Speech - What ANZAC Day Means to Us









One hundred years ago – three thousand Australian troops from this suburb, from communities like ours all around Australia and New Zealand were jumping from landing boats to begin the assault on the Gallipoli peninsula.

In the months that followed men like Billy Sing, represented on the memorial wall, light-horsemen like Charles Henry Smith of the Second Light-Horse Regiment represented here today by his grand-daughter Glennis Rodgers, locals with names like Bridges, Church, Collins and Mackay, joined the battle in their thousands.

Their lives and experiences are evocatively represented in our unique memorial, in the cliffs of Anzac Cove, in the bugles and weapons they carried, and the postcards of hope they sent home.

That morning one hundred years ago, stuck in a landing boat approaching the shore an Australian officer recalled the noise of the incoming fire, and I quote, “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 brush 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 these medals fell to the floor.

They belonged to my Grandfather, a man I never met and who died at 56 years of age from the cumulative effects of wounds and gassings experienced on the Western Front that forever 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.

Speaking of the medals he said, “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 all were great men and they are represented here today in the medals proudly worn by their descendants but also in the medals proudly displayed by our war veterans. They more than anything else signify why this centenary is so important.

There is an air of celebration about this centenary, a lot of noise and a lot of media hype, that’s inevitable but we can’t let it be commercialised to the point that we lose focus on the values and the people we respect and revere.

The medals remind us of that.

It is not about a celebration or noise; it’s about the things we don’t have, it’s about those lying in military graves in foreign lands, their headstones remaining as a profound statement of our nation’s ideals.
It’s 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’s about remembering what those lives and voices were like. And why they were sacrificed.

It’s about quiet local events like this one. The true spirit of ANZAC is local, in communities just like ours.

The memorial wall reminds us that they could have been our parents or our grandparents, and today they could have been our neighbours.

Here on the Northside we played a significant part; this area was pretty sparsely populated back in 1914 and 1939, but within weeks of the start of the Great War large numbers turned out to enlist.

More followed after Gallipoli. Yet more after the battle of the Somme began depleting the AIF in July 1916. By November 1916, there were 2,400 men training in Chermside Camp alone.

With that kind of presence, the community formed organisations to give "send-offs" to departing soldiers and planned "welcome homes" for returning diggers.

They also raised money to be able to send parcels to the troops on the front line.

Even the pupils of Chermside State School chipped in by spending many years throughout the Great War knitting socks for the soldiers in the trenches.

I doubt that would happen today, but I imagine today's youngsters would show their support through Facebook and other forms of social media.

Looking out for one another, in good times and bad: it's what lifts this nation above being merely a collection of individuals.

Two years ago I spoke about Sergeant Jack Drew of Sandgate, whose diary tells of walking the battlefield looking for his mate Arthur Vivian Jeays, and of his relief at finally finding him alive in a field hospital behind the lines.

Walking a battlefield, looking for a friend. How very dangerous. How very Australian. How very human. How very local as well.

The Northside boys kept an eye on their mates, and Jack's diary entry demonstrates that he was a brave and loyal friend indeed.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that's really what we have to be to the veterans and their widows and descendants today—brave and loyal friends.

Including to the very young just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to be good mates. Looking out for them and the loved ones they have left behind for us to care for

As the son of a veteran for the Second World War, and the grandson of a veteran of the First World War, this is a family duty I accept. And I'm sure it's a duty each of you will accept and hand down to your children and grandchildren also. Which is why there are so many here today.

So today, we are united by sacrifice and by the tragedy of war.

It is a universal, and unifying, story about courage.

Every year, on this 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 democracies.

The principle of justice.

The principle that nations that trample on the rights of others must be resisted.

We don't put our young men and women in harm's way unless it can be justified by much more than the self-interest of empire builders.
Because they do more than just honourably defend us – they are fighting for universal principles.

Because 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 was no master, no servant, just individuals bound together as equals.

Our officers and 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, these egalitarian ideals were not born at Gallipoli – Australia was egalitarian from birth.

But, at Gallipoli, those ideals were tested – and 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 small patch of equality.

What my grandfather, my father and those who lie in numerous graves across the world believed was this: that a nation founded on the universal principle of equality is a nation worth fighting for.

That's what ANZAC Day means to me.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.