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Mayor Amanda Wilson's Proclamation Day Address
Proclamation Day is a day when we - as a State - look back to the origins of European settlement to commemorate the people who came before us – to remember their lives and the challenges that they faced.
I am very privileged to be the first female Mayor of what was the City of Glenelg, and now is the City of Holdfast Bay, and today I want to particularly commemorate women and their role in forging the early colony and guiding its path to prosperity.
My own ancestors, George and Elizabeth Wilson, arrived on the Buckinghamshire in 1839, with five children and sixth born here. I have often wondered “what was life like for Elizabeth then?”
Records from the time focus very little on the hardships that faced early pioneer women, because most of the histories were written by and focus on men and their difficulties.
One exception is diarist and publisher Mary Thomas, now known as one of SA’s Founding Mothers, who chronicled her own experiences in a diary and in the many letters she wrote throughout her lifetime.
Mary Thomas arrived in Holdfast Bay aboard the new colony’s first passenger ship, the Africaine, on 8 November 1836 with her husband Robert Thomas and the colony’s first printing press. That printing press was quickly put to work printing the Proclamation.
Mary Thomas lived at the Old Gum Tree site for six months, diarising in detail the first days in the colony, and providing a vivid and contemporary account of life for all of the Pioneers. Her legacy
has been remembered in a plaque at this park that was unveiled by Mrs Lan Le in October this year.
From the diaries and writings of Mary Thomas, we today know it was hard for the first European women here, thrown into a world completely alien to that from where they had come.
They attempted to bring the traditions and life skills they had learned in England to their new home - except their new land was nothing like what they had left.
In the scorching summer heat, tents would be destroyed by bushfires and water would be poured over the canvas to keep them cool. In winter, they would leak, and umbrellas would have to be used over beds as an improvised measure.
But these difficulties were compensated by the enjoyment that came from the freedom of the open air, the beauty of the landscape and the knowledge that the colony provided great opportunity for their children.
Reading Mary’s diaries, I learnt that the women of the colony were able to gain assistance from another group, who were already here – the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains, and especially the Kaurna women.
The Kaurna people populated this area and lived nearby in wurlies.
They had watched the arrival of the fleet but stayed hidden until about a month had passed. They then made contact with this strange group of arrivals.
Mary Thomas describes the many subsequent interactions in detail. She describes the offers of assistance, and of gaining important knowledge from these local indigenous women – including what foods were good to eat and even bushfire management. She was among the first people to sit with local Kaurna women to watch a corroboree.
Mary also noted in her diaries the many attributes of the Kaurna people, which were shared by indigenous Australians as a whole – their friendliness, their easy going nature and their sense of humour. These are all now things that we use to describe ourselves as Australians, and I like to believe that it was from groups such as the Kaurna that Mary and the other first European settlers learnt how to be what we now describe as “Australian”.
Today I also want to acknowledge that Mary always believed that the place where we stand today was not the actual gum tree where the Proclamation was read.
The location of this site – the Old Gum Tree – was determined by a group of men, including the Mayor of Glenelg, for the 21st anniversary of the Proclamation. They believed it to be where the proclamation was read.
On the 21st anniversary, Mary visited this very site. Surprisingly, it had been 21 years since she had been to Glenelg.
However, as soon as she arrived, she disputed with great conviction that this was the correct tree!
In her diaries, she wrote “Moreover, I could positively assert that the old tree….was a considerable distance from the spot where the colony was proclaimed”. She wrote long and extensive entries in her diaries – indeed, a whole chapter! – disputing the location.
So it may be that this tree is not the one. I know that Mary’s recollections are disputed, and there is a raging debate amongst local historians about the matter.
For my part, I have come to believe that this tree here is best understood and celebrated as a symbol of both our past and our future.
For not only does this bent tree have significance for European settlement, it can also represent and acknowledge the Kaurna.
For it was the Kaurna people who sometimes bent small trees into an arch, similar to the shape of the Old Gum Tree, to identify areas that had cultural significance or as a place marker for food or water sources.
So this Old Gum Tree is not only a place to reflect on the resourceful and determined pioneers that came to this land, but also a place to acknowledge the Kaurna who shaped the tree. We can both celebrate those ancestors such as Mary who contributed so much to where we are today, but also the Kaurna, to whom we also have a great debt.
In this way, and so here, the two cultures are entwined; This tree can be now a place of cultural significance for both communities as we walk together, side by side, towards our common future.
I speak on behalf of Holdfast Bay’s elected members and staff when I say that we are all very proud to be a part of this place, and to contribute in our own way, to its rich history.
Thank you to Justin Lynch, the Chief Executive Officer of Holdfast Bay,Council staff and the Glenelg Brass Band for your involvement with today's ceremony.
As we move closer towards our New Year celebrations, I urge everyone to pause, and take stock of all that has gone before us. We are all so lucky to live in South Australia, and should be thankful for those that came before us.
On behalf of the City of Holdfast Bay, I wish you all the compliments of the season and a prosperous and safe 2019.