Evidence of meeting #9 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was montreal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Excellency Justin Hugh Brown  High Commissioner for Australia to Canada, Australian High Commission
  • André Picard  Vice-President, Public and Corporate Affairs, Just For Laughs Group
  • Louise Pothier  Director, Exhibitions and Technologies, Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History

9 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

That's good.

Can you just describe the legacy or impact of those celebrations on Australian society?

9 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

The impact in a concrete sense was, as I mentioned, the railways and some of the concrete projects that were built during the centenary or constructed at the time of the centenary. They were, if you like, tangible results from the year.

I'll leave it to others to make the case as to whether some of the intangibles have helped knit our national fabric together more tightly. There was certainly a great sense of pride in Australia at the time of the centenary. Australia being the country it is, some of that has of course evaporated in the time since, but I think people did take from the year a great sense of national pride and an improved understanding of our history as a country.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Do you have any personal advice for us as Canadians that you would like to offer in terms of our preparation leading up to the 150th anniversary?

9 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

I don't think I would even bother to venture a personal opinion on how you should run your centenary.

9 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

I appreciate that. Thank you.

I'll pass the rest of my time to Mr. Calandra.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Thank you very much, Your Excellency. I appreciate your being here.

I'm wondering if there was a signature event during the celebrations that was the focus of the celebrations.

9 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

I mentioned the New Dawn ceremony that took place in Alice Springs. I think that was probably the keynote signature event, if you like. It was a deliberate attempt to not have a signature event in Sydney. That was because there was a concern that with the Olympics and with the bicentennial three years earlier, there was a risk of the thing becoming too Sydney focused. The place of indigenous people in Australian life was obviously a prominent thing in the celebrations. The New Dawn ceremony in Alice Springs was probably the most high-profile event held during the year.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Focusing on the aboriginal communities, how were you able to tie them into the celebrations in such a fashion that...? This is not a commentary on Australian history, but maybe more on Canadian history. How were you able to tie them in so that they felt a part of the celebrations and not...I don't want to say a victim of what happened, because that would be a bad choice of words, but how did you make them part of the celebrations so that they felt part of what you had accomplished in the hundred years?

9 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

We worked hard with the different aboriginal communities across the country, from the initial advisory committee report, which made engagement with the aboriginal community a very prominent part of its work, all the way through to the work of the national council.

There was direct and frequent interaction with the aboriginal community, which in Australia is not a monolithic single body, I should mention. There are many different aboriginal groups spread across the country, from urban Aborigines to those in remote communities. A big feature of the year was to try to involve all of the aboriginal communities and to put our political differences, if you like, to one side and celebrate what we've achieved as a country. To depoliticize the process was a prominent thing.

Now, I wouldn't pretend that every aboriginal member of the community was ecstatic about every aspect of the centenary, but there was extremely good involvement from many aboriginal groups, particularly in the New Dawn ceremony, so overall, I think it was a success.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Calandra.

We will move on to Ms. Boutin-Sweet.

November 1st, 2011 / 9 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Thank you.

You spoke of public lectures in which history was looked at with a critical eye so as to learn from the past. I'm intrigued. I'd like you to give us more details on that matter.

9:05 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

Merci.

There were a number of events, some officially part of the centenary, and others that were what I might describe as unofficial events at the time of the centenary. Many universities, for example, hosted conferences, conventions, and symposia looking at Australian history.

A sidebar comment here is that Australia is a country that doesn't talk as a country about its history very much at all. It was quite a new approach for our community to actually reflect on our history as a country.

There are quite sharp divisions between parts of the community on the events of the past, particularly in relation to the indigenous community. At the time, we had a Conservative government that felt very strongly that there was too much focus on the problems of the past, the shortcomings of previous Australian governments and so on. There was a very robust debate, as you would expect in Australia, with both sides putting their views, and there were many articles written in various publications, for example, airing different views about Australia's history.

I don't think any of these reached a particular climax, if you like, but it was part of the effort to improve the way that we as a nation thought of ourselves and to improve the level of understanding, particularly in the general community and among schoolchildren, of some of the basic facts of our history. I don't think it was anything more sophisticated than that.

But as I said, in the context of a country that really hasn't spoken at length about its history and doesn't really reflect on its past very much, it was quite a new and radical approach.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

You also mentioned community projects. Could you give us a few examples?

9:05 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

I don't have any right now. The only one I've been given information on was the event in Townsville, which is in northern Queensland.

Northern Queensland has a particular cultural environment, if I could put it that way. The idea of the gathering there was to celebrate, if you like, what it means to be from northern Queensland. There was a large pageant, a kind of parade, along the waterfront in Townsville. That was designed and implemented with input from and driven by the local community. That was one of the non-metropolitan events that were funded by the federal and state governments, but with community control and ownership of the project.