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

November 1st, 2011 / 8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Good morning, everybody.

We'll get started here.

Welcome to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

We're very pleased this morning to have here His Excellency Justin Hugh Brown, High Commissioner for Australia to Canada.

Thank you for joining us here today, Your Excellency.

He'll be appearing from 8:45 to 9:30. Then, at 9:30 to 10:30, we have other witnesses, and from 10:30 to 10:45, we have committee business.

As we know, Australia celebrated its centenary in 2001, so that is a bit of useful experience that we hopefully can get from our friends from Australia.

We welcome you here today, Your Excellency. The way this committee usually works is that if you have some opening remarks, you can deliver those, and then we'll go into some questions.

Thank you. The floor is yours.

8:45 a.m.

His Excellency Justin Hugh Brown High Commissioner for Australia to Canada, Australian High Commission

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's my pleasure to be here with you today.

I'm going to make a few opening remarks. I'm happy to take questions afterwards. I've circulated a copy of my remarks.

It would be useful to start off by making the obvious observation that Australia and Canada are similar countries in many respects--relatively young countries, colonial background, multi-ethnic population, federal structure--and it does, I think, make sense to compare the way we've approached major historical celebrations.

As you said, Mr. Chairman, in 2001 Australia celebrated its centenary of federation. It was an inclusive year of commemorations.

A major objective of the process was to reach out to people across the country. The context for the centenary was, of course, the bicentennial celebrations of white settlement of Australia--those celebrations took place in 1988--and the Olympic Games in Sydney, which occurred in 2000. Both of those were very Sydney-centric events. In contrast, the 2001 celebrations were designed to ripple out across every town in Australia. Also, they were equally focused, in celebrations over many days and many months, on what occurred in 1901.

Part of the focus of the year was on raising understanding of the democratic evolution and launch of the Commonwealth in 1901. The reason for this was that research showed that only about a quarter of Australians understood what federation actually was. Less than a fifth knew the name of our first prime minister. There was, in fact, a large public relations campaign around the time of the celebrations on that question--namely, what kind of country would forget the name of its first prime minister?

The celebrations were also aimed at generating debate about contemporary and future issues facing Australia. The process was launched by the appointment of a Centenary of Federation Advisory Committee, which in 1994 delivered a report recommending ways to celebrate the centenary.

A national council was subsequently established by the federal government, in partnership with the state and territory governments. The federal government provided funding of $12 million for the council secretariat; $22 million for the celebrations; $9 million for education; and $15 million for communications--media.

An Australian federation fund of one billion dollars was set up to provide a lasting legacy. That was divided into three main categories. The first was major projects, which comprised construction of a national museum and expansion of the national war memorial. A second category was cultural and heritage projects, and a third category was community-level projects.

As I said earlier, a feature of the celebrations was that they were very decentralized and dispersed across the year, with the aim of having a major impact across the country. In total, approximately 4,000 events were held during the year.

There was a three-pronged approach. The first was a program of nationally significant events, centrepiece events, as they were called, that involved every state and territory--Australian provinces--and each of those hosted at least one event.

A big feature of the process was to address the perception that Australia ended at the Hume Highway, which is the major highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne. In the northern part of Australia and in the outback, in rural and non-metropolitan Australia, many events were undertaken. I'll give you just a few highlights to illustrate what took place.

A so-called New Dawn ceremony was held in Alice Springs in central Australia on January 1.

There was the largest-ever gathering of indigenous people for the Yeperenye festival just outside Alice Springs. Australia has a long history of aboriginal settlement. In the 50,000 or 60,000 years of aboriginal settlement, there had never been a gathering of indigenous dancers and performers drawn from every corner of the country. It was very difficult for that to happen before 1788, so to make that happen at the time of our centenary was obviously a very special occasion.

In Townsville, in Queensland, which is Australia's northeastern state, a very large crowd assembled, one of the largest in the history of tropical Australia, for a north Queensland pageant. The pageant, a blend of national and regional pride, passed slowly along the foreshore.

Finally, there was a celebration of Parliament in its original home in Melbourne. Canberra is a city that was built around 1913-14. Before that, in the period between federation and the establishment of Canberra, Melbourne was the temporary home of the Australian Parliament.

Some of the most popular celebrations actually criss-crossed state boundaries, state and territory boundaries. For example, there was a Source to the Sea flotilla of boats, both old and new, which sailed along the Murray River. The Murray River links three of Australia's states.

Perth and Adelaide were linked by a train of 31 carriages commemorating the opening of the Trans-continental Railway. This railway had been one of the promises which persuaded western Australians to join the Commonwealth. It took us a hundred years to live up to that promise.

The Federation AirShow also took place in the outback region, where both Qantas and the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service were established.

Second, there was an endorsement program that encouraged organizations and communities to develop their own activities. This ranged from festivals, parades, and sporting events to academic symposia. One was a federation father beard-growing contest. It perhaps goes more to the Australian sense of humour than to a serious historical project.

Third, there were some national projects aimed at leaving an enduring legacy of the year. For example, 1.8 million commemorative medallions were struck for schoolchildren. A website was set up to collect local histories from communities across the country, with a big focus on oral history, and a display of founding documents from federation took place at our National Archives.

The commemorations also had an overseas dimension. There was an Australia Week in London. There were arts festivals and travelling exhibitions throughout Asia--Australia's neighbourhood--and many of you may recall that there was also an Australian feature during the Winterlude festival here in Ottawa that year.

The year was primarily a celebration, of course, but it was also a time for reflection and, in some respects, even criticism. A few public lectures were held, which examined aspects of Australian history in a critical sense. With such celebrations, it is often difficult to find a sensible balance between praising and lamenting the past, but these were an attempt to look at Australia's history in a critical way and to learn from the past.

Overall, the centenary created some positive long-term legacies, from the concrete projects I've mentioned, including the railway linking Alice Springs and Darwin, to the more nebulous but nonetheless important improvement in public knowledge of Australia's history and civic pride.

I would be happy to take any questions, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Your Excellency.

The first question is from Mr. Gill.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank you, Your Excellency, for appearing in front of the committee, for providing us with this valuable information, and for sharing your experience with us so we can make this 150th birthday a wonderful event.

Here's my first question. You mentioned that obviously the federal government in Australia distributed funds or helped promote different events. Can you help us by describing how else the federal government was involved in promoting these centenary activities in Australia?

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

As I mentioned, a national council was established, which was, if you like, the organizing committee for the different celebrations. It was established by the federal, state, and territory governments in partnership. There was joint involvement from both parts of government in running the council and in organizing the events.

In addition to the funding, the federal government was involved in the decision-making on how the funding would be spent, and in deciding on which particular projects were going to be supported by the council.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

I assume the state was also a partner in funding most of these projects.

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

The state...?

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

You said the federal government and the state government...?

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

Yes.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

So I assume that they were both partners in funding?

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

That's right. Yes. They both provided funding and were involved in staffing the national council.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Would you be able to share with us, from your experience, what was most effective? Also, where did the government see the need for improvement for future celebrations?

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

As I said in my statement, I think one of the issues the commemoration sought to tackle was the large level of ignorance about Australian history. Indicative of that was the competition on who our first prime minister was. That was one objective.

The second objective was to make the celebration about more than Sydney. Sydney, of course, is the birthplace of Australia, white Australia. The commemorations were deliberately fanned out across the country so that everybody and every community felt part of the process. That sense of nationhood and the sense of looking to the past with a view to the future were the two principal objectives.

The third was really what you'd call the nation-building projects. I've mentioned the railway between Darwin and Adelaide and some of the other big projects, which were designed to improve the sense of Australia as a nation. Australia, like Canada, has strong regional identities. People in different states have their own sense of what it means to be a Western Australian or a Queenslander. Drawing the country together through some of these projects and the different commemorations was a recurring thing throughout the year.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

I assume that there was a process put in place with input from the grassroots level and citizens. Could you explain to us what sort of time period you guys allowed in terms of preparation for these celebrations, and was that sufficient, at the end of the day?

8:55 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

As I said, the process was launched in 1994 with an advisory committee, which delivered a report recommending different ways to celebrate the centenary. That advisory committee took input from the community and from governments at all levels. We started seven years in advance of the centenary. Whether that was enough time or not, I'm not sure.