First female Aboriginal MP delivers maiden speech in native tongue

From the first female prime minister (Julia Gillard) to the first Aboriginal representative (Neville Bonner), the first Muslim (Ed Husic)

From the first female prime minister (Julia Gillard) to the first Aboriginal representative (Neville Bonner), the first Muslim (Ed Husic) and the first homosexual person (Bob Brown), there have been a lot of firsts in Australian politics. At the House of Representatives, Linda Burney became the first female Aboriginal woman elected and her maiden speech was one to remember.

She was first welcomed by fellow Wiradjuri woman Lynette Riley, who sang a traditional song from the gallery as Burney — dressed in the cloak that details her personal story — took her seat.

She presented the cloak, which features her clan’s totem, the goanna, and her personal totem, the white cockatoo that she acknowledges is ‘very noisy’, when she told Federal Parliament that she had been deeply moved by her journey to such a “powerful place”.

“These lands are, always were and always will be Aboriginal land,” she said during her speech on August 31.

Burney wants Constitutional recognition so that Parliament and the Australian people could continue on the path towards reconciliation.

“The Aboriginal part of my story is important, it is the core of who I am,” she said. “But I will not be stereotyped and I will not be pigeon-holed.”

Burney holds the federal seat of Barton, which is named after Australia’s former prime minister Edmund Barton, the man who introduced the white Australia policy, and acknowledged that it is now one of the most multicultural in the country.

It begs the question then, if Australia is so multicultural and that multiculturalism extends into Parliament, should representatives from other backgrounds be afforded the same level of ceremony that Aboriginal people are?

In a day of firsts with the return of parliament, Western Australian Labor MP Anne Aly became the first Muslim woman to take her place in Parliament and she did so by taking her oath on the Koran.

Aly follows Ed Husic, who became the first Australian MP to be sworn in with the Koran. The son of Yugoslavian migrants became the first Muslim elected to Federal Parliament and made history in doing so saying: “Given my background, there are some people taking a small slice of pride of happiness”.

Australia’s Government is made up of many cultures — Penny Wong has represented in the Senate since 2002 and she of Malaysian descent; the deputy leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek is the daughter of migrants from Slovenia; and Anthony Albanese revealed recently he has Italian blood running through his veins — but there is no such cultural recognition for these politicians.

Does Australian Parliament need to make more of an effort to recognise cultural diversity in its halls? Share your thoughts on this issue.

  1. Rob S  

    It’s fine to acknowledge cultural diversity, but to do so without ‘balkanisation’…We are Australians from a wide range of cultures, not ghettoised communities separate from one another.

    • tony  

      Unfortunately..the “Ghettoisation” of australia was has and will always be.
      Colonialism will pervade in this nation..why?…we are the last bastion of the British Imperialism. The sooner we become a republic..the better off we will be

      • Tim Janes  

        British Imperialism was far from perffect but it did bring Christianity, infrastructure, organisation and justice. It has kept us descendants of Britain as the ‘lucky country’ in the world until the socialsts Whitlam, Hawke and Keating aligned the nation with the UN.

    • Les hankin  

      i wonder if she acknowledges her white ancestors as well ???

  2. One Australia.
    The aboriginals don’t own Australia anymore than the white Australians own it.
    We can all contribute towards the growth of oz, but no one person stands higher than the other.

    Australians , black or white, become contributors not victims.
    No more money to just sit down for the rest of your life, get up and contribute.

    • Wiso  

      Great response Di. My sentiments exactly.

    • tony  

      Unfortunately..the “Ghettoisation” of australia was has and will always be.
      Colonialism will pervade in this nation..why?…we are the last bastion of the British Imperialism. The sooner we become a republic..the better off we will be

    • Be  

      China owns much of Australia……you ok with that?

  3. Wiso  

    One rule for every one. These performances in Parliament are divisive.

    If you are honoured to represent a group of Australians in the Australian Parliament then you are an Australian first and foremost and what you practice as your culture or belief is a private matter and should not be taken to your place of employment.

    • Dieter  

      That’s exactly what I think.
      Leave the private ceremonies for your private home.
      I can’t see the good in it. For me it is very divisive. Either we are all Australians or what is the other option? On top of it her maiden speech should have been in English and not in her native language.
      I find it insulting because most people can’t understand what she is saying and she should be understood by all Australians. It is just wrong.

  4. Peter Clarke  

    If her maiden speech was in a language that possibly only one other person in the chamber understood then what is the point? Talk about gimmicks.

  5. It’s rude to address someone in a language nobody understands. The official language in Australia is still English and that is what should be used. Diversity exists in a natural state and doesn’t need to be forced upon us.

  6. Matilda Lawson  

    People, please find a transcript or film clip of her speech and find out what she actually said.
    I thought her maiden speech was very moving. Maiden speeches usually contain something about the new member’s personal history because they are a kind of official introduction. Sharing something of her life and culture was entirely appropriate.

    • Gavin  

      What did she say Matilda?

      • Matilda Lawson  

        People can find her speech on YouTube and listen to it if they want to know what she DID say. As for what she DIDN’T – for a start, she gave her speech in English, apart from speaking in Language for less than 30 seconds. She then explained in English what she had said; her words in Language were greetings and acknowledgements. The incorrect headline for this article has misled people. Very unhelpful. (Sadly, misleading headlines are not that uncommon on this website.)

  7. Teresa  

    I think that it was appropriate that Linda Burney addressed the House of Representatives in her own language as the original inhabitants of Australia were Aboriginals. Language and culture are very important – they make us who we are and that is what gives us diversity.What would have been appropriate, would have been the use of a translator so that the speech was also heard in English.

  8. Timothy  

    In Australia, the language spoken is ENGLISh, not some native dialect!

    I find it offensive, or ‘reverse racism”, that this woman chose to speak in the AUSTRALIAN Parliament, in words which weren’t understood by 99.99% of this Country’s populace!
    AND I believe there was no interpreter!

    How rude!

    Just another case of the ‘minority’ being ‘thrust forward’ upon the long suffering rest of us, for no good reason, at all!

    Gives me the ‘proverbials’!


  9. I don’t think you can compare Indigenous Australians the same as other immigrant cultures. The Indigenous Australians were in this country for 50-60,000 years before it was colonized. That fact alone, makes them much more special. Many justifiably think that Australia was “invaded” by the British. Later immigrants (after the end of the White Australia Policy) cannot compare with the sustainability values of the Indigenous Australians. They were decimated by force, and then by disease, and then by flour and sugar.

  10. Pedro  

    Multiculturism just keeps the division going.

  11. Leon Collinson  

    I can understand the Aboriginals wanting to be recognised but as for the Muslims and the Koran I am sorry this is/was a Christian country when are these multicultural immigrants ( if they were lucky enough to be born here they are Australian) but if we go to their country we have to accept their laws and customs they will never change things like we consistently do for them. In public they wear camoulage in the religious custom speak a foreign language no one else can understand yet when it comes to money if they are shortchanged we quickly hear about it. It should me mandatory to speak English and dress as we do in public so they do not encourage discrimination at all.

  12. Rosemary Lynch  

    I was delighted by Linda Burney’s introduction to the House of Representatives. I was delighted to catch up with her story, the revelation of her personal story, the tradition of her people (the Wiradjuri own much of central and western NSW) and delighted to revel in the cultural richness shared with all of us. Thank you to her, her family, her tribe, her electors, and the Australian Parliamentary democracy that made this sharing possible!

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