Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory) (3:53 PM) —I rise to join the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in the condolence motion for the loss of former Senator Bernard Kilgariff. All Australians should honour the enormous contribution of my mate, one of the Northern Territory’s first politicians and the founder of the Country Liberal Party, Bern Kilgariff, who was born on 30 September 1923 and sadly passed away on 13 April this year.
Bern had a lifetime of outstanding community contribution and was well liked by people from both sides of the political divide, representing the Northern Territory as the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and as the Territory’s first senator. In 1929 he arrived in Alice Springs with his family on one of the first Ghan trains from Adelaide. I was very lucky, particularly in the first few years of the Senate, to enjoy some of the stories that Bern used to tell about his early days growing up in Alice Springs. As you can imagine, it really was a joy to see Alice Springs in the late 1920s and early 1930s through the eyes of someone who had spent so much time there and seen so much change.
Bern went on to serve in the Australian Army during the Second World War, built and operated motels and service stations in Alice Springs, turned his hand to farming and pastoralism and was instrumental in opening up Central Australia to tourism. He was a very experienced guy. If you spent any time with him and there was a bit of old agricultural equipment or a car of some age he would straightaway tell you how they had improved that part. I often used to say, because he was so knowledgeable, ‘What’s that bit there?’ And he would say that that was a such and such and it used to hang off the something or other. He always had such an intimate knowledge of almost every aspect of life. Certainly in the pastoral industry, he was somebody who looked back with some sadness at the changes in the opportunities that presented to our first Australians. He reflected on a time when Aboriginals in Central Australia were the absolute backbone of the pastoral industry and saw with some sadness that they no longer enjoyed the same opportunities they had when he first got there.
One might wonder whether there was anything, as an individual, that Bernie could not do. We need only to look at some of the positions he held in the Northern Territory. He was Chairman of the Northern Territory Housing Commission, Director of the Central Australian Travel Association, President of the Alice Springs Art Foundation and Chair of the Alice Springs Community College. In 1974 he founded the Country Liberal Party—and, in this place, we may appreciate the difficulty of that. He was instrumental in securing for that party, as a brand new party, 17 of the 19 seats in the first Northern Territory Legislative Assembly election. I do not think it matters what side of parliament we are from; we must all acknowledge that as an incredible feat. Bern, they certainly were the halcyon days, mate!
Bern was very passionate about the Northern Territory. I can remember, when on the few occasions a keynote speech I gave in the Northern Territory did not include statehood, he would come up to me and remind me very forcibly that I had forgotten the first principle—that if we were ever talking about the Northern Territory we needed to remember that statehood was an absolutely fundamental part of the future. Bern, it is never far from our minds, mate.
Bern was recognised in a number of ways, including being given the Order of Australia. I think he would have reflected on how wonderful that was, but I know that in 2008 being invested as a Knight in the Order of St John, specifically for his contribution to the St John Ambulance service, would also have given him a great deal of joy.
He was also named Senior Australian of the Year for the Northern Territory in 2003. That acknowledgement was a reflection of how Bernie, even in his later years, was a very active person in the community, continuing to advocate right across the board. I still remember that at any time I could get a phone call with his voice on the other end saying: ‘Nigel, it’s Bernie. Just a couple of ideas.’ He would then go into some aspect of politics or his thoughts of the day. He was always worth listening to. He had an incredible mind and often had a different angle that you would never have thought of. In politics it is very refreshing to see somebody who has such a wonderful insight into Australian life, and I am sure that was a reflection of his great experience.
Those people who knew Bern will know that one of his most famous sayings about opportunity was, ‘If a tram goes past, hop on it and see where it takes you.’ As I have moved around Australia—not just the Northern Territory—I have found that as soon as someone knows I am a senator and I am from the Northern Territory they say, ‘You’d know Bern Kilgariff.’ I would say, ‘Yes, of course I know Bernie,’ and we would have some sort of conversation. Bern’s tram took him right around Australia and right around the world. He had a great many opportunities. He took every single one. I think the hundreds of people who turned out at Bernie’s state funeral in Alice Springs last month were a reflection of that. It was a fantastic funeral. It was a fitting farewell to a man who contributed so much to his community and so much to his country. I would like to extend my condolences to Bernie’s wife, Aileen, and to his family, who lost a wonderful husband, father and grandfather.
Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.
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