Nov 12, 2018

Speech – Remembrance Day, Centenary – Petersham Town Hall – Sunday, 11 November 2018


Today, the 11th of November 2018, marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War One – Remembrance Day.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month our entire nation takes pause to recognise and honour those who lost their lives or were injured serving our country in the line of duty. Not only during World War One, but all conflicts where Australians were and are involved.

This morning we are gathered in Petersham Town Hall, in the heart of the Inner West, to commemorate those lost to our local community in times of war.

Men like Walter Ernest Brown.

Mr Brown, a grocer, lived in Petersham and enlisted to fight in World War One on the 26th of July 1915, aged 30.

Brown first served in Egypt in the Imperial Camel Corps and later transferred to the 20th Battalion, comprised of men from the suburbs of Marrickville, Petersham, Leichhardt, Bexley and Hurstville and headed for the Western Front.

Brown fought in the Battles of Morlancourt and Villers-Bretonneux.

On the 6th of July 1918, Brown and his unit were pinned down by a sniper post near Accroche Wood.

Brown located the position of the snipers and ran towards their post alone, with two grenades in-hand. Brown threw the first to no effect. He then threw himself into the sniper post, knocking down one enemy soldier and threatening the remaining men with the final grenade. The 13 men, including one officer, surrendered and were captured by Brown.

Corporal Brown received the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award within the British and Australian honours system, on the 7th of October 1918 from King George V for his efforts. Brown returned to the front until Armistice Day, but his story did not end when the First World War concluded.

Brown returned home to work and married his wife, Maude Dillon, on the 4th of June 1932.

In 1940 Brown enlisted to serve in World War Two, lying about his age and stating that he was 43-years-old, not 57.

On the 14th of February 1942 Walter Ernest Brown was fighting in Singapore when the order to surrender to the Japanese came through. Brown turned to his mates and said: “No surrender for me.” He picked up several grenades and ran to meet the enemy.

He was never seen again.

Today, we remember Corporal Brown.

We honour Corporal Brown.

The Bindoff family lived at 17 Windsor Road in Petersham. Alfred Edward Bindoff, a railway signalman, was married to Phoebe Alice Butler, a Budawang Aboriginal woman from Yuin country on the South Coast of New South Wales.

Married in 1893, they had seven children. Alfred and his three sons – Harold, David and Edgar enlisted. Only Alfred and Harold would return home.

Edgar was the first member of the family to enlist on the 28th of January 1915. He was also the first to fall.

On the 13th of September 1915 at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, Edgar George Bindoff, aged 20, succumbed to wounds sustained on the battlefield and died.

After Edgar’s death, his father Alfred, and his brothers David and Harold, aged 18 and 22 respectively, immediately enlisted, sailing to the front on the 30th of September 1915, a mere 17 days after Edgar’s death.

At the age of just 18, David Bindoff was killed in action in France on the 27th of July 1916 during the Somme Offensive.

The Bindoff family were among several Indigenous men from Petersham who fought in World War One. The neighbouring suburbs of Marrickville, St Peters and Leichhardt also had a number of Indigenous volunteers, a small and largely unrecognised proportion of the local population.

The contribution of Indigenous soldiers is still not fully recognised. Legislation at the time prevented Indigenous people from enlisting. Some Army recruiters adopted a variable approach to Indigenous volunteers, both accepting and, at other times, rejecting them. Many volunteers pretended to be of Southern European Ancestry to enlist.

Just think about that.

The fact that Indigenous volunteers were required to lie about their ancestry to fight for their own country remains a sad and shocking part of our history.

Today, we remember the Bindoff family and all Indigenous Australians who have fought for our country, past and present.

Indeed, we remember all Australians lost to us in conflict; whose selflessness and ultimate sacrifice, secured our future.

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

During my most recent visit to Canberra, I stopped at the Australian War Memorial to visit the 62,000 poppies display.

Spread across the memorial gardens, the hand-made display of thousands of red flowers commemorates the recorded number of Australian casualties sustained throughout World War One.

62,000 hand-made red poppies.

The culmination of a project began by Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, who crocheted 120 poppies to plant at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on the 11th of November 2013, in honour of their fathers.

Twenty-five years ago today, Prime Minister Paul Keating gave his remarkable eulogy at the internship of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial.

In this historic Town Hall where I had the honour of hosting Paul Keating two years ago, I wish to quote an excerpt from that speech.

“He may have been one of those who believed that the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are he went for no other reason than that he believed it was his duty – the duty he owed his country and his King.

Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible, war –  we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.

But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true.

For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly.

It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.

On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.

The Unknown Australian Soldier we inter today was one of those who by his deeds proved that real nobility and grandeur belong not to empires and nations, but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.

That is surely at the heart of the ANZAC story”.

I hope that in another 100 years’ time this Town Hall is again as full as it is today.

With people once again remembering the sacrifice of soldiers and civilians alike in wars long past, both won and lost.

And I truly hope that in 100 years there is also silent gratitude, that there has not been another significant armed conflict to commemorate.

It is vital that we as a nation remember the sacrifice of veterans, and their families, current serving members of our armed forces and civilians, affected by war.

It is also vital that as we remember their sacrifice, we also hope for a present and future without war.

Today, we honour those who have served.

We honour those who continue to serve overseas and at home.

Lest we forget.