Indigenous Reading Project - Speech


Like Auntie Violet, I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. 

It's great to be here with Dan Billing, Professor Marcia Langton, ACT Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and so many other strong supporters of this great program.

“She walks in beauty, like the night. / Of cloudless climes and starry skies, / And all that's best of dark and bright. / Meets in her aspect and her eyes.”

“There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around / That the colt from old Regret had got away / And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound, / So all the cracks had gathered to the fray..” 

“Halfway down the stairs / is a stair / where I sit./ There isn't any / other stair / quite like / it. / I'm not at the bottom, / I'm not at the top; / so this is the stair / where / I always / stop.”

Words can excite and inspire. They can teach and educate. As an economist I can tell you all about how literacy builds economic knowledge. But the fact is that being able to read unlocks whole worlds. To deeply understand the human experience you must access books.

To understand Australia means being able to read works by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Doris Pilkington Garimara and Sally Morgan. 

Isn't it remarkable to think that for most of human history most of the population has not been able to read? Today if you can't read, you're locked out of so much of Australian life.

It's hard to have great numeracy if you don't have great literacy because maths these days is much more about problem solving and less about basic computation. 

You're more likely to have bad health because you can't read the instructions on the label or follow a doctor’s script.

There's a sense of shame that comes from not being able to read – from perhaps having to rely on a child to interpret the world. 

What's great about the Indigenous Reading Project and what I've loved about it since Dan first introduced it to me in 2012, is its work on exciting and inspiring young people.

This isn't reading is as a chore. This is reading as a joy: for the pleasure of unlocking new worlds and for the pleasure of reading with others.

I still try and read with each of my children. Last night I read my five year-old Richard Johnson’s Grandpa's Inventions, my nine year old Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, and my 11 year old, Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man.

That pleasure of reading books aloud is one of the true joys of each day for me, as it is to watch my children devour books. We need to share that joy. We need to make sure that it's equal across Australia. We won't be able to close the gap without a nation of great Indigenous readers. And as one of those terrific champions, a man who has done a huge amount in order to build the literacy in Indigenous Australians, please join me in welcoming Indigenous Reading Project founder Dan Billing.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.