75th anniversary of the Australian War Memorial - Prime Minister's address

7 mins read
Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP

The Director Brendan Nelson, Chairman Kerry Stokes and Christine, and of course [inaudible] is here, Michael Jeffrey, our former Governor-General Major General, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Kim, who I have mentioned, the Foreign Minister, our very good friend Julie Bishop, Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan, Richard Marles, defence chiefs, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

But above all, those who have served and those who are serving today, we are honoured to be in your company. We are honoured to be in your company tonight.

Tonight, the night of Remembrance Day, 98 years ago the guns fell silent in the First World War.

But I want to go back, not quite, a little more, 99 years ago to that August journal of record, Kenzie’s journal of record – the Macleay Chronicle – which on the 21st of May records this in the news: “Signaller Fred Bligh Turnbull, writing from France to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Turnbull, of Yarravel, expresses his regret at the death of several Macleay soldiers.” Also, he writes: “I have been rather fortunate lately in meeting people whom I know. A few weeks ago I met Jack CoIwell, Bert Dyson, and Sam Bond. The other day I met Tom Crielly and an old friend from the Comboyne, Jack Allan. Harry Booth is not far here, but I have not seen him yet. We expect to have another battle before long. I think that the war will not end before next summer; but we can stick to it just as long as old Fritz, and we must bring him down before we can have peace. Please give my regards to all friends.”

Now Fred, my grandfather was 22 when he joined up, 21 in fact – 1915. And he was part of entire generation that went to war, as Kim described. There he is, living with his parents, in fact on the Macleay, a little country town and basically describing all the young men of his generation. They were all in France. They were all there on the front.

It was a people’s war in every respect. It engaged a whole nation.

And at the end of it, the sheer scale and the horror of it was hard to comprehend. It’s hard for us to comprehend today, but imagine what it must have been like to that generation.

Imagine Charles Bean, the great historian trying to make sense of this madness. Millions killed and for what?

Imagine how they felt in 1941, 75 years ago, as they opened this War Memorial to honour, remember the sacrifice of the Great War – the war to end all wars. They consoled themselves and they opened it in the midst of the Second World War. It is remarkable – it says a lot about the Australian spirit.

When you look at the men, the facsimiled from the menu from the Canberra Hotel – how cheerful it is – what does it say about Aussies? That they can find some humour in circumstances as dark as that.

And when Australians sought to remember and honour this extraordinary sacrifice, they look back as Kim described to the examples of Ancient Greece. So many leaders, so many of these stories in particular have come up with a classical education and naturally they look to the Greek historians and their particular to the speeches of Pericles.

And of course this is not the passage that Kim quoted but it is one that was very much in their mind. And often quoted in those often remembered Pericles Funeral Oration. Pericles of course being the leader of Athens in the war against Sparta and he said, in his Funeral Oration to honour those who had been killed in the years, he said: “For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no monument to preserve it, except that of the heart. These take as your model, and judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom the fruit of valor, never decline the dangers of war.”

A reminder that liberty has a high price and those who seek to live free must always be prepared to [inaudible]. And the generation of Charles Bean looked back to that example of the Greeks as they imagined how they would remember and memorialise that extraordinary conflict.

And of course, the location of the Memorial is so profoundly important. You know, just a day yesterday, I was asked by a journalist on radio about, it was on television, about how I would feel as Prime Minister about Australian troops being committed to war on the judgement of President Trump. And I reminder my esteemed interrogator that Australian troops are only ever committed to conflict on the judgement of the Australian Government, on Australia’s representatives, the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet.

And this location of this Memorial, sitting opposite, gazing calmly across the lake at our Parliament. This is as I observed a few months ago here a reminder to us our nation’s leaders of our responsibility always to seek to resolve conflict by peaceful means and when we do put our troops in harm’s way to do so with the resources of wise leadership and a considered strategy that best ensures their success and a safe return.

That is a heavy responsibility and this Memorial reminds us of that sacrifice and the consequence, the consequential responsibility that we have.

You know it is interesting to reflect on the Greeks again, Kim of course has got me started Thucydides, one of my great passions and interests.

Pericles, as the leader of Athens has no hesitation in arguing the case for war or for particular campaign. And it is interesting at one point, a fairly dark day in the war in Sparta when it was going poorly – he stood up and he argued the case and he said to some of the more affluent citizens of Athens who weren’t very keen on how their property was being damaged, he said just remember: “A man may be personally ever so well off, and yet if his country be ruined he must be ruined with it; whereas a flourishing commonwealth always affords chances of salvation to unfortunate individuals. Since then a state can support the misfortunes of private citizens, while they cannot support hers, it is the duty of everyone to be forward in her defense, and not like you”, he said to the doubters, “To be so confounded with your domestic afflictions as to give up all thoughts of the common safety, and to blame me”, said Pericles, “for having counseled war and yourselves for having voted it.”

Now let me say this again is a reminder that when we seek to serve, when we seek to send our troops to war we must make the case for it. That is our heavy responsibility.

Another heavy responsibility that we have and Jeff reminded us of it earlier today and he was right to do so – is that we best honour the diggers of 1916 by supporting the servicemen and women, the veterans and their families of 2016 and we do so in many ways.

From July the 1st this year our current Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans who have served for just one day can access free mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and alcohol and substance abuse.

The assistance is uncapped and fully funded if the demand for treatment is there it will be met.

We understand. My Government understands. The Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan understands.

We clearly recognise that our responsibility is to you – the veterans, the families, the servicemen and women of 2016.

This Memorial is a vital part of our history. It enables the deeds of those men and women in years past to live in our hearts forever. It is a vital part of our national history.

It is educating our young, explaining to them why we are able to remain a free nation. But we must go beyond the marble and the monuments. We must go beyond the cenotaphs and the ceremonies. We must always care for the men and women and the families that have served and are serving to keep us free.

This War Memorial, so brilliantly led by its Director Brendan Nelson so extraordinarily expounded, explained, advocated for by Brendan.

This is one of our great national institutions.

I am honoured to be here, to join with you and celebrate its 75th anniversary. And invite you all now to rise to toast the Australian War Memorial. 75 years!

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