Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Republican of the Year
Located at the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra is the Australian of the Year Walk. The Australian of the Year honours those Australians who have been recognised for outstanding contribution to our community through the Australian of the Year Awards. It recognises all Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero award recipients since the inception of the Awards in 1960.
The Australian of the Year Walk comprises a series of plinths, seating and lighting along the shores of the lake by Commonwealth Bridge. Incorporated into the Australian of the Year Walk design are five metal strips set flush into the ground, forming the five stave lines to a music score, along with bollards to represent the notes of Advance Australia Fair. Each bollard is topped with a plaque representing a year in history and that year's Australians of the Year. The walk was opened on the 25th of January 2006.
Historian and author Mark McKenna describes the walk in 'The Nation Reviewed' - The Monthly, March 2008, No 32.
"On the southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin, along the promenade directly in front of the National Library, a series of stone plaques, erected in 2006, commemorates every Australian of the Year since the award's inception in 1960. Manning Clark and Alan Bond are there, as are Patrick White, John Farnham and Paul Hogan. Taken together, this odd precession of sporting champions, writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, military heroes and adventurers offers some kind of insight into the sort of people we have become and the forms of human achievement we admire.
The plaques stretch from the southern side of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, almost to the front of the National Portrait Gallery. Standing in front of the first, dedicated to Sir Frank McFarlane Burnet, and looking east along the lakefront, the remaining plaques take on a stark funereal quality, appearing like the tombstones of fallen soldiers. They are also a stunning example of the art of memorialisation. While each plaque memoralises an individual, en masse these individual identities are subsumed by a much greater presence: national pride. In some ways they remind me of Italian cemeteries, where the names of the Catholic dead are accompanied by photographs of the deceased - passport style headshots blanched pale and almost indistinguishable by the sun - forming a sea of faded faces staring back from times past, somehow making our attempt to make the significance of each human life all the more futile and all the more poignant.
When I first saw the plaques, last December, I counted at least another 40 standing beyond the one that bears the name and photograph of the 2007 Australian of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery. These blank plaques - memorials to the future - stand as if waiting for the years to pass before they can be filled in and become whole. Yet strangely they seem more intriguing than the plaques that precede them. It is possible to imagine the line of blank plaques stretching one endlessly, and their emptiness begs the question: What sort of nation will Australia become over the next few decades?"
The question is which of these blank plaques will inscribe Australia's first ‘Republican of the Year’.

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