SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TUESDAY, 12 MAY 2015
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I thank the Prime Minister for his words.
Like the Prime Minister, like thousands of Australians and in particular those amazing widows of the First World War veterans, I had the honour of attending the commemorations at Gallipoli last month
And I wish to congratulate all who have worked so hard to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.
There was the Anzac centenary Advisory Committee chaired by Sir Angus Houston who worked in partnership with the former Minister for Veterans Affairs Warren Snowdon and the current Minister, Senator Ronaldson, in setting up and implementing the architecture for commemorating the centenary of Anzac as well as the project to commemorate the period of the Great War until Armistice Day 2018 Centenary.
I think it's also important as the Prime Minister has done to recognise and thank the all the Departments of Government, but including the Department of Veterans' Affairs, in undertaking on behalf to ensure that the Anzac commemorations events were so well organised.
I pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who attend events commemorating the event of Anzac, the landings at Anzac.
I also acknowledge the work of Lindsay Fox and his committee to raise a quarter of a billion dollars to ensure that the celebrations could be done in the best possible way.
I wish to pay tribute to the staff of the Australian Embassy in Turkey who were so helpful to so many of our people.
I can assure those listening that the sheer professionalism of the organisation of the experience for Australians to commemorate this most important event in Australian history, it was done to a level which would satisfy all.
It was a massive logistical effort. It was a vivid, dignified and very Australian experience that allowed us to see and imagine the history made there a century ago.
Like many Australians, I've read lot about the landing over the years but like every Australian who's ever visited Anzac Cove, nothing prepares you for when you survey the span of Anzac Cove and up to those very, very steep cliffs.
Seeing for yourself the sheer, steep rocky impossibility of scaling and seizing not one but two but three ridge lines, the prospect that confronted those young men, so far from home in the chill dawn of 25 April 1915.
Seeing – and realising – that in some part of their being, those first Anzacs must have known this too, the difficulty of their mission.
There can be no courage without a fear to conquer.
And as they grasped the task before them, in their heart of hearts, those volunteers, those citizen-soldiers determined to do their duty must have clamped that fear and charged on...despite the ferocious enfilade fire, from a determined opponent fighting to defend their homeland.
When Patsy Adam Smith was researching her famous history of Gallipoli: The Anzacs, she said the worst part of reading soldiers’ diaries was “all the empty pages”.
A string of entries full of humour, understated bravery, loyalty to mates, love for those left behind and then...there is no more.
As she wrote: “You turn the pages quickly: perhaps he’s only wounded, he’ll write when he gets to hospital.
But you are on the back cover before you see his hand again:
In the event of my death I wish this book to be sent to my dear wife to let her know that my last thoughts were of her and Essie my darling daughter”.
Australia bore those empty pages for a generation.
In his book, Farewell Dear People, Ross McMullin writes of the exceptional Australians lost in the carnage and chaos of the Gallipoli campaign.
At 31, Clunes Mathison was already an internationally acclaimed medical researcher.
The director of London’s Lister Institute said:
“No man I have ever known possesses the genius for research so highly as Mathison”.
He died at Gallipoli in May.
At the time, one British professor wrote: “for the science of medicine throughout the world, the loss is irreparable”.
Robert Bage survived Douglas Mawson’s expedition to Antarctica, leading a 300 mile sledging expedition in the windiest place on earth – the ‘home of the blizzard’.
One scientist in that party said:
“Bob Bage … is the best liked man on the expedition and personally I think he is the best man we have”.
Bage too was killed in the first fortnight at Gallipoli.
Their bodies lie there still, alongside thousands more.
Empty pages in lives of potential and possibility cut short or unfulfilled.
In one of those twists of families, the last Sunday before I left for the commemorations, I was speaking with an older member of the family tree at a christening, as one does.
I told him I was visiting Gallipoli.
He revealed to me that he had two uncles who had died there.
William Burgess, 23, who was killed on the 26th of April, 1915.
And his younger brother Nathaniel, 21, who was killed in November that same year and is buried at Embarkation Pier cemetery.
As Brian explained: “the family never recovered”. The Burgess boys’ father shot through after the war, leaving a mother wracked by grief.
The two youngest sisters, the youngest being Brian’s mother were placed in foster care.
Two moments in seven months, on the other side of the world, damaged his family for two generations.
When I visited the cemetery at Lone Pine, on the wall recording names of over 3000 Anzacs whose bodies were never recovered, I found the name of William Burgess, 16th battalion AIF.
Placing a poppy next to those letters, mutely carved in stone, moved me in a way I could never have expected.
And the Burgess story is just one among 60,000.
60,000 young people, lost to an even younger nation.
A generation of children who never knew their parents, young widows who grew old with their grief.
And hundreds of thousands more, home but never whole again.
Forever changed by the hardship they had faced and overcome.
The wounded, unable to return to the jobs they left behind.
The soldier-settlers stretched by a harsh land they battled to tame.
And all those who carried the hidden scars of trauma – the husbands and fathers who could never find the words to tell the people they loved why things could never be the same.
Parents, wives and children who welcomed home a different person to the one they farewelled.
We all know country and coastal towns where the list of names etched into the weathered white stone seems impossibly long.
We have all paused in front of honour rolls in our local halls where the surnames come in twos, and threes.
The brothers who couldn’t be separated, the strapping sons lost to their families, sometimes in the same hour of bloody chaos.
When we think of the trauma, the heartache and the inexplicable, unknowable horrors of war, it is small wonder that for some, Anzac Day was a time of mixed emotions.
There have been those who have felt the need to rage against Anzac Day, to repudiate the tragedy of war.
I prefer to believe we have, as a people, embraced the true lesson of Anzac Day – not glorifying war, but celebrating peace.
Acknowledging the waste and futility of lost life, while paying respect to the resilience and resolve of those who risked and lost their lives for the mates they served beside and the home they loved.
There is no-one left among us who knew firsthand the courage and chaos of the 25th of April 1915.
Those left to grow old have gone too.
Yet the Anzac story will always be part of our Australian story.
The Anzacs will always speak to us, and for who we are.
And I would add my support to the former Deputy Prime Minister’s, Tim Fischer’s, campaign to honour General John Monash – an exceptional leader who, unlike so many others, learned the right lessons from Gallipoli.
A leader whose proud epithet includes that he spent more time preparing for his battles, than fighting his battles.
In the coming years of commemorations, I would encourage all Australians to honour the memory of those who served by looking up into the branches of your family trees.
Try and discover, if you can, the history of your family’s service.
Find new personal meaning in the Anzac story:
A legend, in the Keating words at the heart of our War Memorial:
“Not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity.
A legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity.”
Learn and tell the story of the ordinary people who found the courage to do the truly extraordinary.
And as a new generation, give new meaning to our most solemn national promise: Lest We Forget.
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