FROM the forums of ancient Rome, where the religious, political and philosophical issues of the day were often discussed and debated, to the rising popularity of TED talks on the internet, humanity’s thirst for public debate has remained high for centuries.
One of the best known local forums for the highlighting and discussion of issues in our society is the annual Kerferd Oration, which occurs in Beechworth each July and is now in its 15th year.
This year, the speaker will be Northern Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from the Gulf country in the Northern Territory and a Northern Territory Senator, and those on the organising committee said they are proud to be involved in the event.
Committee chair Karenne Thistleton has been on the committee for three years, having joined upon moving to Beechworth almost four years ago.
She said she first attended the Kerferd Oration in 2015, to hear Dr Simon Longstaff AO, who spoke about “visible” and “invisible” people in society.
“I found it really interesting,” she said, adding she was “interested in that whole issue of social policy.”
Since becoming part of the committee, Karenne said she has been passionate about promoting the oration as a way for everyday people to engage with the big issues confronting society.
“Our idea is just to challenge people’s ideas about things,” she said.
She said bringing Ms McCarthy to town to speak at the oration came from continued feedback from people wishing to hear about indigenous issues.
It is a subject she is keenly interested in, having worked on policy for many years in Canberra as a public servant, including indigenous policy.
Karenne said the work of the oration’s organising committee happens throughout the year, including contact and interaction with other community groups, from footballers to school students.
She added that she loved listening to the speakers each year, and it often gives her valuable food for thought.
“All of the people have been incredibly informative,” she said.
Local resident Dr Bill Wilson has been part of the oration from both sides of the lectern, having given his own oration in 2012 about Australia’s first Australian-born Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs.
Sir Isaacs is indelibly linked with the region, having been educated in Yackandandah and Beechworth and going on to make his mark in politics and the High Court before becoming Governor-General.
A dedicated historian, Dr Wilson said he has been involved with the oration committee for almost four years.
He said the oration was a valuable event for the Beechworth area, with positive effects including attracting tourists, creating community discussion and debate, and exposing the area to a wider audience.
He added that it attracts consistent crowds every year, although who attends the oration depends on the topic being discussed.
“If you try to find something that’s interesting, people will turn up,” he said.
Senator McCarthy said she is very much looking forward to being part of this year’s oration.
“I am very much looking forward to speaking at the Kerferd Oration,” she said.
“Events like this are just one way that Australians connect and talk about what brings us together as a community.
“The theme of my speech is Our Island Home – Be Bold and Brave in a United Vision for Australia.
“Australia is at a point where our leaders and communities need to make some difficult decisions.
“We have seen hundreds of thousands of Australians support and work towards recognition of First Nations People in the Constitution and a voice to parliament.
“We currently have a unique opportunity to take a giant step towards reconciliation and equality.”
The Kerferd Oration will be held on Sunday, July 29 at the George Kerferd Hotel, starting at 11am, with doors opening at 10.15am.
The Oration will be followed by a community lunch, and for those attending, donations for the lunch will be appreciated.
More information is available on www.kerferdoration.org.au.
◆ COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS: Bill Wilson and Karenne Thistleton are among the Indigo Shire locals involved in arranging the annual Kerferd Oration.
◆ HIGH PROFILE SPEAKER: Malarndirri McCarthy is this year’s Kerferd Oration speaker.