Address at Commemorative Service for those lost in HMAS Sydney II
Speech by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
19 November 2008
On this day 67 long years ago 645 Australians gave their lives in defence of their nation.
On 19 November 1941 HMAS Sydney was lost with all lives.
Prime Minister Curtin announced the news to a stunned nation on 30 November.
Mourning the “loss of a fine ship and her gallant complement” stating that “the people of Australia will be proud that she and they upheld the traditions of the Royal Australian Navy and completed a glorious career in successful action against the enemy.”
Curtin later continued that they, the crew of the Sydney, “had rendered to this nation the full measure of their devotion”.
The War Cabinet had met the days previous hoping against hope that survivors would be found. But there would be none.
When the War Cabinet met and agreed that day on what was to be done, they resolved also that the name would live on in the Royal Australian Navy.
The War Cabinet agreed that day that there will always be a Sydney and so it has been.
HMAS Sydney was the pride of the fleet. She had earned her battle honours in a distant and ancient sea in the battle of the Mediterranean.
Her lines were beautiful. Her men, well seasoned. Her captains bold.
She had returned home to a hero’s welcome when the world still seemed dark and the victories few, victories that could nourish a nation’s soul through war.
Through Sydney’s streets they marched as heroes. The city embraced the ship that bore her name and then towards work again to stand guard at our nation’s sea lanes to Suez.
And the rest is tragedy.
A tragedy that seared the nation’s soul, both then and down the tunnels of time. Families shattered, mothers grieving, fathers silent, brothers, sister ashen. Newlywed wives left staring uncomprehendingly with a grief unspeakable.
Their children, little children, were left for a lifetime wondering why.
And then there were their mates, some still with us today, and wondering still why they were spared that last, final and fateful voyage.
And let us also remember today the men who lost their lives on the Kormoran for they were men too with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children, families all.
And now, they have been found. These two great, grey ships of the deep, now silent sepulchres of the sea. Great tombs of our nation’s dead.
What would the brave souls of the Sydney say to us today?
Because death is the unwelcome guest that one day greets us all.
I believe they would say it is well to have died...
I believe they would say it is well to have died for the highest human cause – not just the defence of the nation, but the defence also of the idea that had given this new nation birth, barely a generation before.
And that idea was freedom. Freedom is little discussed in our current age. Perhaps it is because freedom is something we know from its absence rather than its presence.
But when since the war we have seen millions upon millions coming to these shores in search of freedom: freedom to pursue their lives, freedom to pursue their faiths, freedom to pursue their commerce.
We know from this fact, that Sydney’s work has been work well done.
And that is the further message to us today, from the men of Sydney.
In a word, it is vigilance. There are those who would wish the enemies of freedom away, would that it were so, but it is not. We cannot build castles in the air.
We are a practical people. We must therefore be prepared to defend the peace and across the vast theatres of the world, prosecute the peace, when others would threaten it. And to do so with our friends and allies and our partners, and through the great councils of the United Nations.
And so we will continue to build great ships like Sydney as the symbols and the substance of our strength and so speak plainly of our capacity and our resolve to act, should the time come.
What finally would the warriors of Sydney say to us today at this the dawn of our pacific century?
I believe they would also say this, be warriors for peace.
I believe they would cry as one, may there be no more wars.
I will believe they would say to our peoples our diplomats and our statesman, let us strain every sinew, not only to preserve the peace, as if war was somehow our natural human condition, but to build together a new habit, a new culture, a new practice of peace for the future.
We face a new century where much is uncertain, where we could once again slip into old, bad and destructive habits.
Or we could do something entirely new:
Fashioning a truly united nations;
Building on the habits of cooperation;
Resolving to work for the common good and so confronting the great common challenges of our age which now bear down so greatly on us all.
But beyond all these great things, this day, this Memorial Day, this 67th Anniversary of the lost of this great ship, is about the 645 souls lost to the love and to the embrace of their families.
To you, the brothers, the sisters, the sons, the daughters, the grandchildren, the families and the communities who love them and who gave them nurture, and to you their mates, a grateful nation today says thank you.
For Australia is a greater nation for them, for their service and for their sacrifice.