A New Dreamtime: Australia Day Address 2016
HE Arthur Spyrou, Australian Ambassador to the UAE
Hiltonia Beach Club, Abu Dhabi
20 January 2016
Your Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Social Development, Your Excellencies, Australian friends and good friends of Australia.
My name is Arthur Spyrou. I’m the newly-minted Ambassador of Australia in the UAE. And while I only took up duties last week, I had the honour three days ago of welcoming to the UAE the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia, for his first meeting with HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyah, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed forces.
During that meeting, discussion went to the importance of innovation and imagination for both countries and the Prime Minister made the comment to His Highness that “imagination is the ultimate renewable resource”.
Australia has been known through the years as “the lucky country”, but you make your own luck, and I would rather it be known for what it really is – the clever country, the innovative country.
Some innovations capture the imagination and some are more humble. As the Australian song says, “from little things, big things grow” – for example, Australians invented the refrigerator and the esky – which as any Australian knows, have been critical to our survival as a people.
Australian innovation has underpinned 24 years of uninterrupted economic growth. It also gave us 15 Nobel Prize winners.
When you pick up an electric drill or a notepad, a polymer banknote, watch a feature film, when you ride a surf-ski, use solar hot water, or plug into a multiple powerboard, you can thank an Australian for having come up with the idea.
If you ever need a medical application of penicillin, spray-on skin, a pacemaker; if you’ve had an ultrasound or wear plastic spectacle lenses; if someone you love has a bionic ear or has needed gene shears to excise genes that cause disease at the DNA level, or received the cervical cancer vaccine – an Australian invented it.
There will be a black box recorder and an inflatable safety slide in each one of the 266 flights a week between Australia and the UAE – and on many flights you can even access Wi-Fi or Google maps – all Australian innovations.
In our adopted home, the UAE, Australian hands designed the iconic Etihad Jumeirah Towers, built ADNEC’s Capital Gate building, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as “the world’s furthest leaning human-made tower” and in partnership with other construction firms built the world-famous 321 metre tall, seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
My personal favourite is the incredible technology involved in designing and constructing the beautiful metal roof structure for the Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport, which is currently being delivered.
Australians are making an indelible and meaningful contribution in the UAE, in partnership with the UAE.
Innovation has always been the Australian way.
Indigenous innovation and art have shaped the dry Australian continent and have been central to the very survival of many indigenous cultures.
Australian indigenous cultures are the oldest continuous cultures in the world – dating back perhaps as far as 60,000 years.
Their concept of the dreamtime, the time before time, the source of all knowledge, is perhaps the oldest system of creation myths in the world. It is our first articulation of what it is to dream, to gain knowledge, to respect the world around us, to adapt to it, and hence to innovate.
I defer to the wisdom of those ancient cultures. Or as His Highness, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said, may he rest in peace, “those who do not know their past, cannot make the best of their future”. Together, they teach us that to innovate is to dream.
This is a time for new dreams, characterised by imagination and based on respect for a fragile planet.
As we celebrate what it means to be Australian in 2016, let’s do what Australians do best – let’s work hard to innovate and collaborate with our trusted friends – let’s share the dreaming.
In my short time here I have been struck by how central innovation is to UAE Government policy. From Masdar to Burj Khalifa, from the establishment of a space program to the UAE’s visionary investment in renewable energy technologies and success in diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil, I can see that this country has been built on, and is driven by an innovation mission.
As Prime Minister Turnbull said to His Highness the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi a few days ago, “innovation is a question of culture”. Australia and the UAE share that culture. We are natural partners. And the innovation we both value will characterise both our relationship and our future prosperity together.
Happy Australia Day!