Bill's Speeches

LAST POST CEREMONY - AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL - MONDAY, 6 FEBRUARY 2017

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Good evening everyone.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for his generous remarks about William Johnson, acknowledging that no creed has a monopoly on love of country.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present.

And in particular, we acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who fought for an Australia that took too long to recognise their courage, or honour their service.

My fellow Australians

We gather here on sacred ground.

For 75 years now, our citizens have modestly made this very Australian pilgrimage – climbing these stairs to salute the honoured dead. 

Pausing to mourn, reflect and remember brave young Australians who never came home.

And it is fitting that we, who have been entrusted with the tremendous privilege of representing the Australian people, come here on the eve of a new parliamentary year to pay our respects to all those who gave their lives, so our democracy might live.

One hundred years ago, village names on the other side of the world broke into the hearts of Australian families.

Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Beersheba.

Seventy-five years ago, war came to the Pacific: Singapore fell, thousands of Australians were taken prisoner, Japanese bombs rained on Darwin.

And we fought back, on land at Kokoda, in the Coral Sea and in the air, with the 75th squadron over Port Moresby – a unit citation too long in the coming.

The Australia of 1917, and 1942, has transformed beyond the imaginations of those who fought in its name.

We are more diverse, more inclusive, more equal – more confident of our place in the world and our ability to speak for our interests.

And yet for all that change, this memorial speaks a timeless truth.

It tells the story of everyday people: farmers and factory-hands, dockworkers and clerks.

People who found, within themselves, the courage to face death, the loyalty to stand by another and the remarkable resilience to dust-off and do it again.

This memorial commands us to remember the best of Australia: brave in hard times, strong in solidarity – reaching back to help a mate who’s fallen off the pace.

And commemoration is not just a public act.

In this year of milestones, I encourage all Australians to look into their own family history – to speak to the keepers of their family trees and to seek out the stories of their own relatives.

Through a chance encounter at a family christening, I learned about two relatives of mine: brothers who fought – and died - at Gallipoli

Last year, my aunt told me about my grandmother’s cousin, Jack O’Shea – who on the Kokoda trail – volunteered for a mission so dangerous that they refused to let married men participate.

Please, talk to your older relatives – who knew older generations.

Talk to the people who know the stories behind the names on these walls.

The stories of those who have given us a free country, a vibrant democracy – and a lesson in the enduring qualities of the people we serve.

When parliament resumes tomorrow the conflict will be verbal, the weapons, mere words.

And no matter how important we might imagine those arguments to be, let us remember all those Australians who faced a sterner test, in a darker hour and paid a higher price.

Tonight, at the going down of the sun. And tomorrow, in the morning.

Let us renew Australia’s oldest promise:

We will remember them. Lest we forget.

ENDS


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