Speech of the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana
Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival
Aviation Social Club, Accra, 21 September 2013
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Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I would first like to acknowledge:
• The Honourable Minister of State for Public-Private Partnerships, Rashid Pelpuo
• The Honourable Kojo Yankah, President and Founder of the African University College of Communication in Accra
• Professor Ama Ata Aidoo, author and Chairperson of today’s Festival
• Mr Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, President of the Ghana Association of Writers
• Mr Atukwei Okai, Secretary-General of the Pan-African Writers’ Association
• Acclaimed authors and publishers, both Ghanaian and Australian
• Ladies and Gentlemen
• And booklovers everywhere…
Before I begin, I would like to observe a tradition very common in Australia, which is called “Acknowledging Country.”
That is to say, very simply:
“I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, of elders past and present, on which this event takes place.”
This form of beginning a speech is a way for people in Australia to show awareness and respect for Indigenous culture and heritage,
And the ongoing relationship that traditional owners have with their land.
An acknowledgement of Country is appropriate here today not only because of the long history of Akan and other ethnic groups on the land that is now Accra,but because, as you know, Australia has been selected as the focus country for this festival, and we have placed a special emphasis on literature from Indigenous Australia.
Thank you to the Ghana Association of Writers for choosing Australia as the focus country – If I may say so, it was an excellent choice.
I’m delighted to be speaking at this year’s GAWBOFEST.
Cultural collaborations such as this are a fantastic opportunity to learn about different societies and ways of thinking, to exchange ideas with stimulating and experienced authors and poets, and to foster an environment where the seeds of these ideas can take root and grow.
What better way to promote a deeper understanding of our different cultures.
After all, isn’t that what writing is all about?
Putting down your ideas in order to share them with others, and in so doing to help more people understand the issues that you think are important?
Theme – Empowering Ghana through reading
As you know, the theme for this year’s festival is “Empowering Ghana through Reading.”
This theme reflects the importance of reading to a well-rounded education,
which in turn builds the capacity of the population to advance and develop a country like Ghana.
Promoting ideas and cultural values through literature also contributes to a sense of identity, purpose and meaning.
I would like to say a few words about how literature is empowering Indigenous communities in Australia.
In fact, Australia’s participation as a focus country in this Book Festival has been organised in partnership between the Australian High Commission and the First Nations Australia Writers Network.
(“First Nations” is another term to describe the Indigenous people of Australia.)
The First Nations Australia Writers Network was created in 2012 and is now at the forefront of an explosion of literature being written by Australian Indigenous people.
Like the different ethnic groups that live together in Ghana – the Ewe, Fante, Ashanti, Ga and others – there are hundreds of different ethnic and language groups that make up Indigenous Australia.
The First Nations Network represents a great many of these communities.
For example, the Chairperson of the network – Ms Kerry Reed-Gilbert, an internationally acclaimed Australian author and poet – is a Wiradjuri person.
The Executive Director – Ms Cathy Craigie – is descended from the Gamilaroi and Anaiwon peoples, in what is now New South Wales.
(In fact, I encourage you to look at the map of Australia showing these and all the other Indigenous language groups, on display at our stall.)
The First Nations Network and others like it are serving to promote the cultural diversity and vibrancy of Indigenous Australian communities.
One of the founding documents of the First Nations Network states that:
“Indigenous literature, with its artistic originality and invention, and its cultural morals, richness and ethics is in a constant struggle to place itself on the local and global scene... talent, art, thoughts and creativity are transferable commodities in recent economically- driven times, and they can be of service to communities and societies only if they are shared, transparent and freely transported.”
Writing is the way that these ideas are shared, transparent and freely transported.
And from what I see on display here today, Ghanaian writers, poets and publishers are doing just the same thing.
The diversity of groups represented, and the support from everybody present here, is a testament to the strong and growing culture of writing in Ghana.
And I believe partnerships like the one here today – the Ghana Association of Writers, the Australian High Commission and the First Nations Australia Writers Network – are one of the best ways to support that culture, to foster creativity in young and old people alike, to build lasting links across cultures and between societies, and to encourage those who have not yet discovered the real pleasure of sitting down with a good book, to pick one up and start!
On that note I would like to finish my remarks by once again thanking the Ghana Association of Writers for choosing Australia as the focus country today, and everyone else for their attendance and support of this very worthwhile project.