Speech delivered by Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Monday 21 February 2011
It is a great honour to be here today.
And I warmly acknowledge the Governor-General because it was her predecessor Lord Gowrie who opened this building 70 years ago and she very appropriately stands in his footsteps today.
Lord Gowrie, our longest serving Governor-General, was himself a holder of the Victoria Cross and a soldier of exceptional gallantry.
He opened this building to commemorate one terrible war in the darkest days of another.
In 1964, it was another Governor-General and VC holder, Lord D'Lisle, who opened the original version of this hall, known as VC Corner.
Again, Australia was at war.
A war that Keith Payne and his mates remember all too well.
And, of course, Her Excellency has been the first Governor-General in 40 years to confer the Victoria Cross as, yet again, our nation finds itself at arms in the cause of security and freedom.
There could be no-one more appropriate to open this display and I thank Ms Bryce for her words and her presence here today.
She has done this occasion great honour.
The vice-regal connection is a sign of continuity and abiding purpose unchanged since the day Lord Gowrie opened this building 70 years ago.
In his opening remarks, Gowrie posed this most enduring of questions:
When we read the names inscribed on the walls of this memorial ... let us ask ourselves:
what can we do for those who did so much?
what can we give to those who gave us all?
His answer – the only possible answer – was to ensure their sacrifices were not in vain.
We do that by remembering.
The simple gift that every Australian can offer, no matter what their means, no matter what their background.
It is a sobering fact that 95 of the 98 VC winners are no longer with us.
Their deeds are immortal.
But they are not.
The years take their toll.
And so we must remember.
We remember, foremost, in the shrine of our hearts.
We remember each time we pass a memorial in the streets of our suburbs and towns.
In the Anzac Day ceremonies held in even the smallest one-teacher school.
When the Last Post echoes and chills our spines.
And – above all – we remember here at the nation's pre-eminent temple of honour, the Australian War Memorial.
John Curtin called this place "the sanctuary of Australia's traditions" and I am personally committed to ensuring it remains so.
It is here that we come to contemplate the high price of war.
It is here we come also to honour the valour that comes with conflict, because it is a remarkable and consistent fact that great battles elicit great courage; when ordinary men find it in themselves to do extraordinary things.
There are no words or symbols that can really honour their courage, but as humans we grasp for tokens that somehow express what we feel.
In a proud tradition, drawn from our British heritage, we in this Commonwealth have used the Victoria Cross and its sister award, the George Cross, to express the nation's debt.
They are simple tokens of metal and cloth that express a profound inward reality.
And they deserve the veneration of our people.
From a modest space not much bigger than a broom closet opened by Lord D'Lisle in 1964, the Memorial and its architect have created a worthy home;
- wrought in lasting materials of stone and bronze that convey dignity and a modest grace.
The location is also eloquent.
Above us stands the Hall of Memory, embodying the unbroken link between courage and sacrifice.
There is another axis too, and that is the axis connecting this memorial to Parliament across the lake.
That, too, is no accident because in a democracy, military service is an expression of citizenship.
Of free men and women who love their country and are willing to pay any price to serve it:
The 102,000 who made the supreme sacrifice – including Sapper Jamie Larcombe just two days ago.
A mother's son resting above us whose name we will never know.
And the 107 names inscribed in this Hall of Valour, which we dedicate to the nation today.
With everlasting remembrance.