Jul 1, 2019

Speech – Last Post Ceremony – Australian War Memorial, Canberra – Monday, 1 July 2019

To Prime Minister Morrison and Parliamentary colleagues;

To the Memorial Chair Kerry Stokes;

To the Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson;

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

We especially welcome the relatives of Private Sibraa who are in attendance here this evening.

The nation-building generation which designed our national capital never planned on building a war memorial.

But the optimistic and growing nation of 1911 which accepted Walter Burley Griffin’s plan for Canberra had, by 1927, become a grieving nation when Emil Sodersten and John Crust were invited to design an Australian War Memorial for this very site.

Of course Australians had fought and died for our country, at home and abroad, long before the First World War.

But the war that came in 1914 changed us forever.

We will never know what this nation might have become if the leaders of the world had found a way to avoid the First World War or to stop fascism before it rearmed, or to prevent any of the other wars in the century since.

We will never know what long lives the 60,000 Australians who had died in the war by 1918 might have lived.

We’ll never see the trees they might have planted.

… the great works they might have built.

… importantly, the families they might have raised.

Or what different lives the 156, 000 Australians who were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner might have lived.

There is one thing that we do know.

The selfless sacrifice of generations of Australians secured the freedom we enjoy in this nation today and for that we give thanks.

They defended the values upon which this nation was built.

On the very day this Memorial opened, Prime Minister Curtin said:

The Parliament of a free people deliberates day by day and cannot but be inspired and strengthened in the performance of its great duty by the ever present opportunity to contemplate the story that has gone before them of the deed that helped make the nation, and of the unifying purpose which links the ordered ways of a free people with that matchless courage which inspires its sons to maintain it.

The Parliamentary Labor Party John Curtin once led, the Party which I lead today, remains deeply inspired by the courage with which Australia’s sons and daughters still defend us.

The cruel world war that demanded the memorialization of so much pain ended in 1918.

But the grief never did.

My old friend Kim Beazley reminds me that in Sydney at the end of that war, 10,000 women dressed in black marched to the wharves where they had last seen their husbands, their sons, their lovers, their brothers – and there they threw flowers into the waters.

A sobering thought.

But while the human tragedy of that time might seem distant, it is closer than we might think.

The footsteps of those we have lost echo down the years.

Each year when, I am sure with other parliamentarians, I am privileged to address Anzac Day ceremonies in my electorate, I take time to examine the records of locals who served.

Those records allow us to learn some of the stories of the men and women who have served our nation in times of conflict.

It is why this memorial is so important.

This year, at the service at Balmain, I spoke of the sacrifice of Henry Drysdale, who lost his life in July 2018 at Villers-Bretonneux, just months before the guns finally fell silent.

Henry was from Balmain. He had walked the streets where I walk my entire life.

After my speech a woman approached me and introduced herself.

Her name was Kira.

She lives in Balmain.

She is Henry Drysdale’s great grandniece.

Like Kira and her family, we must never forget.

As we enjoy the wonderful opportunities that our nation offers us, we must take the time to reflect upon how our nation was built.

And that is what we do here at sunset.

But it is not enough to remember.

The grief of war darkens too many Australian lives.

We must dedicate ourselves to do all we can to keep peace in our world.

We have much work to do in this area.

We must understand that when lives are turned upside down in our defence, we must gently and carefully help our veterans come to terms with their experience.

Our care must be ongoing.

When I hear the Last Post, my heart sinks.

I think of the human cost of war, the nature of sacrifice and the desirability of peace.

But with sorrow comes something else.

Pride.

The pride of knowing that we live in a free nation among a people who value freedom and are willing to defend it.

For themselves. For their families. And for their nation.

Lest we forget.

ENDS