Australian Embassy
The Philippines

Remarks at Australia Day 2017

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A warm welcome to the Australia Day 2017 celebration!

When I gave this address last year I had only been in the country a couple of weeks.  It was likely the first time that I met most of the people here tonight.  It was a fantastic way to make 800 new friends even if it did take me a while to remember your names! 

In the last year, I have been deeply humbled by the welcoming generosity of the Filipino people, the strong support of the Australian community and the camaraderie of the diplomatic and consular corps.  It has been a year of learning for me about this multifaceted country and, dare I say it, about the power of Twitter in modern diplomacy!

A big focus for the Embassy last year was on events to mark the 70th anniversary of Australia’s formal diplomatic ties with the Philippines.  This took me around the country and gave me the opportunity to meet many wonderful Filipinos, many of whom have strong connections to Australia – through study, work, travel or family.  I often say that the people links between Australia and the Philippines are the beating heart in our relationship – they add warmth, passion and a comfortable familiarity.

On this Australia Day, I would like to pay tribute to the first Filipinos who travelled to Australia, as far back as the 1880s to work in the fledgling pearl industry.  They were known as the Manilamen and until recently their history has not been very well documented.  I am pleased to say that this changed in 2016 with the publication of “Re-Imagining Australia” a fascinating social history by Deborah Ruiz Wall which has now been made into a documentary.

Many of the Manilamen married local Australian indigenous women and these blended families developed their own unique Filipino and indigenous cultural mix.  The Manilamen brought with them their strong tradition of gathering, of music and dancing and eating food together.  Some traditional Filipino dishes are still eaten in those parts and there are streets named after early Filipino settlers.

Descendants of the Manilamen visited the Philippines for the first time last year for the launch of the book.  They travelled back to the islands that their families originated from.  They experienced overwhelming feelings and a special sense of belonging.  The pilgrimage no doubt helped them to better understand their own identities as proud indigenous Australians with Filipino heritage.

I can’t say it better than Deborah Ruiz Wall in her evocative poem “Manilamen: the Outsiders Within”

The red sandy soil stirs up old memories

that honour forebears who dived

in the depths of the continent’s soul

with black women who took the lead,

embracing mixed traditions,

their gaze never quite turned away

from their roots, the distant islands of their dreamtime

from where their ships had sailed away.

I would also like to pay tribute tonight to two other people, both nonagenarians, whom I have been privileged to meet this year and who continue to make a meaningful contribution to our friendship.

Dr Dionisia Rola travelled to Australia in 1950 on one of our very first scholarship programs – possibly the first woman to receive one of these scholarships.  Dr Rola, an accomplished academic in the field of English Literature, is still actively participating in alumni events inspiring a new generation of Filipinos and Australians.  She is a truly remarkable woman.  I hope the 11,000 Filipinos studying in Australia today will still be forging ties in 60 years time!

Australian David Mattiske was a 17 year old able seaman in the WWII Philippines campaign in the Leyte Gulf and the Battle of Manila Bay.  Remarkably, at 92 years of age, David still travels regularly to the Philippines to participate in commemorations at Palo Leyte and Surigao Strait.  He is one of the few remaining Australian survivors of this campaign in which 92 of his comrades perished.  The strong collaboration between the Australian and Philippines defence forces today can be traced back to the shared sacrifices of our soldiers over the years.

These remarkable individuals represent the living history of Australia-Philippines relations, but they, along with all of you, are also a vital part of our modern relationship.

In 2017, we will work with the Duterte Administration to reinforce the foundations of our partnership for the next 70 years.  I take this opportunity to wish the Philippines every success in hosting ASEAN in this important 50th anniversary year during what promises to be a dynamic period in international relations.  Australia was ASEAN’s first dialogue partner and we are looking forward to working on a number of exciting initiatives with the Philippines as ASEAN chair, including an ASEAN Women’s Business Forum.

I would now like to invite you to raise your glass in a toast:

To his Excellency President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

To the Health and Prosperity of the Filipino people

To our shared values of democracy, equality and the rule of law

And to the enduring friendship between Australia and the Philippines

Happy Australia Day!  Mabuhay and Cheers!