Andrew Inglis ClarkPrimary architect of Australia's constitution

Speech by Clark honouring George Higinbotham

The draft of the 1893 speech by Clark honouring George Higinbotham tells us something of Clark's world view and his vision for federation.

Clark's reference to Australia's  'absence of history' prior to British settlement, refers to the white colonial view that the land , now called Australia, was terra nullius (belonged to no one) prior to British settlement/invasion in 1788.   The 1901 Australian Constitution,  ignores Australia's Aboriginal history and continuous culture.  It does not recognise Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders as the original owners of the land.

Terra Nullius was only rendered legally void in 1992, when the High Court of Australia recognised  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander native title in the  Mabo Decision. The current Australian Government is commited to constitutional recognition.

Read more:  George Williams, Inaugural Andrew Inglis Clark Lecture, Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution delivered at the Tasmanian Parliament House on 7 July 2015 and published in the University of Tasmania Law Review. 


Clark's speech honouring George Higinbotham

The noblest inheritance which any nation can possess, and the most powerful stimulus to all that we include under the broad name of patriotism, are the heroic tradition and the illustrious memories of the great and good men whose deeds and words are integral portions of that nation's history. We know that it has been said that the happiest nations are those that have no history. But if the absence of history means the absence of all inspiring records of human excellence, we cannot have any hesitation in deciding that the conflict of good and evil, which evolves out of the potentialities of human nature [and] produces the saints and heroes of humanity, is to be preferred to any state of political and social stagnation which leaves no record of any change in its monotonous quiescence.

We have not yet witnessed in Australasia any of those momentous struggles for a better and juster organisation of society which fill so large a place in the annals of the older nations of the world, and with which the names of so many faithful combatants and martyrs for human welfare are inseparably associated, but we have had conflicts of antagonistic forces for the possession of society sufficient to supply a touchstone of human character, and to teach us that the opportunities of virtue and heroism are not limited to any age in the history of the world or to any soil or climate.

The result in each of the Australasian colonies has been to reveal to us the noble qualities possessed by many of the men who have done good service in building up the institutions under which we live and whose names and deeds we desire to be recorded for the instruction of the future generations who shall inherit the benefits of their labours. But among them all the name of the late Chief Justice of Victoria occupies a unique and pre-eminent position in the affections of the people of Australia, and I have placed upon our notice paper for today the motion to which I am now asking the House to agree, because I believe that, at the present juncture in the history of the Australasian colonies, their several parliaments could not perform any act that would be a more appropriate or significant expression of that unity of sentiment and sympathy which must contribute the ultimate and permanent basis of any political and organic Union of the future, than the adoption of [a]motion in which the example of a noble life, limited in its local activities to one colony only, is recognised as a possession of all of them.

It is not my intention to make any attempt to sketch in words the public career of the man whose name I invite the House to inscribe on its records, bur I shall crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes to say that I recall the few occasions on which I heard him speak in the law courts and in the Victorian Parliament as among the most inspiring recollections of my life. I believe that it will be admitted by all competent judges that as an orator he stood without peer throughout the whole of Australasia, and I think I may safely say that during the last five or six years of his parliamentary career I eagerly perused every important speech he made. In after years when he had quitted the stormy theatre of politics for the calmer atmosphere of the bench it was my valued privilege to have several personal interviews with him, and during the sittings of the federal convention in Sydney I received a long and thoughtful private communication from him in reference to an important feature in the proposed federal constitution. He watched the sittings of that convention with great interest and he was deeply desirous of seeing the federation of Australasia accomplished. He has not lived to see that event, and to fill a place in the federal commonwealth which would have directly and officially associated his name with its establishment and its earlier career.

But whatever wider opportunities for fame a federated Australasia may afford for its most gifted children in the future, I feel I am not guilty of any exaggeration when I say that it will be impossible for any of them to enrich its history with a more stainless record than that which George Higinbotham has bequeathed to us, or one from which subsequent generations will be able to draw a higher inspiration for the performance of the tasks allotted to them. The motion before the House speaks of the loss which the people of Australasia have sustained by his death, but in this instance as in every other like it, death and the grave are unable to take from us the most precious element of the life that has terminated.

Astronomers have told us that if one of the most distant and most brilliant planets that illuminate the sky should be suddenly darkened, the light it had been emitting for preceding centuries would continue for additional centuries to pour beams upon the world. So when a great and good man dies the light and influence he leaves behind him continue to shine down the ages to guide and inspire men of subsequent generations to follow in his footsteps, and we shall surely do well if in placing this motion upon our records we assist in directing the attention of those who come after us towards a life so radiant with light and fidelity to conviction and the suppression of all selfish aims in the discharge of public trust.

 Clark, AI 1892 , Speech to House of Assembly on death of George Higginbotham, 1892 , University of Tasmania Library Special and Rare Materials Collection, Australia. University Open Access Repository 
[( Clark Papers C4/F32) Punctuation slightly varied]