Bill's Speeches

LAUNCH OF THE ‘THE LAST POST: A CEREMONY OF LOVE, LOSS AND REMEMBRANCE’ - CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 15 AUGUST 2018

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Good morning everybody and thank you for that generous introduction, Brendan.
 
I'd like to acknowledge the Prime Minister and members of the government and the opposition, the chairman of the war memorial and all other distinguished guests. 

I'd also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I pay my respects to elders past and present.
 
It was about a hundred and one years ago and 16,000 kilometres away, on the 20th of September 1917, that the 17th Battalion fought at the Battle of Menin Road. 
 
The lieutenant in charge of 11 platoon, C company, was a popular 21 year old from Petersham named Keith Seabrook. 
 
As he and his men moved into their frontline position they were hit by a phosphorous bomb. 
 
Keith died from his wounds the next day.
 
Keith's older two brothers, George who was 25 and Theo who was 24, were members of the very same battalion.
 
And in the same battle, on the same day, George and Theo were hit by the same artillery shell.
 
They were killed instantly, their bodies were never recovered.
 
Impossible to imagine. Three brothers, three sons. 
 
Three names out of the 102,800 that are stamped on the bronze at our Australian War Memorial. 

Later, during the conscription debate, their mother, Fanny Seabrook wrote to her local Member of Parliament. 
 
She said: 

“Having given our three boys as a sacrifice to the country, their loss I'll never recover -  and now my husband is a complete wreck. 
 
I have put my property up for sale as there seems no other way.
 
Mr Seabrook has been raving about all three boys, has delusions of all kinds.
 
Please pardon me for telling you these things, for I have no-one to confide in.”

When you think about the mother’s grief, it also makes me realise that sometimes the familiar words and phrases of commemoration can perhaps just wash over us. 

We can fall into perhaps the custom of talking in general terms and noble sentiment: of freedom, of sacrifice, of mateship and love of country.
 
But this book and the last post ceremony which it honours are the corrective to that.
 
They tell an immediate, powerful human truth of war and its costs. 

And every evening on the slopes of Mount Ainslie, the bugle calls us to the story of a young life, unfinished.
 
The Last Post plays for generations of brave men and women. 

But it also plays for the children left behind, for the empty pages in the photo album, the empty places at the table. 

It plays for the laugh that was never heard again.
 
Its notes ring out for the shattered family where a grieving mother apologises for sharing the details of her ruined life with her local MP because she has no one left to confide in.

This book records a ceremony which combines the best traditions of ANZAC and Australia: egalitarian and democratic, humble and human. 

Without varnish or vainglory it speaks for the courage of every Australian who has worn the Australian uniform. 

And without question, it also presents us another dimension of the Australian War Memorial.
 
A new moment of reflection and emotion and honour for our veterans, for the families of the fallen and for young and old visitors alike.
 
Truly, it is a ceremony for 'one of them and all of us'. 
 
I congratulate Doctor Brendan Nelson for his vision and Emma Campbell for capturing it with such clarity and depth.
 
It is a gift to bring to life again, even momentarily, the story of some who have gone. 

It was actually on Menin Road, near where the Seabrook brothers and 350,000 other members of Allied Forces died, where the Last Post Ceremony was born. 

Since 1927, from the Menin Gate which bears the names of 55,000 soldiers with no known grave, the bugle has sounded at the going down of the sun to call home the spirits of the lost. 

I don't know if you're all familiar with William Longstaff's famous painting, ‘Menin Gate at Midnight’. It shows ghostly figures in their translucent tin hats, falling-in. 

In desert and jungle, in mud and sand, in the skies and on the seas, fighting wars, tending the wounded and keeping peace, 102,800 Australians have given their lives. For their mates, for their family, for the free and democratic country in whose parliament it is our privilege to serve.

This book, this ceremony, the great secular cathedral that hosts it every day, brings one of those faces, one of these stories to life.

 And every day the notes of the last post hold us all to Australia's oldest promise.
 
            We will remember them

            Lest we forget. 


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