The truth about January 26

A flyer advertising the 1938 Day of Mourning at the old Australian Hall – Australia’s first civil rights protest.

There is widespread confusion as to why January 26 was chosen in the first place. A national survey reported in The Age in March 2017 found that while more than seven out of 10 respondents declared Australia Day was important to them, many did not know which event it commemorated. Only 43 per cent correctly identified the first arrival of a First Fleet ship at Sydney Cove.

There is a degree of perversity on display among the passionate defenders of January 26. It made sense in the past for those who wanted to commemorate the founding of Sydney. That was when the decision was made to move the whole expedition from Botany Bay to Sydney Harbour. It makes less sense as a day of national commemoration.

There are two other dates that would be more appropriate. The first is the 20th of the month, when all the ships had arrived in Botany Bay. It was the successful conclusion of a remarkable expedition, bringing a fleet of 11 ships and over 1000 men and women from the other side of the world. It was a significant achievement of logistics and seamanship, but one of British imperial rather than Australian history.

The second date is February 7, when the formal ceremony of annexation was conducted before the whole population. The public commissions were read and, as [marine officer Lieutenant] Watkin Tench explained, the British took “possession of the colony in form”. Once the documents had been read, the officers joined Governor Arthur Phillip “to partake of a cold collation”, at which “many loyal and public toasts were drank in commemoration of the day”.


As officers toasted the formal establishment of New South Wales, the future of relations with the local Aboriginal bands appeared propitious. The governor had good intentions and his instructions suggested he “conciliate their affections” and enjoin “all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them”.

Things did not turn out the way Tench expected. That had become quite clear by the time he left the colony in December 1791. A disastrous smallpox epidemic ravaged the local bands in April and May of 1789 and then spread outwards across much of south-eastern Australia. Violence increased around the fringes of settlement until, in December 1790, the governor ordered Tench to lead Australia’s first punitive expedition towards Botany Bay and use terror to bring resistance to an end.

Frontier conflict became a permanent feature of Australian life for 150 years. It was predetermined by the fateful decisions made in London before the First Fleet set sail. The documents read on February 7 did two things. They concerned sovereignty and property. The imperial government asserted sovereignty over the eastern half of the continent. It was a vast and audacious claim that would have been found illegitimate in international law. And there were already clearly understood protocols among the European nations about the extension of sovereignty.

What provided the British with a thin cloak of legitimacy was the assumption that no prior sovereignty existed. The First Nations had been judged from afar to have neither government nor laws and customs. And so the British officials turned their back on the tradition of treaty-making that had been alive in North America for 150 years.

It is simply not possible that educated officials were unaware of already deeply entrenched policies concerning the Native Americans. The decision to regard New South Wales as a terra nullius was not the result of forgetfulness or inattention. The likely consequences were understood at the time. Without any means or machinery for negotiation, violence would stalk the land.

1st April 1770: A print from a painting showing Captain James Cook (1728-79) taking possession of New South Wales, taken from the collection of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria.

1st April 1770: A print from a painting showing Captain James Cook (1728-79) taking possession of New South Wales, taken from the collection of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria. Credit:Hulton Archive/Getty Images

An even more egregious decision was made in relation to property. In one apocalyptic moment, all the real estate over half the continent became the property of the Crown. It was an appropriation confirmed in Australian courts for 200 years. It became so central to national life that it was rarely questioned. And it cannot be distinguished from the foundation of British Australia and the commemorations of January 26.

The scale of the expropriation was without precedent, and once again only made sense if it was accepted that the First Nations had never been in actual possession of their homelands and that over vast stretches of land there were no settled inhabitants and that there was neither land law nor tenure.

Everything changed in 1992, when the High Court handed down its judgment in the Mabo case. The judges overthrew 200 years of legal precedent, deciding that before the arrival of the British invaders the First Nations had both settled inhabitants and land law. They were the legitimate owners of their ancestral homelands.

The Captain James Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park was defaced, along with others, by protesters who called on changing the date.

The Captain James Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park was defaced, along with others, by protesters who called on changing the date.Credit:Cole Bennetts

The implication was inescapable. The British had expropriated the land without compensation. It was a land grab almost without precedent. How this expropriation could have happened under the aegis of the common law is hard to explain. Because at the same moment, and by the same legal instruments the land was expropriated, the Aboriginal peoples all over New South Wales became British subjects, so-called beneficiaries of the King’s peace.

Australian judges have often dated the assumption of ownership from either 1786, when Phillip received his first commission, or from the formal annexation on February 7, 1788. Is that when the incorporation occurred? Both at the same time? Or did one precede the other? These seemingly arcane questions matter because they bring us to the much broader question of the sanctity bestowed on private property by the common law.

One of the central themes in the history of the common law was the centuries-long struggle to defend the property of the subject from appropriation by the Crown. Statutes of the 13th and 14th centuries were designed to restrain the arbitrary power of kings to confiscate the property of their subjects.

It is important to remember that New South Wales was regarded as a colony of settlement. British law arrived with the First Fleet. Early legal and administrative decisions made it clear that the prerogative power of the Crown was no more extensive in Sydney than in Britain itself.


So how had the Crown acquired the landed property of First Nations across vast stretches of territory without their permission and without providing compensation? It had been stolen from people who were subjects within the King’s peace. And how and why was this outstanding anomaly allowed to determine what happened to tens of thousands of men, women and children for 200 years? Ultimately it was the responsibility of the British Crown, which made no attempt to protect the First Nations from the inundation of the prerogative.

Another astonishing anomaly that the proponents of January 26 as our national day often assert is that the First Fleet brought with it the rule of law. It is less than obvious how such a claim can be sustained. In 1788, the law was profoundly subverted. Hundreds of years of tradition were overturned. For anyone to lose their property as a result of being incorporated into British society was, as Locke had insisted, too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Do the flag-wavers have any idea what they are urging us to commemorate? Do they not know? Do they care?

If Australia had a founding principle, it was the sanctity of private property. The imperial government had a number of motives when it decided to plant a settlement on the east coast of Australia, but punishment for crimes against property was central to the whole operation. The convicts were wrenched from homeland, community and family, in most cases for theft. Their punishment was designed as a deterrent against future transgression.

‘It is pointless and gratuitous to tell Indigenous Australians to get over it and to look to the future.’

The full force of laws against theft was imposed from the moment the expedition arrived in Sydney. At the end of February 1788, five men were convicted of theft and condemned to death, illustrating that property was more sacrosanct than life itself. The sentences were carried out at public hangings, which the whole convict population was forced to watch. Just three weeks before, half a continent had been declared Crown land in one of the most remarkable acts of plunder in modern times.


There are so many reasons not to commemorate the nation on January 26. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made their feelings plain since at least 1938 and continue to do so. It is surely extraordinary that their opposition has been disregarded. And it is not as if they didn’t have a strong case. The arrival in January 1788 did not merely presage disasters that were to follow.

It is pointless and gratuitous to tell Indigenous Australians to get over it and to look to the future. An argument frequently heard in the testy debate about Australia Day is that what happened to the Aboriginal peoples resulted from what was regarded as acceptable behaviour at the time. That is just what happened in the 18th century, the argument runs, and it is pointless now to make judgments using the ideas and sensibility of contem- porary times.

On any measure, the First Nations suffered grievously as a result of the British annexation. They were the victims of profound injustice. Even now, many Australians find it hard to accept that white Australia does, indeed, have a black history. Their desire to commemorate January 26 arises from the felt need to focus on both our British heritage and the ongoing story of successful nation-building. John Howard was fond of saying that our history had a few blemishes. Scott Morrison remarked recently that colonisation did produce “a few scars from some mistakes and things that [we] could have done better”. These comments may have been made in passing, but they are symptomatic of problems that are much more than skin deep.


How are we to explain this singular failure of empathy? Why is the profound injustice visited upon the First Nations not treated with the appropriate gravity? Why continue to commemorate a day that takes the nation back to where it all began? Why have Australian leaders never asked for an apology from the British government or from the Queen herself in the manner pursued by the Māori? And why not suggest that some form of reparation would be appropriate for a land seizure completely at odds with the common law? The apostles of our current Australia Day expect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be loyal members of the Australian state and would react strongly against any hint of separatism.

But do they really think they are part of the nation? Are they white Australians’ countrymen and -women? If so, why can’t all Australians identify with them and feel their pain?

An edited extract from Truth-Telling: History, sovereignty and the Uluru Statement by Henry Reynolds, NewSouth, $34.99, available February 2021.

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Demanding new role for passionate swim coach

Helping youngsters refine their technique in the pool to improve their skills is the aim of the region’s newest stroke coach.

The Lismore Workers Swim Team this week announced they had appointed Caitlin Diamond as their new stroke coach.

Diamond will help swimmers in the transition and target group squads.

The 24-year-old has a long history following the black line with the club, as she formerly swam in various squads under their banner.

It’s a demanding role, involving four sessions each morning and afternoon for different squads plus Friday evening club sessions, but one she said was “very exciting.”

Diamond said she was enjoying being back at the pool to assist swimmers, especially youngsters, work to minimising their drag through the best body position, developing their water confidence and refining their swimming technique.

About to commence her third year of a social work degree at Southern Cross University, Diamond said she was thrilled to be working with the club’s long-term and renowned swim coach Peter Harvey.

COACHING TALENTED KIDS: Lismore Workers Swim Team have appointed former team athlete Caitlin Diamond as their new stroke coach who said she loves helping talented youngsters reach their full potential. .

“My position involves working with young kids coming out of the learn to swim programs and make sure they maintain a passion for swimming,” she said.

“I’ll also be helping them improve techniques including diving and tumble turns.”

Diamond said sharing her own love of swimming and encouraging the young athletes to achieve their goals was a key element of the job.

“I hope I get my passion for swimming coming across because it’s such an important life skill,” she said.

“So when the kids are coming into other squad and training I want them love what they do whether they want to have fun and learn what they can and or go to the Olympics.”

SWIM STYLE: Lismore Workers Swim Team have appointed former team athlete Caitlin Diamond as their new stroke coach, here speaking with Indi Creighton and Abbie Yourell (right).

SWIM STYLE: Lismore Workers Swim Team have appointed former team athlete Caitlin Diamond as their new stroke coach, here speaking with Indi Creighton and Abbie Yourell (right).

Diamond said she had been a keen swimmer since a very young age.

“I have been swimming since I was a baby and Lismore Workers Swim Team was the first club I joined,” she said.

“My siblings also swam and we went to carnivals and I can remember my mum telling me I was so small she used to get worried that on a windy day I would get blown off the starting block.”

Diamond said early starts at the pool were a great way to start her day.

“I love seeing young swimmers develop their confidence,” she said.

“In this country, swimming is a skill everyone should have.”

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Rosedale dye shows power of rip | Goulburn Post

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Think your kids can’t get caught in a rip in the shallows? Think again say Lifeguarding Australia CEO Stan Wall and Batemans Bay Surf Lifesaver Helen Smith. Using biodegradable dye on Saturday, January 23, the pair showed just how quickly a rip can travel from the shallows into deeper water. They chose Rosedale, on the NSW Far South Coast, for their demonstration because the unpatrolled beach has been the scene of several citizen rescues this summer. Mr Wall warned if you had consumed too much alcohol to drive, you should also not swim. As Ms Smith explains, a child on a body board could quickly be carried along the beach away from their parents, and then out into deeper water. In their panic, they are likely to abandon their board and be in even more danger. It has already been a tragic summer on the South Coast. On Sunday, January, a mother died trying to rescue her young son from a rip at Congo, south of Rosedale and on Friday, January 22, three fishermen were swept to their deaths at Port Kembla.


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Music theatre returns to Melbourne

But now for the good news: while this year might not be populated by the biggest shows we’ve ever seen, the sheer number is cause for cheer.

Come From Away’s 2020 cast.Credit:Jeff Busby


The first cab off the rank might also be the most uplifting. Set in the town that opened its arms to airline passengers diverted from New York in the wake of September 11, it’s a rare show that takes kindness as its emotional propellant. The production returns after extended runs in Melbourne pre-coronavirus, and the good-natured generosity of the work makes it ideal for anyone still wary of returning to theatres.

Now playing at the Comedy Theatre.


MTC is keeping details about this mystery project under tight wraps, but we do know it’s a glimpse at a new musical being developed by the company with Carolyn Burns, Tim Finn and Simon Phillips at the helm. Featuring performances by Alison Bell, Simon Gleeson and Chris Ryan, it will be a rare sneak peek at a work still in the creation stage.

February 5 and 6 at Southbank Theatre.

Eddie Perfect

Eddie PerfectCredit:Simon Schluter


Eddie Perfect is one of Melbourne’s big musical success stories, having won over Australian audiences and eventually moving to New York to pen Beetlejuice and King Kong for Broadway. He’s back at Malthouse Theatre for this intimate show in which he turns his gaze to his own career, peeling back the curtain to reveal the mental and emotional labour it takes to forge a life in music theatre. He’ll be performing songs – many new – on piano, with violin and cello accompaniment.

February 16 to 21 at the Malthouse Outdoor Stage.


One Night in Bangkok gets just one night (plus matinee) in Melbourne during an east coast tour of the show that united ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus with music theatre legend Tim Rice. The pop-heavy score has aged well while the story set at the height of the Cold War is a winning blend of the personal and political. Casting is unknown at this point, but independent producers Storyboard Entertainment won acclaim with with their last outing, Barnum the Circus Musical.

April 24 at The Regent.


The 1998 Adam Sandler film is more than just inspiration for this musical adaptation – the movie’s writer Tim Herlihy is co-writer of the stage production, along with Chad Beguelin, who also wrote lyrics for the blockbuster Aladdin. Not much is known about casting or creatives, but overseas productions have drawn strong audiences craving an ’80s-heavy nostalgia hit.

Athenaeum Theatre from April 30.

Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston in Friends.

Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston in Friends.Credit:JON RAGEL


2020 saw an unexpected revival in popularity of one of the defining pop cultural artefacts of the 1990s and early 2000s, as a new generation of locked-down teens and twentysomethings discovered Friends for the first time. It’s an excellent moment to bring out this affectionate tribute to the original series that’s both a pick’n’mix bag of oddments plucked from the TV series and a collection of meta-gags referring to the real-life actors who shot to astronomical fame and wealth during its run. A must for fans, but it’s probably not going to convert any haters.

At the Comedy Theatre from June 16 to 19.


“The biggest beef party in town” could have been a one-note excuse to put barely clad blokes in front of thirsty crowds, but by all accounts there’s more to Magic Mike Live. Co-created by the original film’s star Channing Tatum, it’s a dance spectacular that also promotes the open expression of all forms of female desire and an undercurrent of feminist empowerment more generally. It’s also hosted in a purpose-built Spiegeltent that looks about as flashy as they come.

At The Arcadia, Birrarung Marr from June 21.


One of the first rock operas and possibly the best known, The Who’s Tommy can also lay claim to be one of the world’s weirdest musicals ever. The story of a deaf, mute, blind boy who rises to world stardom as a pinball player, it’s both a vehicle for some catchy-as-hell songwriting and a psychedelic trip with twists that still genuinely surprise decades later. This Victorian Opera production was originally a one-night affair, but the 2020 show’s cancellation has seen it extended across an entire week.

The Palais Theatre from August 13 to 21.


COVID cancellations around the world mean that Melbourne is now the first city to host Global Creatures’ production of this Broadway mega-hit. 2021 is the 20-year anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s spectacular spectacular, making the unintentional coup an even bigger affair, and given the outstanding responses it gathered during its original New York run – including 14 Tony nominations – it’s fair to expect big things from this one.

Previewing from August at The Regent.


This new musical is based on the early life of P. L. Travers, the Australian writer who created Mary Poppins. Told with “a healthy spoonful of imagination”, it’s a whimsical exploration of a figure many know only from her work.

From November 3 at Theatre Works.

The cast of Once at the Princess Theatre.

The cast of Once at the Princess Theatre.Credit:Eddie Jim


Once is the only Broadway show whose music has won the goat (Grammy, Olivier, Academy and Tony awards), and those who caught the last Melbourne production will agree it deserved every one. This new 21-week tour is set to arrive in Melbourne at some point, but dates and location are yet to be announced.

Musicals are home to spectacular fantasies and big emotions, but after the year that was 2020, which will audiences prefer? Elaborate escapes from reality, or profound opportunities to process complex feelings? This year’s music theatre calendar offers ample helpings of both.


What also remains in question is what audiences actually want from this year’s music theatre – escape or catharsis? Will we be looking to forget our troubles or find some big feelings to make sense of the year that was 2020? Casting an eye on the 12 months to come, there are plenty of opportunities for both.

For unadulterated escapism it’s hard to look past the likes of Friends! The Musical Parody and The Wedding Singer, both of which promise nostalgia-heavy, feelgood fare from an earlier era. Moulin Rouge! would rate just as highly, but it loses points due to one major character suffering from a deadly respiratory ailment. And if beefcake is your dessert of choice, Magic Mike is an all-you-can-eat buffet.

There are ample outings that go big on the feels, too: Eddie Perfect has always brought an unflinching honesty to his songwriting and has never been afraid of dark themes. Once is another entry whose acclaim stems from the genuine emotions it provokes, while Come From Away‘s focus on the transformative qualities of kindness and generosity might offer a timely reminder of our better natures.

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See what stories got the Coffs Coast talking

From a bizarre public apology to plans for a 24-hour gym and craft brewery in the one Coffs CBD block, these stories got the Coffs Coast talking this week:

Matt Damon skips NSW hotel quarantine

Hollywood heavyweight Matt Damon has begun 14 days of private quarantine after jetting Down Under with his family last week to begin filming the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Love and Thunder.

The Damon family will isolate at a private residence in New South Wales at their own expense for the duration of the two weeks prior to filming.

“I’m so excited that my family and I will be able to call Australia home for the next few months,” Damon said in a statement.

Full story here

Elizabeth Anne O’Sullivan – My sister just received her $3000 bill for her two week quarantine in Sydney. She had no choice. She would have been happy to isolate at home with her family after being apart for over a year. It’s not right that some get to do as they please while others are expected to pay over $10,000 to fly home and then cop a $3000 quarantine bill. Where is our sense of justice eh ?

Debbie Leahy – One thing this pandemic has shown us is the huge divide between rich and poor.

Lorraine Penn – Amazing how the purchase of $22 million dollar home in Byron can change quarantine rules.

Chantel Galwey – Who cares as long as he’s isolating.

Donna Houghton – Why does he get to skip quarantine? Apparently if you’re a rich movie star you get different rules.

Nat Goulden – Why does he get exemption? This is a disgrace. Who does he think he is. David Bowie?

Janette Donnelly – And what has Gladys said about this.

Bizarre open letter says Arkan a ‘victim’ in blueberry case

A public apology to Coffs Harbour City Councillor John Arkan, purporting to have been written by his “ex-wife” Surinder Kaur, has been posted on social media.

The author apologises for causing him “great public embarrassment and trauma” and wishes him well in the future saying she will “pray to the universe that you get to fulfil your dream of becoming a senator”.

Coffs Harbour City Councillor John Arkan.

The author describes Cr Arkan as a “victim” in the recent legal case in which he was ordered to pay more than $130k in damages and court costs for selling a particular strain of blueberry without the appropriate licence.


Paul Shoker – Very fishy. Who issues such a media release. The best service Mr Arkan can give the community is walking away from public life. This man attracts controversy wherever he goes. It’s time to step away from public office and look at some self reflection

Loraine Mackenzie – Paul Shoker, Who issues such a media release? Maybe someone who is sick of seeing a person copping the blame for petty things while the more powerful offenders who cause so much damage politically, professionally and personally manage to stay squeaky clean.

John has paid the price for the things he has been accused of through the legal system but that’s not enough for the grubs who want to bring him down.

Marie Faw – I wish he would retire from politics. It concerns me to read this letter from his estranged wife. Unfortunately takes me back to past issues involving John Arkan driving unregistered vehicles.

Annette Mavin – Wow so many perfect people in Coffs Harbour

Aaron Ves – Time to go Mr Arkan

Unusual combination - the Coffs harbour CBD site will see a gym at the front and brewery out the back.

Unusual combination – the Coffs harbour CBD site will see a gym at the front and brewery out the back.

Plans for gym and craft brewery in one Coffs CBD location

A CBD block will house both a 24-hour gym and craft brewery if plans submitted to Coffs Harbour City Council are approved.

The front of the site at 41 Grafton Street will be the new home of Coffs Harbour Anytime Fitness which is currently located at 92 Harbour Drive.

Plans had already been approved in March 2020 to establish a King Tide craft brewery at the rear of the block.

The existing premises at the front are currently partially occupied by a furniture showroom.


Rohan Clear – Coffs doesn’t need anymore gyms. We need something like a Timezone

Lorraine Penn – What a brewery at the gym?

Megan Louise – Why does Coffs Harbour need yet another gym!

Michelle Stewart – Why so much focus on the Central Business District? What about the rest of Coffs Harbour? The Jetty area would be a much better location for this type of business.

Rob Trezise – Too true. The Coffs Harbour Local Government area is much more than the small area of the CBD. Too often I think people forget this.

Kirby Burton – Can’t wait for the brewery

Andrew Anderson – Tom Mudge then I might go to the gym lol

Jaclyn Vanessa Jenkins – I hope someone in power takes notice of the HOUSING CRISIS so our locals can enjoy these new developments instead of worrying about where they will sleep that night.

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Coronavirus updates LIVE: Western Australia to relax NSW and Queensland border rules; Invasion Day rallies planned

Victoria reached 16 days without community transmission on Friday, while Queensland and NSW also recorded no new local cases.

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Richmond Valley Council announce Aust Day nominees

Richmond Valley Council has announced their Australia Day award nominees ahead of their celebrations in Coraki to mark the occasion.

Coraki Memorial Park will be host to RVC’s Australia Day celebrations which include a full program of activities as well as a citizenship ceremony and an award ceremony.

“Each year council elects to hold the Richmond Valley Australia Day celebrations in a different town or village to celebrate the uniqueness of all corners of the Richmond Valley,” Richmond Valley Council mayor Robert Mustow said.

“This year it’s Coraki’s turn, and I couldn’t be prouder to celebrate this important day in such a fantastic setting.”

This year’s awards include Citizen of the Year; Volunteer of the Year, and Young Sportsperson of the Year.

Nominees include: Stuart Holm, Paul Cowles, and Michelle Pagotto for Volunteer of the Year; Trish Brims, Gwendolyn Gray and Paul Bengtson for Citizen of the Year; Sky-Maree Oldham, Lachlan Coe, Ella Keep, and Connor Turner for Young Sportsperson of the Year.

“I look forward to seeing residents and visitors joining me for these important celebrations,” Cr Mustow said.

Updates to the event program will also be published to the Richmond Valley Australia Day Facebook page

The day wraps up at 1pm so people can continue their celebrations at local businesses or with friends and family for a backyard barbecue at home.

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Optus boss speed dials success

It was hardly the first day Kelly Bayer Rosmarin had imagined when she agreed to take on one of the biggest jobs in Australia, the chief executive position at telecom carrier Optus.

The 44-year-old former Commonwealth Bank executive had spent a year in a fast tracked apprenticeship, working under former chief Allen Lew and learning about the telecommunications industry – which she had not worked in before she joined.

But after her elevation to CEO was confirmed, months of mapping out the first day in the role last April were thrown out the window as the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly across Australia. Meet and greets and visits to Optus stores across Sydney turned into a crisis meeting from a spare room in her home in Vaucluse in Sydney’s east.

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin had a very different first day in the top job to what she had planned.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“We had such a good plan. You could have made a documentary,” she says. “I ended up spending my first day – because it happened to work out on the rotation – at home. When I woke up in the morning my kids had written me a nice card that they posted on the door of the spare room that I was going to use. They tried to make it at least feel like it was something special.”

It was a taste of what was to come for Bayer Rosmarin, who joined Optus as deputy chief executive in 2019 a year after her resignation from CBA. As she prepared to take the top job, circumstances were quickly changing, so much so that Bayer Rosmarin kept singing the Cold Chisel song Khe Sanh to her predecessor Lew as he prepared to leave for Sydney for Singapore. Lew was worried he wouldn’t make it back to his home country in time before the borders were shut.

Bayer Rosmarin has always enjoyed a challenge but in steering Optus she faces an exceptionally difficult task. The highly regarded executive is a newcomer to an industry that has struggled with profitability as value drifts to internet giants such as Amazon, Netflix and Facebook. Optus is now battling not just its perennial foe Telstra but also a reinvigorated TPG Telecom, which merged with Vodafone Australia last year to create a formidable third player in the market.

But Bayer Rosmarin hasn’t wasted time in stamping her mark at the Singtel owned carrier. She is about to complete a key $250 million acquisition of low cost mobile carrier Amaysim – a deal that won a tick of approval from shareholders on Thursday. She aggressively freezed Optus’ prices on mobile plans to help customers during the pandemic and is also preparing to sell the telco’s tower infrastructure later this year.

Bayer Rosmarin’s move to Optus surprised many in both the banking and telco industries. But long-serving former Optus boss and current chairman Paul O’Sullivan says she was the right choice for the role.

“Optus is a challenger brand as we have to compete with a company more than twice our size,” Optus chairman Paul O’Sullivan tells The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “Kelly really stood out as the next leader for Optus: she has a great business brain and also a strong track record leveraging digital technology to innovate and disrupt traditional markets. That’s a rare but powerful combination.”

“It was clear she would be the right leader to take Optus to the next level.”

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was highly respected by her former CEO Ian Narev.

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was highly respected by her former CEO Ian Narev.Credit:Daniel Munoz

Rapid rise to the top

The daughter of an engineer and draughtswoman, Bayer Rosmarin was born and raised in Johannesburg with her two brothers.

Bayer Rosmarin completed two degrees – one in industrial engineering at Stanford University in California – before beginning her career in Silicon Valley where she worked at a start-up. She joined Commonwealth Bank in 2004 after a stint at Boston Consulting Group, and held several roles before she was elevated to lead the institutional banking division and markets in her mid-thirties.

She was widely considered as one of former Commbank CEO Ian Narev’s rising stars. And when Narev left in the wake of the damaging revelations of the banking royal commission, she was also considered a possible successor.

“I immediately saw her as exceptionally smart, brave and focused on the best interests of the business rather than her own ambitions,” Narev, now chief operating officer of online recruitment platform Seek says. “This combination gave her rare leadership potential. When Ian Saines, who was highly regarded, let me know of his intention to step down as head of the institutional division in 2013, I ran a global search for his successor, which included an evaluation of Kelly as an internal candidate.

“There were more qualified ‘ready now’ candidates, but none with Kelly’s potential. At the time, aside from being very young for such a broad role, she became I think the only woman leading the institutional business of a top 20 global bank.”

Bayer Rosmarin’s ascent at CBA raised eyebrows among some peers and subordinates. But Narev sought out Bayer Rosmarin because of her ability to disrupt and transform legacy businesses. He says she has a “unique intellectual capability”.

“Kelly is a disruptive thinker,” Narev says. “I recall well her first proposal to me regarding ‘Albert’, which at the time was among the leading POS [point of sale] terminals in the world. The idea of a bank making its own hardware would have been crazy to many, but she took it on, delivered it and as usual deflected most of the credit to her team.

“CBA’s innovation lab was a passion of hers. And I recall walking around the lab with Kelly and Gladys Berejiklian, who was then Transport Minister, hearing Kelly talk about how CBA would support the NSW government’s initiatives in contactless cards.”

“Whereas historically institutional client events were heavily skewed towards sports personalities and sports events, Kelly changed the paradigm and organised a series of client events with Garry Kasparov, which were extremely effective.“

Few dispute the idea that Bayer Rosmarin is a passionate executive. An indication of this was her frequent use of exclamation marks during emails to staff at Commbank.

Career change

Bayer Rosmarin was passed over for the CEO role at CommBank by Matt Comyn. She left CBA in March 2018 shortly after that decision was made, and resurfaced at Optus in the newly formed deputy CEO position about a year later.

It was an open secret in the telco industry that she was being groomed to take over from Lew, who led Optus for five years and spearheaded its push into online streaming of sport.

For Bayer Rosmarin, joining Optus provided the chance to work in a sector that she considered non-substitutable and one that she believed lacked new ideas and profitability.

“Despite [the telco industry] being so fundamental and despite it being something that people actually love and use every day – it’s a sector that globally is struggling for profitability,” she says.

“I started looking at different examples of different telcos all around the world and speaking to consultants in the industry. And there was no example that they could provide of a telco who was doing it differently and doing it well and bucking the trend. I looked at it and said ‘here’s a great space where no one’s really cracked the answer to how we breathe life and profitability back into it.’”

Bayer Rosmarin's talent was recognised early by ex-CBA boss Ian Narev.

Bayer Rosmarin’s talent was recognised early by ex-CBA boss Ian Narev.Credit:Brendon Thorne

Bayer Rosmarin also has a strong passion for sport and her competitive nature is replicated in the workplace. She told The Weekend Australian last August she was sure the telco could unseat Telstra as the number one player in the mobile market.

Industry challenge

Since the COVID-19 crisis meeting in April a lot has changed in the telco world.

Optus’ half year results revealed a nine per cent drop in revenue to $4 billion, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were down 30 per cent to $997 million.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff but it will never be fast enough for me – I want to get to be the most loved everyday brand”

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin

At the telco’s fourth quarter results in May, Bayer Rosmarin blamed negative consumer sentiment and freight delivery provider Toll Group’s cyber security woes on an 84 per cent slide in net profit for the quarter year on year.

Other strategic changes such as a decision to freeze prices on mobile phone plans also impacted income, but she says the pandemic had very little impact on long-term strategy.

One of Bayer Rosmarin's first achievements in her tenure is the acquisition of mobile virtual network operator Amaysim.

One of Bayer Rosmarin’s first achievements in her tenure is the acquisition of mobile virtual network operator Amaysim.Credit:Wolter Peeters

“While it was challenging and unexpected, there are also some things that made it a very smooth and better transition. I’m very calm in a crisis – I’m used to dealing with all sorts of ups and downs. We worked on the purpose of the company, the vision – all those things were already done and ready to go. I think there’s a lot to be said for companies having these organised orderly CEO successions.

“Donate your data, the family plans, the launching our own second brand, doing the [Amaysim] acquisition, these were all things that were part of the strategy,” she says. But some plans, such as a bid for the broadcast rights to the rugby union, did not go ahead. Other strategic changes including a shift to a “team of experts” model in call centres were accelerated.

The Amaysim deal will give Optus a further 1.1 million mobile customers and a stronger foothold in the budget end of the market. Under Bayer Rosmarin, Optus has also announced the launch of digital-only brand Gomo.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff but it will never be fast enough for me – I want to get to be the most loved everyday brand,” she says. “The teams will tell you what I’ll say to them is ‘we’re not going fast enough and consistently enough’ even though what we are delivering is great. We are getting through a lot but there’s just so much more we can do.”

Despite the initiatives, Optus has been criticised for dragging down mobile prices across the market. Veteran Telstra shareholder Anton Tagliaferro blamed poor mobile margins across the sector on Optus in December, a claim which the telco disputed.

This year, Bayer Rosmarin will turn her focus on opportunities with superfast 5G technology.

“This shift to 5G is an opportunity to re-establish connectivity in a new way that resonates with consumers, small businesses and large enterprises,” she says. “A lot of the thinking that we’ve been doing is heading in that direction.

Any changes Bayer Rosmarin plans won’t be without internal headwinds. It is widely known in the industry that it can be challenging to implement changes at Optus without the approval of parent company, Singtel.


“I do think that the telco industry structures may have been developed in a time when it was all about landline voice calls. But I’m not sure that all the policy settings are right and all the right players are in the right sort of dialogue and that we’re working together enough as an industry to make sure that we have a strong fundamental industry structure that will unlock better success for every player in that industry.

“That’s a fundamental question in the national interest that needs to be addressed. And so I’m trying to initiate that dialogue. It’s hard to do as the new kid on the block.”

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AFLW reshuffles early rounds of 2021 season amid border restrictions

The AFLW has made several changes to the opening two rounds of its fixtures amid state border restrictions.

Two matches in round one have been changed, with West Coast to host Adelaide in Perth — due to the open Western Australia-South Australia border — and Melbourne to travel to the Gold Coast to take on the Suns.

The Eagles were originally set to travel to the Gold Coast, while the Crows were fixtured to play the Demons at Casey Fields.

Greater Western Sydney’s temporary relocation to Adelaide, which is in place until at least the end of round two, has seen its round-two match adjusted.

The Giants will still open their season against the Dockers at Fremantle Oval on January 31 but will now host West Coast at Adelaide’s Norwood Oval on February 6 in round two.

GWS confirmed the round-two match would nominally be a Giants home match but they will not lose the right to host five home fixtures across NSW and the ACT.

Fremantle was due to play Collingwood away in round two but will instead play Adelaide at Norwood Oval on February 6.

The Magpies will now host Gold Coast that day, while North Melbourne’s clash with St Kilda at Melbourne’s Arden Street has been pushed back to February 7.

“The adjustments made to the first two rounds provides certainty into the early part of the season and allows the competition to remain as adaptable as possible as the season progresses in a constantly changing environment,” AFL head of women’s football Nicole Livingstone said.

“Throughout the planning process, we listened to and worked closely with each stakeholder to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.

“We openly acknowledge there are unique challenges and recognise the non-football commitments of both AFLW players and staff and through this open dialogue we know the AFLW community remains determined to work through them to achieve a full season.”


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