotic example and the enduring effects of the public labours in the interest of NSW, Australia and the British Empire of Sir Henry Parkes G.C.M.G born May 27th 1815, died April 27th 1896”.                    Ends.

Tenterfield, Saturday October 25, 2014.