15 August 2018
Prime Minister, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Parliament House, Canberra
Thank you very much. I acknowledge we are gathered on the land of the Ngunawal people and we honour their elders, past and present.
I’m delighted to be here for the launch of Emma Campbell’s wonderful book: The Last Post: A ceremony of love, loss and remembrance at the Australian War Memorial.
Firstly — Emma, congratulations.
What you’ve created is a fascinating read, and a wonderful historical resource.
Your book clearly benefits from your skills as a former journalist — skills I can heartily endorse — and superbly details the history and significance of the Last Post ceremony.
It’s a story that should be told.
It’s the story behind the lost stories — the unfinished chapters — of our lost men and women.
As I said when I attended a Last Post ceremony in February, Australia’s military history stretches across an epic canvas.
We look at it and we see a picture of selflessness, courage and love of country.
But it is only within each brushstroke — each individual story — that the personal cost of such sacrifice is revealed.
That is what the Last Post ceremony does. Every evening, the story of one of our fallen is told, and in doing so we shine a light on another brushstroke.
It is a powerful act, and its value is immeasurable.
It began five years ago, on the 17th of April 2013, with the story of the charismatic Robert Poate — a young man from Canberra who served and died in Afghanistan at age 23.
And it has continued. It will continue.
As Emma reveals so movingly in her book, the Last Post ceremony is an emotional moment for many.
For families, friends, fellow servicemen and servicewomen.
For strangers who, until that moment, had never heard of the person being honoured, but who will now remember. Always.
They were Australians like us. Australians who were called into action to defend their nation, and who left home and jobs and families behind.
Australians who were loved.
One of the thirty individual stories featured in Emma’s book — thirty stories that represent more than 102,000 names on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour — was that of Private Richard Warne.
Emma, I understand this was the most memorable story you came across during the 18 months you spent researching and writing.
It’s a tragic story — and worth sharing today.
Richard Warne actually survived the First World War.
The 21-year-old arrived back on Australian soil in August 1919, travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane with his mate and then hopping on a train to Maryborough.
But his destination was Owanyilla, and the train wasn’t stopping there.
So Richard, in the morning darkness, decided he’d jump.
Hours later a guard discovered Richard’s kit bag on the platform at Owanyilla. And another station worker, becoming curious, decided to walk down the tracks.
It was there she found Richard — bloodied and broken, and still breathing.
She quickly ran to the nearest house to call for an ambulance, and brought a man back with her to help.
The man was Richard’s father.
Devastated, he got down and cradled his son; his son who had been metres from home and moments from a reunion.
Richard would die before he reached the hospital.
It’s a heartbreaking story that reflects what this book — and the Last Post ceremony — does so well in revealing the lesser known experiences of war.
For that we owe Brendan enormous gratitude.
Brendan, when you arrived at the Memorial in 2012, you saw the enormous talent, knowledge and skills housed within.
You saw an opportunity to enhance a decades-old closing ceremony by telling individual stories. And while the ceremony’s format was inspired by Menin Gate in Belgium, in many ways it’s unique to Australia.
It’s only because of the historical expertise at the Memorial — and our exceptional historical records — that a new story can be told every night.
And it’s more than research. Dozens of staff — including photographers, IT specialists and on-ground staff — are involved putting on the event.
Their combined professionalism and passion means this massive undertaking is, today, one of the Memorial’s most popular events — and something other countries like New Zealand are interested in replicating.
So thank you, Brendan, for your vision.
Thank you to everyone involved with the Last Post ceremony.
And thank you, Emma, for writing this book and, in doing so, encouraging new generations to reflect, and to draw strength from past sacrifice.
Finally, I want to say how fitting it is that Emma’s book is being launched in the home of Australian democracy.
Everything that we do here — debating, discussing and deciding our destiny — we owe to those honoured in the Memorial.
That is why, when the doors are flung open, you look through the Parliament to the Memorial.
It is a constant reminder of how hard fought and hard won our freedoms and values have been, and commemorates the triumph of the human spirit.
Lest we forget.