Thank you to the keepers of the well

29 November, 2022

Thank you for the opportunity to address the parliament tonight on the keepers of the springs. Peter Marshall—not the Peter Marshall who's the United Firefighters Union secretary in Victoria, who's a friend of mine and I wish him all the best this Christmas, but the Peter Marshall that I'm talking about—was a Presbyterian minister who was the US Senate Chaplain from 1946 to 1948, during the presidency of Harry Truman. This is the start of one of his sermons:

High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs. He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town. Millwheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface, and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.

But the City Council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a Keeper of the Springs. Said the Keeper of the Purse: "Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town's work life. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary." Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a cement reservoir.

So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface. There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.

The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city's plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs. They sought him out of his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labor. Gladly he agreed, and began once more to make his rounds. It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Millwheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.

Who are these keepers of the wells? These keepers of the wells are the clerks of this House, the unseen, the unknown to the general public; our Hansard staff; the Parliamentary Library; our committee staff and support; our DPS staff, seen and unseen; those who work down in the dungeons of this building that keep the House ticking over; our own members of staff in our offices; the people who feed us in the cafes and restaurants of Parliament House; the transport office, our Commonwealth car drivers; our chamber stewards in the room tonight, and their daughters and families—and how's the dog?—our gardeners, cleaners and security staff; and our friends on the other side of the chamber.

I'd also like to thank the 156,000 Australian government public servants, who keep the machinery of government running, whether we're here or not, and during any caretaker period of a government. Of course, last but not least, thank you to all the whips—especially Zane, Jess, Alannah and Leonie—and, Mr Speaker, to you and all the other deputy speakers, who have made such a difference to the running of this House. The way you perform your task has been exemplary, and I congratulate you on that. I've been around for a number of Speakers. I've seen your gentle hand upon this House and the way you have performed, and I'd like to personally congratulate you on this year's work. I'd like you to pass that on to all the deputy speakers.

Importantly, a friend, Doris Fennell, gave me a card once that said:

It's not the title but the task.

It's not the office but the outcome.

Merry Christmas.


I thank the member for Monash for the best adjournment speech I have had as Speaker.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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