Feb 3, 2020






To Prime Minister Morrison and Parliamentary colleagues.


To Wing Commander Sharon Bown (Ret’d), representing the Chairman and Council of the Australian War Memorial.


To Memorial’s Acting Director Major General (Ret’d) Brian Dawson AM CSC.


We acknowledge also serving and former ADF personnel here this sunset.


In this place of solemnity and dignity, we are surrounded by the lessons of history.


The successes.


The futilities.


The just causes.


The knowledge that freedom does not come cheaply, and that it cannot be taken for granted.


We think of all those who went and paid that price for us.


This place is an embodiment of the awe and gratitude felt by each generation, each one keeping the flame of that memory alive.


Ponder the circumstances in which this War Memorial was born.


When the crowd gathered for its opening by Governor-General Lord Gowrie on November 11, 1941, Armistice Day was as close to them as 1997 is to us now.


As they stood here on that distant November day, the ordeals of Gallipoli, the Western Front and the rest of the Great War were still very present in the collective memory.


Memories that were recorded with devastating simplicity by the likes of Australian nurse Anne Donnell. She was at the 48th Casualty Clearing Station near Amiens on the Western Front. She wrote in her diary:

The expressions on those dear boys’ faces as they come pouring in with their frightened anxious hunted look combined with the suffering of pain, fear and shock.

Boys who could see would be the leaders of queues of blind, bandaged boys each placing their hands on the other’s shoulders and so feeling their way

The wounded boys and the gassed boys are making their way in streams towards the CCS. I shall never forget it.”


It was not our first fight.


But it was that hellish, sprawling conflict that not so much forged the Australian character as confirmed it in the eyes of the world.


Regrettably, it was also not our last fight.


The war that was meant to end all wars turned out to be a precursor to future horrors.


Even as those gathered here for the opening of this place, new ordeals were brought into being.


World War II had entered its third year.


All those gathered here in 1941 knew only too well just how greatly our character was to be tested again.


Within weeks of the War Memorial’s opening, HMAS Sydney was lost with all hands after a battle with the German raider Kormoran.


A week later, Japan entered the war with a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.


Within a couple of months, Singapore would fall.


And then, with the bombing of Darwin, the war would arrive on our shores with full, terrible force.


As it engulfed the planet, World War II unleashed horror on a scale that once was beyond imagining.


And yet Australians went. There was none of that sense of adventure that enticed so many in World War I, and yet they went.


They went for us. They went for humanity.


They went because they felt they had to do their bit and that their contribution mattered.


And so many suffered for it.


I will always think with wonder of my mentor Tom Uren, who somehow emerged from the depravation and cruelty of a prisoner-of-war camp as a tower of humanity.


It was also a great privilege to get to know his comrade Sir John Carrick, who made such an enormous peacetime contribution to his nation through the Liberal Party.


Many would not be so fortunate.


And as we know only too well, it would prove to be another war that would not put an end to war.


Australians keep signing up. Freedom keeps exacting its price.


From the notes of the Last Post to the very walls of this building, we give our gratitude to all who have served and all who serve, and we never stop remembering.


As Prime Minister John Curtin put it on the day the War Memorial was opened:

No one who enters this building can leave it without some deepening and enriching of his inner spiritual life.”


He spoke of all that is contained within the Memorial’s walls as bringing us “one step nearer to the ultimate meaning of all this courage, all this sacrifice, all this faith.”


And he understood innately that Canberra was its rightful home, declaring:

This Memorial belongs, like the capital city itself, to all Australia.”


And just as Anne Donnell vowed in her wartime diary, we will never let those it commemorates fade from memory.


Lest we forget.