HON. WAYNE SWAN MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY
MOTIONS (CENTENARY OF ANZAC)
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2015
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There is no greater privilege in public life than to honour the service of our Defence Force personnel. This hundredth anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli was a very special year in our public life. As so many other members of this House have remarked, the experience this year on Anzac Day was so special—special because not only did record numbers of people turn out but they turned out to really connect with our veteran community. A large part of the success was the program, Australia Remembers. This year was special because it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific and the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings..
The connection between the 100th anniversary and the 70th anniversary is that we in Australia have now begun to build a bridge between the war generations, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. So much has happened in Australia in the past 20 years that it is now a regular event for there to be an Anzac Day ceremony at every school in the areas we represent. That was not true 20 years ago. It has been special to see the diversity of projects that have been applied for across the areas we represent.
Last Anzac Day was a very special day. One hundred years ago, 3,000 troops from the length and breadth of this country landed to begin the assault on Gallipoli Peninsula. In the months that followed men from my area like Billy Sing, the Gallipoli sniper, and others with names like Bridges, Church, Collins, Mackay and Smith joined the battle in their thousands. Their lives and their experiences are represented on a new memorial wall, which was funded as part of Australia Remembers at the Geebung RSL. It is a very special wall, where they depict the cliffs of Anzac Cove, the bugles, the weapons they carried, the postcards of hope they sent home. And, of course, there is a very special picture of Billy Sing.
That morning 100 years ago, stuck in a landing boat, approaching the shore, an Australian officer recalled the noise of the incoming fire:
The rat-a-tat-tat was followed by the whistle of the little messengers of death.
Then it opened out into a terrific chorus, the key was being turned in the lock of the lid of hell.
Dozens were shot in their boats. Others drowned trying to get off the beach in the first few hours of the landing. The rest fought their way past the first line of Turkish defenders and scrambled uphill through thick bush to reach the ridges that surrounded the beach. In the months that followed, 26,000 Australians died or were wounded; many survivors were commended for their bravery but indelibly maimed by the experience.
In all 416,000 Australians enlisted in the Great War, 60,000 died and 156,000 were wounded—one of them was my grandfather. Last year, in my Nundah office, I opened an Australia Post parcel and, as I did so, some medals fell to the floor. As it turned out, they belonged to my grandfather, a man I never met and who died at 56 years of age from the effects of wounds and gassings experienced on the Western Front that completely wrecked his health. The note attached to the medals was very moving. It was from a collector who, decades ago, had picked them up at an antique shop. He felt with the centenary coming up, he would make every effort to find the owners of hundreds of medals in his possession. He said of the medals:
They all have a man with a story behind the name impressed upon them; they are fantastic pieces of history and mean a great deal to me; they were all great men.
Yes, they were great men. On Anzac Day they were all represented at the ceremonies we went to by the medals which were proudly worn by their descendants and by the medals proudly displayed by our current war veterans. This, more than anything else, signifies why this centenary is so important.
There was an air of celebration about this centenary, a lot of noise and a lot of media hype—and that was inevitable—but we cannot let it be commercialised to the point that we lose focus of the values and the people we respect and revere. The medals remind us of that. So it is not about a celebration or noise; it is about the things we do not have. It is about those lying in military graves in foreign lands, their headstones remaining as a profound statement of our nation's ideals. It is about the young people lost, the voices that have fallen silent, and those who carried their wounds through the rest of their natural life. It is about remembering what those lives and voices were like, and why they were sacrificed. And, of course, it is about quiet local events that occurred on 25 April right around our country in every community.
The true spirit of Anzac is local. The memorial wall at Geebung reminds that they could have been our parents, our grandparents or our neighbours. We, on the north side of Brisbane, played a significant part in the Great War. The area was pretty sparsely populated back in 1914, but, within in weeks of the start of the Great War, large numbers turned out to enlist. More followed after Gallipoli and yet more after the battle of the Somme began in July 1916. By November 1916, in Chermside in my electorate there were 2,400 men were in training. With that kind of presence, the local community formed organisations to give 'send-offs' to departing soldiers and planned 'welcome homes' for returning diggers. Locals raised money to send parcels to the troops on the front line. Pupils at the Chermside State School chipped in by knitting socks throughout the Great War. What they were doing was looking after our troops—looking after one another in good times and bad. That is what lifts this nation above being merely a collection of individuals.
As the son of a veteran of the Second World War and the grandson of a veteran of the First World War, I accept my duty to honour their service and to do everything that we can to ensure that those people and their families are looked after. I am sure it is a duty that we all accept and hand down to our children and grandchildren. In this centenary year, we are united by sacrifice and by the tragedy of war. It is a universal and unifying story about courage. Every year on Anzac Day we ask ourselves two fundamental questions: why did they fight, and why do we still fight? We do so because of principles that stretch back to the birth of Western civilisation—truly fundamental principles that form the bedrock of our modern democracy—the principle of justice and the principle that nations that trample on the rights of others must be resisted.
We do not put our young men and women in harm's way unless it can be justified by more than the self-interest of the empire-builders. They do more than just honourably defend us—they are fighting for universal principles. And underlying those universal principles are the notion and pursuit of equality. The central idea that drives us is the idea of egalitarianism: that one person is as good as the next. Our ideal is no master, no servant, just individuals bound together as equals. Our officers and our soldiers were not treated as separate castes. Our commanders valued the lives of their soldiers and spent those lives with the utmost reluctance.
Of course, our egalitarian ideals were not born at Gallipoli—Australia was egalitarian from birth—but at Gallipoli those ideals were tested, and they proved their worth. What emerged was a moral code that rapidly established itself as our supreme national virtue—a combination of bravery, resilience, the ability to improvise, and sticking together in hard times, no matter what. It is our national story—a story about being there for others when they need help, no matter where they are or who they are. It is about defending anyone's right to pursue their own patch of equality. That is what my grandfather and my father fought for. They fought for a nation founded on the universal principle of equality. That is a nation worth fighting for, and that is what the centenary year means to me.
That is why it has been so pleasing to have so many people working so hard to make this year a success—people like Pat O'Keeffe, Peter McNamara, Ron Virgen, Joy Bryson, Lindsay McCullough, Mark Takacs, Jeanette Gentle, Bruce Fogarty, Jenny Bullen, Sally-Anne Wright, Chris Manktelow and Scott Leonard, and fantastic projects at Wavell high, Banyo RSL, St Kieran's and the Geebung RSL. I think this a fitting tribute to all of those who served and have sacrificed for our country.