The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

12 June 2011

NO.018

Address to the Queensland Disaster Heroes Ceremony

Brisbane

12 June 2011

Six months ago when asked to describe ourselves, many of us would have answered quite plainly: 'I'm a cane farmer', 'a truck driver', 'a building labourer', 'a teacher', 'a nurse' or 'a doctor'.

Today, just four words are enough to tell people all they need to know: 'I am a Queenslander'. What do those words now signify? The world saw what these four words meant in the days after the wall of water swept through the Lockyer Valley to destroy Grantham and lay siege to Brisbane, and Cyclone Yasi flattened Cardwell, Tully and Mission Beach. As Anna said, they mean we are people who, when we get knocked down, get straight back up again.

Now, this doesn't make us unique. It's not a cause for conceit. Because other Australians recently have reacted similarly to bushfires, droughts and other catastrophes. In fact, any human being would have reacted in much the same way. We know this because our reactions to the floods and to Yasi weren't just cases of neighbour helping neighbour. The soldiers, helicopter pilots and SES workers who worked themselves weary over the ensuing days came from every corner of Australia. Some are now serving in Afghanistan - including one who last week gave his life for us. He was from Melbourne.

So Queensland's heroes are Australia's heroes. Yet still this pride in being a Queenslander tells us something. Because, growing up in Queensland, we know nature's trials are not one-off events. Rains will fall, cyclones will hit, droughts will repeat - again and again and again. Sometimes it seems like one thing after another. And that has bred a special togetherness, a special sense of equality, a slightly different character. When the waters rise to 8 metres, and the winds reach 150 kilometres per hour, we know we can't rely on rules or regulations or authorities. We know we have to rely on our commonsense, on our duty, and on each other. This last one - each other - most of all.

That's what our brave helicopter crews did when they pulled people from rooftops. They suffered great trauma, and we thank them for their commitment to us. And it's what people like Doug Hyslop and Peter Fenton did when they too risked their lives, setting off in their barge to guide a floating riverwalk away from the pylons of the Gateway Bridge, knowing that capsize could mean being sucked into the dangerous whirlpools the torrent had formed.

That's true heroism, ladies and gentlemen. True heroism. Those heroes and thousands more proved something important - by disproving a new myth that's currently getting around our country. It's the myth that 'we don't do burden'; 'we don't do sacrifice'; that we've become selfish and soft and want an easy ride. I say, if you think Australians care only about themselves, come here to Queensland. Have a look around at the people here today. Queenslanders were tested last Summer.

Queenslanders came through. And on days like today, surrounded by you, thinking about the people who helped others, including those who risked it all and lost it all, I have only one thing to say:  'Today is a special day but also in a sense the same as any other day in that I'm proud to be not only an Australian, but a Queenslander too.' Thank you for being here and thanks especially to the heroes we honour.