On the weekend, I watched a group of young men link arms and stand together in silent recognition of Anzac Day.
They were mainly Australians. But among them were New Zealanders, Samoans, Fijians and a trio of big, burly brothers from Great Britain.
They were rugby league players – young men in their prime.
And as I looked at their faces, I was taken by their solemnity.
It seemed to me that they understood that their freedom to live in peace and to pursue their sporting dreams did not just fall out of the sky.
It was purchased for them by the sacrifices of their ancestors.
The men who went to war in 1915 were a lot like the rugby league players.
They were young and fit.
The world was at their feet.
But the circumstances of history prevailed upon their generation to sacrifice their future, in order to guarantee our future.
They responded with selfless bravery and we – all of us – are the beneficiaries.
We have the freedom to do what we want to do. To be who we want to be.
But our ex-servicemen and women had to give up their dreams, their blood and, in far too many cases, their lives, for our benefit.
At Gallipoli there were 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,709 deaths.
Across World War I, out of a population of less than five million, 61,522 Australians lost their lives.
Behind these staggering figures are people.
Many of them walked the same streets that we walked this morning to come to this ceremony.
Men like Fred Fardell, born just down the road from here in Rozelle.
Fred was a hairdresser. He lived with his wife Ethel in Church Street, Balmain, literally just around the corner from where we stand.
Fred joined up in February, 1916, at the age of 29.
He never came home.
Arthur Addison was another Balmain Boy – a brass finisher whose parents lived in Leichhardt.
Arthur joined the Army in February, 1915.
Then there was Victor Sellheim, a career army officer born in Balmain in 1866 who served in the Boer War and was a Colonel at the outbreak of World War I.
After the war, Victor remained in the Army until he was appointed Administrator of Norfolk Island, where he died in 1928.
We must never forget Fred, Arthur or Victor.
We must never forget the men and women who followed them to service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and, in our own time, the ongoing war against terrorism.
We must never forget the sacrifices of their comrades from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Great Britain and our other allies.
There will always be discussions about the rights or wrongs or war.
Those discussions are important. As a race, mankind must learn from the past and find a way to banish war for ever.
But that’s not what Anzac Day is about.
Anzac Day is about remembering that in our short history, generations of Australians have understood that there are times when we must oppose those who threaten our freedom and our way of life.
Australians can be an easy-going and laconic mob.
But when called upon to risk everything for others, generations of Australians have stepped up.
And as a nation we have prevailed.
When I was a young man, Gallipoli veterans still walked among us.
The legend of the Anzacs was so real that you could reach out and shake their hands.
But many people wondered whether Anzac Day would just fade away as the veterans of the two world wars passed on.
In the 21st century, the legend is not fading away.
It becomes stronger each year.
Families pass down the legends and schools teach the history.
Young people across the nation, just like our sporting heroes at the weekend, understand the importance of remembrance.
They understand that to be an Australian is to have won the lottery of life.
They also know in their hearts that we have a responsibility to respect and thank those who have sacrificed so they may enjoy their good fortune.
It’s why it has real meaning when we say, “Lest we forget”.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
Error: API requests are being delayed for this account. New posts will not be retrieved.
Log in as an administrator and view the Instagram Feed settings page for more details.