Apr 25, 2016

Address to Dawn Service, ANZAC DAY 2016 – Petersham Townhall

One hundred and one years after Australian troops landed at Gallipoli, we gather again today to recognize their immense sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices of those who followed in their footsteps.

Silently, sadly, we come to places like Petersham to confirm by our presence that we will never forget those who gave everything to protect our way of life.

There was a period a few decades ago when people speculated about what might happen to Anzac Day as the veterans of the First World War passed away.

In his song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda Eric Bogle, wrote:

Year by year, more old men disappear,
Someday no-one will march there at all.

But that’s not what happened.

In the 21st century, our reverence for Anzac Day – particularly among young people – seems to be growing stronger.

It is not fading away.

Families pass down the legends.

Schools teach the facts and governments fund education campaigns and research projects.

Archeologists survey the old battle fields.

Young people planning backpacking holidays make sure they include Gallipoli on their itineraries.

As a people, we don’t forget.

People of my generation could literally reach out and touch the Anzac legend because its veterans were still participating in Anzac Day marches.

But those men are all gone.

The ranks for World War II veterans are also thinning.

Yet our national embrace of Anzac Day has not been weakened by the passage of time.
That is a very good thing.

What it says to me is that today’s young people understand the importance of freedom and the value of sacrifice.

Decades have passed since the World Wars.

But people still understand why Anzac Day is so important, including younger people who have never shaken the hand of a man who stormed the beaches of Gallipoli or patrolled the jungles of New Guinea.

I suspect there are two reasons for the durability of these national memories.

Firstly, Australians understand how lucky we are to live in a nation where freedom is seen as a birthright.

Our lifestyle is so free, and our futures so full of wondrous possibilities, that we have the ability to make whatever we wish of our lives.

That is a precious gift.

Not all people on this earth enjoy these freedoms, so Anzac Day reminds us how fortunate we are.

But it also reminds us that our way of life did not just fall out of the sky.

It was purchased for us by our forefathers on battle fields around the world.

Secondly, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century is a constant reminder that we cannot take our freedom for granted.

There are people in the world who openly swear that they want to destroy our lifestyle.

That’s the word they use: destroy.

That’s why Australian military forces are fighting right now in the Middle East.

We must support their efforts.

Like the generations we honour on Anzac Day, our generation must be prepared to sacrifice to defend freedom.

Not just our freedom, but the freedom of the generations who will follow us.

Today, we remember the dreadful price paid for that freedom.

At Gallipoli alone there were 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths.

Across World War I, out of a population of less than five million, 61,522 Australians lost their lives.

These are staggering figures.

One of the positive things about the information age is that it is becoming easier to access facts about the individual men and women who have served our nation over the decades.

Men like Vincent Alexander Burns, who lived right here at Petersham.

Vincent was a 23-year-old quantity surveyor who put his career on hold in 1915 to serve in France.

He never made it back.

He died in action 1917.

Or Phillip Henry Dawes – an accountant.

Phillip was born in Petersham in 1882 and served in France as a gunner.

He survived the war, but never recovered completely from the effects of being gassed twice.

Phillip died in 1946.

Others, like Charles Percy Taylor, were lucky enough to survive and resume their lives.

Charles joined the 1st Light horse Regiment at Liverpool in in July, 1915 and served on the Western Front until the end of the war.

He came home and returned to the building trade in the Inner West, living a long life before passing away in 1976.

These are the human faces of WWI.

They walked the same streets that we walked to come here today.

They were ordinary people.

But when faced with a challenge to our national way of life, they responded in an extraordinary way.

It’s not just the veterans of World War I that we remember today.

We think also of the men and women who served in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the many conflicts and police actions that have followed.

We also remember members of the military who are serving overseas right now.

Just as importantly, we salute the sacrifice of the loved ones of those who have fallen in wars throughout our history.

When we think of such losses, we must harden our determination to ensure that we always provide for the care and comfort of the spouses and dependents of Australians who fall fighting in our name.

Decades after wars end, hindsight gives historians the opportunity to critically examine the global political forces that led to conflict.

We can all discuss the rights and wrongs of our involvement in WWI or the Vietnam War, just as we can all take a view about our nation’s involvement in the Middle East today.

But there is one thing we must always remember.

Whatever factors lead to war, the men and women who have fought the wars in our history were not motivated by politics.

They were not motivated by ideology.

They were motivated by the desire to defend their families.

But importantly, they were also thinking about us – we who were not even born at the time of their service.

Generations of Australians have understood that freedom and democracy are the key factors underpinning the Australian way of life, which is the envy of the world.

Having won life’s lottery by being Australians, these men and women have responded to their good fortune by defending that way of life on behalf of their descendants.

We are the beneficiaries.

That’s why we must never forget.