Dear Inner Circle,

For the first time in years, I will not be an ambassador on Australia Day. I’ve loved the opportunity to meet folk from the far corners of this state and be trusted to give some words that connect, unite and inspire. I dipped out of the programme this year because my health is still not great. I’ll spend this Australia Day at Spencer, known by the locals as the “Hub of the Universe”. At the hub, there is a tree outside the general store under which Australian culture happens. The tree is known as, “the tree of knowledge” because the small group that gathers, find answers for most of life’s big questions and this remarkable feat is aided by liberal applications of beer. These people speak to each other with extraordinarily crude expressions of affection. My first impression was that they each detested the other but over time, I’ve learned that when any one of them is trouble, most set aside their own needs to lend a hand. Houses get renovated, cars get repaired, sick people get visited, lawns get mowed and ultimately, everyone gathers under the tree of knowledge where various questions without notice are considered and much beer is consumed. On the 27th, the Hub of the Universe stops for the event of the year, the Spencer Cup. I think this entails anything that can float and move by paddle power, entering a race on the Hawkesbury River. The town has its own blues band, the unique, “Inder-Spencer-Bulls” featuring the amazing talent of Andrew Long on keys and vocals. The band will set up and play on someone’s front veranda near the general store. Friday and Saturday will be a great celebration of Australia and cause me much thankfulness to be alive and to be in this country and to celebrate with others in the Hub of the Universe.

It does us good to take one day a year to make room and time to be thankful. We spend much of our year cleverly detecting the various shortcomings in our country and then moaning about the absences. It’s easy to forget the gifts of a health system that works pretty well; for a legal system that though not perfect, still causes us to believe in justice; to expect it and fight for it when lacking; for the ability to walk into a supermarket in any suburb and find a plentiful, overwhelming choice of food at relatively affordable prices; most everyone, even homeless people, have a mobile phone in their pocket; all of our cities have beautifully maintained parks where citizens can gather, exercise and picnic for free. Most of the incredible gifts we have are…gifts. They have come to us because of the work of trade unions, politicians of all kinds, engineers, doctors, social reformers and especially, plumbers! It would do us all good to gather in groups large and small and rejoice, just for one day a year and then safely return to the comfort of our sense of deprivation the following day.

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