We need to turn our research eyes toward home much more often – The Australian

Australia Day is a day to celebrate who we are and what makes our country great.

It is also a day to acknowledge our history.

For Australians to successfully navigate our future we must better understand our past.

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We need fewer people telling us what to think. Instead we need more knowledge and information to help us understand our past for ourselves. Knowledge of our history will help us break the cycle of Australia Day antagonism.

Reconciliation will not come from ignorance. For all Australians to move forward together we must understand who we are, where we have come from and the events that have shaped us.

This will create increased pride in our Australian indigenous history, better knowledge of our British heritage and a greater understanding of the success of our multicultural endeavour. It will help bind us rather than break us.

A successful nation should celebrate, develop and critique its ­society, history and culture, and understand its geography, music, arts, literature and politics. We should be proud that our taxes are funding cutting-edge research in this pursuit.

However, as Education Minister, I have become increasingly concerned that our research is preferencing the foreign at the expense of the Australian. In some cases I worry Australian taxpayers are funding research projects into exotic international topics at the expense of studies into our country and our people. This is in part driven by the method for ranking our universities.

One of the key ways universities receive global recognition is from the quality and quantity of academic papers published in ­respected international journals.

This incentivises Australian academics to study topics with a global flavour likely to appeal to an international editor. As a result, ­ inquiry into uniquely Australian topics suffers.

When Australia as a field of ­research is viewed as a second-class topic it makes the subject less attractive to talented academics, which in turn means there are fewer teachers, students and universities interested in the field. It’s a downward spiral.

Between 2011 and 2020, just 3 per cent of grants under our primary competitive grant scheme — the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Grants — were in the areas of Australian society, history or culture.

If we don’t take an interest in understanding Australia we can’t expect the rest of the world to. For example, Australian indigenous history, like the extraordinary aquaculture that occurred at Budj Bim, has not been given the full ­attention it so richly deserves and the fathers of our Constitution, who helped bring us together as a nation, continue to slip from our national consciousness.

The Australian taxpayer is providing record funding over the next four years for academic ­research through the ARC. This research is high-quality and innovative but we must ensure we continue to mould it for the benefit of the Australian community.

It is why on Monday I am announcing the government is backing the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture by setting aside $12m in ARC grant money exclusively for this purpose.

This will fund about 40 projects in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 each year for up to three years.

Applications for grants open next month with funding starting from October.

Grants will still be decided through a competitive peer-reviewed process in accordance with international best practice.

This Special Research Initiative will encourage academics to pursue research into Australian society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography.

It will cover all aspects, from our ancient Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander beginnings to modern-day Australia, covering community, institutions, urban, regional and rural history and ­cultures.

We don’t fund research to serve the interests of individual academics, we fund research to generate new knowledge that serves our country.

It will reward academics with an interest in Australia, and incentivise more inquiry into the topic.

We all will benefit from more research, more diversity of views, more debate and more new knowledge about Australia.

I want to strengthen the connection between what happens at our universities and the communities that support them.

Our government is working with the sector to protect academic freedom, guarantee freedom of speech and freedom from foreign interference on campus.

We are working to promote our academic research and to explain its benefits to Australians.

From discussions with the relevant faculties, I expect this initiative will fall on fertile ground at our universities.

Teaching Australian students to know more about our society, history and culture should be a priority for all Australian universities.

Dan Tehan is the federal Minister for Education.


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Cessnock welcomes 39 new citizens and honours 20 individuals and groups at Australia Day ceremony – Cessnock Advertiser

New citizens, achievers young and old, and the people who make our community a better place to live were celebrated at Cessnock’s Australia Day ceremony on Sunday.

Thirty-nine new Australian citizens were inducted at the ceremony at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre, and 20 individuals and community groups were recognised with Australia Day awards.

Hunter Hands of Hope president Melissa Gontier was named citizen of the year for her dedication to helping Cessnock’s homeless and vulnerable people.

Ms Gontier and her mother Julie Hall founded Hunter Hands of Hope in December 2018. What started out as a food drive in the TAFE grounds has grown to an outreach service that serves up to 49 people a night, four nights a week, and connects people in need to appropriate services.

Ms Gontier wasn’t able to attend the ceremony as she was unwell.

Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said Ms Gontier has made a huge contribution to the community through her work with Hunter Hands of Hope, which recently moved to new premises at Cessnock Tennis Courts.

“This organisation helps those who need it most in our community, homeless and vulnerable people,” he said.

“It’s her compassion, caring and selflessness that we recognise.

“Our community is truly better off because of Melissa.”

Senior citizen of the year Ted Jackson, with Australia Day ambassador Damien Leith and Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent at the 2020 Australia Day ceremony at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre. Picture: Krystal Sellars

Ted Jackson was named Senior Citizen of the Year for his work to advocate for better support for the aged in our community.

In his role as Northern Coalfields Community Care Association CEO, Mr Jackson worked tirelessly to convert the former Cessnock PCYC into a centre of excellence to provide better support facilities for aged people. The centre opened in 2019.

A lifelong Cessnock resident, Mr Jackson was also involved in the establishment of Cessnock District Health Benefits Fund.

Young citizen of the year Chelsea Webb, with Australia Day ambassador Damien Leith.

The award for young citizen of the year went to Mount View High School student Chelsea Webb for her leadership in various youth initiatives.

Ms Webb is president of Mount View High School’s Leos Club (a youth division of Lions Clubs International), a member of the school’s Beyond Bullying project, and also took part in a two-day consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Education to discuss how schooling could be improved for all students.

Another inspirational young woman, Trinity Woodhouse, received the Maree Callaghan Award for a young female achiever.

Ms Woodhouse, 16, was recognised for her achievements as a singer-songwriter and her contributions as a leader and role model for local young people.

Fresh from performing nine days straight at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, Ms Woodhouse performed an original song called Don’t You Know, and joined MC Tara Naysmith and Australia Day ambassador Damien Leith for a stirring rendition of I Am Australian to close the awards ceremony (see the video in the post below).

Young people also accounted for the majority of the community award winners, including a number of recipients from Cessnock and Mount View High School.

Adam Robinson, Olivia Chapman, Kyle Gosper, Shane Rodger-Wilson, Bethany Dwyer, Vincent Plater, Rose Lucas and Chloe Steel were recognised for their efforts in various youth-related pursuits, with mental health and anti-bullying initiatives among them.

Mums and Bubs Pokolbin ambassadors Amy Butler and Amy Roberts, and outgoing ambassador Rachel Threadgate, also received community awards for their dedication to providing a support network for local parents and carers of babies and young children. The group holds monthly picnics and donates items to a different local charity each month.

The Branxton Community Hall Committee won the environment award for efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, which have included installing solar panels and LED lighting at the hall.

COMBINED EFFORT: Cheryle Shoesmith and Lexie Matthews, from Coalfields Local History Association, with Sharon Dyson-Smith and Lesley Morris, from Towns With Heart, who collected the community event of the year award for the Lost Diggers of Weston and Field of Honour project. Picture: Krystal Sellars

The community event of the year award was presented to Coalfields Local History Association and Towns With Heart for the Lost Diggers of Weston exhibition and Field of Honour, which was held over the Anzac Day long weekend.

The Lost Diggers exhibition was held at the Kurri Kurri Anglican Church hall and included portraits of more than 60 World War I soldiers on display for the first time, after the glass plate negatives were retrieved from under a house in Weston some years before.

The Field of Honour was held at Kurri Kurri cemetery in conjunction, with Australian flags placed on hundreds of soldiers’ graves. Both events will return on the Anzac Day weekend this year, and the Lost Diggers will also be shown at Kurri Kurri Library on February 18 during the Cessnock City Seniors Festival.

The ceremony also included the presentation of the Marthaville Arts and Cultural Award, which was received by Geoff Travis for sharing his musical talent at local retirement homes.

Cr Pynsent said it was a privilege to be part of the awards and congratulate all recipients.

“Our city is full of amazing contributors, who are community-minded and make a significant contribution to our local government area,” he said.

“Each winner is extremely deserving of a recognition and I extend another special thanks to each of them for all that they do.”

Cr Pynsent gave a special mention to the firefighters who have protected our city during this summer’s horror bushfire season.

“Their bravery and spirit in this trying time was incredible to witness,” he said.

2020 Australia Day in Wauchope at the Showground – Wauchope Gazette

Crowds flocked to Wauchope Showground for Australia Day 2020 in bright sunshine.

Wauchope Rotary put on the traditional Aussie breakfast barbecue which was a roaring success. There was free face painting and children’s games, live music from the very talented acoustic guitarist and singer Nikki Rudge, a community singalong from Sing Australia, food stalls, a coffee van, large vintage cars, classic clipper buses and a fabulous truck and machinery display.

The Hastings District Pipe Band headed the official parade of Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie, Mayor Peta Pinson, Deputy Mayor Cr Lisa Intemann, councillors Peter Alley, Sharon Griffiths, Lee Dixon and Justin Levido, Australia Day ambassador Justin Herald, Wauchope High School captains Chad McGovern and Ellie McKittrick and MC Neville Parsons.

The Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Australia Day award nominees were announced. Each year, our region celebrates our local heroes through the awards and they included the Rotary Club of Wauchope for community group of the year, Greg Cavanagh from Wauchope for senior citizen of the year, Dianne Davison from Wauchope for Environmental Citizen of the Year and Ian Fenton from Wauchope for Citizen of the Year.

Mayor Peta Pinson said Australia Day was a time of reflection and gratitude to live in a country as wonderful as ours. The mayor paid tribute to the great community spirit in Wauchope and to our firefighting heroes.

“Australia Day offers the chance to celebrate our diverse stories, the values we share and our history. We have become one of the most successful multicultural nations in the world,” said the mayor.

“When people choose to call Australia home, they help enrich our society. Multiculturalism is part of our identity.”

Federal member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie told the crowd that Australia day is very special and he acknowledged the Birpai people as traditional custodians of the land for 40,000 years or more.

“They did a good job and we can learn a lot from them. Our culture is a melting pot of many cultures. We have a liberal plural democracy. We have a unique blend of nation,” he said.

Dr Gillespie spoke about the devastating bushfires of 2019 to 2020 and the ongoing drought and paid tribute to Rural Fire Service volunteers,

“The Australian nation is forever grateful for them, and for many other volunteering groups – the SES, the surf lifesavers, trauma rescue, all the service clubs, Rotary, Lions. Where would we be without our volunteer organisations?”

The Australia Day ambassador Justin Herald told the audience how he created a clothing brand called Attitude that became an international licensing success that turned over $20 million a year. He also paid tribute to all the firefighters in Australia.

“It is part of our culture to get beside each other and help each other,” he said.

School captains Chad McGovern and Ellie McKittrick gave the Australia Day address.

“Today we celebrate Australia day but we mourn the mistakes toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We respect their culture which is over 65,000 years old and we acknowledge the hardships they have suffered and we must continue to respect their culture.

“It’s a day to reflect on what makes us similar, the common values that bind us as Australians. We should not forget our history, but use it as a guide on our journey into the future,” they said.

Deputy Mayor Cr Lisa Intemann said that something missing in the ceremony was the notion that we have a lot to learn from our history. She said there are wrongs that need to be righted. She said some people refer to January 26 as Invasion Day.

“I love the idea that we truly use this day to bring us together,” added that land management is a major issue.

After the citizenship ceremony came the singing of the Australian National Anthem led by a band and singer from the Australian Defence Force, some of whom are helping BlazeAid build fences for local people affected by the bushfires. They were given a warm welcome by the Wauchope crowd.

Then came the cutting of the traditional Australia Day cake made from lamingtons by Wauchope Rotary, and then everyone had a chance to mingle and catch up with old friends.