Director of Australian War Memorial to Officer Cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy

13 mins read

Academy Sergeant Major, Ladies and Gentlemen

Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians and warning of content involving deceased.

2020 has been like no other – for those of you who have endured hail storms, smoke haze, bushfires and pandemics, the year on promise in January, looks markedly different in September.

But, as I recall vaguely from some time spent at an institution on the other side of the hill, flexibility is one of the ten principles of war – as is the maintenance of morale – so well done to all of you, both staff and students, on getting to this point in your training, your studies and your careers.  

But don’t let COVID define you, other than to note you are richer for overcoming the challenges it presented, both as a group and individually.

Learn from it.

Build on it.

And for those about to graduate – from the latin  gradus to step forward – when you cross the line of departure, weigh anchor, throw lines or rotate, find new meaning.

And if you can’t find it, forge it, in the new normal that will be the post-Covid world.

I was asked this evening to speak to you about the Memorial – and of course I’m happy to, indeed I get paid to! But I’m also open to questions. About life, leadership and how a ‘grey man’ found himself at this lectern tonight and charged with a once in a generation challenge to develop Australia’s most sacred place, the Australian War Memorial.

Your Australian War Memorial.

One of the questions I’m most asked, is what’s my vision for the Memorial.

In a word; Relevance.

In two words; continued relevance.

Remaining true to the vision of the memorial’s founder, Charles Bean when, in 1942 he wrote; ‘here is their spirit in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record that they themselves have made’.

Tonight I want to lay before you a challenge.

To help me make the Memorial relevant to you as you embark upon the most noble of careers; to lead and to serve

My challenge to you is to choose but one of the 15 values in the Hall of Memory – and protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier – and make it your compass heading for the remainder of the time you wear this nation’s uniform.

The soldiers, sailors and airmen and women you lead, deserve no less.

Values can’t be taught. And they can’t be bought.

They can’t be turned on, and they’re near impossible to turn off.

Each of you have them, or you wouldn’t be here.

So tonight, I want you to choose one. Just one, two if your bold, and make it your compass heading for the remainder of your time at ADFA and, ideally, for the remainder of your careers.  



An aircraftman, signified by a clamp vice and electric arc. In the panel above him are the flame of invention, and a sword severing the Gordian Knot, recalling the deed of Alexander the Great in Greek legend. These images represent the Australian quality of finding creative and bold solutions to difficult problems.

To dig deep.


A signaller and an open flower. In the panel above him, an owl’s head fountain and three arrowheads pointing upward refer to the frank way Australian servicemen and women express themselves.

To be open and honest.


A nurse, with the Red Cross as the symbol of charity. In the panel above her are a shield bearing the badges of the six states in the Australian coat of arms, and a pelican feeding her young from her bleeding breast, the ancient symbol of devotion.

To completely consume yourself into the people and cause to which you have committed.

As the Germans advanced down the Greek peninsula in April 1941, the fighting around the 2/5th AGH increased. Matron Kathleen Best of New South Wales, affectionately known as KB, was ordered to prepare her nurses for immediate evacuation. Because transport was limited, not everyone could leave immediately. Kathleen was asked to choose 44 women to leave first; 39 would have to remain behind with her. She came up with a plan to help her decide who would go and who would stay.

I told the Sisters what was to happen, and also made it clear to them that those who volunteered would stay behind with the hospital and that they would in all possibility be captured. I asked them to write on a slip of paper their names and either “stay” or “go” and hand them to me … Not one Sister wrote “go” on the paper. I then selected 39 sisters to remain [with me].

For her courage and efficiency throughout the evacuation, Matron (later Lieutenant Colonel) Kathleen Best was awarded the Royal Red Cross.


An infantryman wearing a trench mortar battery uniform. The winged crown suggests the reward of knowledge from enquiry, symbolised in the window above by an eye in the Egyptian style from which stream rays of light.

Always ask questions and never accept uncritically what you’ve been told.


A naval captain with a gyroscope, a device that maintains its orientation even when tilted, symbolising stability and direction. The three red lamps in a vertical line signal that a vessel is maintaining its course, expressing national steadfastness in the face of war.

Know when to stand aside from a mob


Adrian Roberts was a newly-promoted lieutenant with 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) Squadron when they arrived in Vietnam. When D Company, 6RAR became pinned down by a much larger enemy force at the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966, Roberts’ 3 Troop was sent to their relief, carrying men of A Company, 6RAR.

Confusion and some indecision in the lead up to Roberts being despatched causing a worrying delay.

Roberts knew that time was of this essence, and got his troop out to Long Tan in time, negotiating dangerous territory, fighting enemy forces and making his way through a friendly artillery barrage to reach D Company.

On several occasions he was compelled to ignore orders that would have delayed or endangered the relief force. For his actions at Long Tan, Adrian Roberts was mentioned in despatches.

In 2016 his MID was upgraded to the Medal for Gallantry.


A Lewis gunner. The panpipes clustered and bound together in unity are a symbol of fellowship and good cheer.  

In the end what you’ll need most is one another.


A naval gunner. The symbols are associated with European traditions: a wreath and open book represent reverence for knowledge, cricket stumps and ball stand for recreation, and the church spire for religion. The flag signals “engage the enemy at close quarters”.

You never forget from where you came, who gave you what you have and made you who you are.


Douglas Grant was born into a remote Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland around 1885. It is presumed that Douglas was from the Ngadjonji nation, in the Bellenden Ker Ranges in the Atherton Tablelands. There were recorded and unrecorded frontier conflicts in the area. Douglas’s family and community were killed by the Native Police. Although Native Police forces included Aboriginal people, they were created by the state, and commanded by white Australians.

Adopted and raised by the Grant family, Douglas enlisted with the 34th Battalion in January 1916, despite the Defence Act stating that people “not substantially of European origin or descent” were excluded.

Douglas was sent to the front lines in France. On 11 April 1917 he was wounded and captured at Bullecourt. Douglas was popular among his fellow prisoners and was given the responsibility of receiving and distributing Red Cross parcels. After the war, Douglas lobbied for Aboriginal rights and became active in returned servicemen’s affairs.


An infantryman, with the stars of the Southern Cross superimposed. Loyalty to the Commonwealth is represented by symbols of the British monarchy in the window above, which features a lion, orb and crown.


An airman and medieval symbols: the rose of chivalry, visored helmet, spears, tilting spurs, and a lance bearing St George’s Cross. They link the chivalric code of medieval knights to the code of Australian servicemen and women.


Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows was piloting a Sunderland aircraft involved in an attack on three German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean in July 1943. After a prolonged battle, Marrows dropped several depth charges that destroyed one of the submarines. He then circled back and dropped his aircraft’s dinghy to the U-boat’s survivors. He was later admonished for this act by his superiors, and faced the possibility of court martial. Regardless, this act of compassion to a stricken enemy showed a strong sense of chivalry and honour.

Dudley Marrows was eventually posted to No 461 Squadron (RAAF) operating Sunderland flying boats and was awarded the DSO and DFC, and the French Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour.

After the war he met the commander of the U-boat he’d sunk and the two became lifelong friends.


An artilleryman holding a gunnery director that helps to aim guns. Above him is the badge of the Australian Imperial Force, and a column with flames representing loyalty to a cause or ideal.


Known as “the Dasher” for his prowess on the rugby field, Kevin Wheatley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in 1956. He was posted to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in 1965.

On 13 November 1965, a Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defence Group company began a search and destroy operation in the Tra Bong valley, accompanied by a group of Australians including Warrant Officer “Dasher” Wheatley and Warrant Officer Swanton. After contact with Viet Cong forces, the situation became dire and Wheatley asked for assistance. Warrant Officer Swanton, who was with Wheatley, was hit in the chest. Wheatley requested an air strike and an aircraft, for the evacuation of casualties.

Told by a medical assistant that Swanton was dying, Wheatley refused to abandon him. He discarded his radio to enable him to drag/carry Swanton, under heavy machine-gun and automatic rifle fire, out of the open rice paddies into a wooded area, some 200 metres away. He was assisted by a Civil Irregular Defence Group member, Private Dinh Do who urged him to leave his dying comrade. Again he refused, and was seen to pull the pins from two grenades and calmly awaited the Viet Cong, holding one grenade in each hand. Shortly afterwards, two grenade explosions were heard, followed by several bursts of small arms fire.

The two bodies were found at first light next morning after the fighting had ceased, with Warrant Officer Wheatley lying beside Warrant Officer Swanton. Both had died of gunshot wounds.

Warrant Officer Kevin ‘Dasher’ Wheatley was awarded the Victoria Cross.


An infantry officer in a trench coat. The prism and the shield of the Greek goddess of war, Athena, represent coolness and confidence in the face of adversity.


On the 23rd of August 1943, 56 bombers were shot down over Berlin. One was a Halifax bomber from 158 Squadron; the pilot was a 21 year old Australian Flight Lieutenant Kevin Hornibrook. The aircraft had been shot down by German night fighter and it was in a death dive.

The two gunners were dead, three crew had bailed out, the only other person left in the aircraft was a man called Alan Bright, he was the bomb aimer. And Bright said, “That against immense gravitational forces Hornibrook got to the forward hatch, managed to get it open and push Bright out of the plane.” And Bright said, “Kevin died, the plane was too low for him to get out. My life hinged on that moment but he pushed me out of the plane.” He said, “When my son was born in 1951, I called him Kevin. To remind me every single day that he could have saved himself but he saved me. And it reminds me,” he said, “of what it means to be an Australian”.


An infantryman in a greatcoat. The measuring devices (ratchet wheel, callipers, right-angle ruler) represent ways to control one’s environment and oneself. The shepherd’s crook is a biblical reference to the Good Shepherd, and the crossed sword and baton of high-ranking officers suggest a military equivalent.


A light horseman. The qualities of boldness and daring are symbolised by an arrangement of arrows and wings; above him are an eagle alighting and arrowheads flying upwards.


A wounded soldier holding a broken sword point. The symbols of the pyramid and a column carved in rock denote stability and physical endurance.

You never give up.


Melbourne-born Corporal John Metson worked as a salesman until enlisting for service during the Second World War. After service with the 2/14th Battalion in North Africa, his battalion was sent to New Guinea to stem the Japanese overland advance on Port Moresby. Metson’s ankle was smashed by a bullet during the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, and he was part of a group who had been cut off from withdrawal. Looking for a way to rejoin the battalion, they fell in with a larger party under the command of Captain Buckler, which had been similarly cut off.

Stretchers to carry the wounded required eight men, already loaded down with their own equipment and weapons, to carry. Knowing that the group was too weak to carry more stretchers, Metson refused to be carried. Instead, he padded his hands and knees and crawled behind the stretcher bearers. As the Japanese now held the main track, the group was forced to turn off the track, wandering through the jungle for three weeks searching for an alternative route. Metson spent this entire period crawling in silent agony. His cheerful fortitude, however, profoundly inspired the other men in the party.

Captain Buckler decided that the seriously wounded cases would be left in the care of the villagers of Sangai, so that the able-bodied could find help. Metson and others were discovered by the Japanese and executed.

Captain Buckler never forgot Metson’s “courage, tenacity and unselfishness” and saw to it that he was posthumously awarded a British Empire Medal.

And finally, Decision

An Australian soldier in the uniform worn at Anzac Cove. A target, bared sword and emblematic spear all denote directness toward a specific objective.

Ultimately you have to make decisions and you have to be responsible for them.


Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rogers had served on a variety of British and RAN ships before joining the destroyer HMAS Voyager (II) in 1963. As Chief Petty Officer, he held responsibility for the organisation and discipline of the crew. On the night of 10 February 1964 he was on Voyager as it took part in exercises off Jervis Bay with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II)

Rogers was in the cafeteria at the front of the ship with about sixty men who were playing a game of tombola. At 8.56 pm they felt a sudden impact, which sent plates, tables, chairs and men flying. Within minutes, water began rushing into the compartment.

Rogers immediately took control, attempting to stem the flooding and to open an escape hatch. When this failed, Rogers directed surviving men to an adjoining compartment with a hatch that opened.

Jonathan Rogers was a large man and it is unlikely that he could have escaped through the hatch. He must have been aware of this, as at one stage he said to Leading Seaman Rich, ‘I can’t get out. You get all the young fellows out of the hatch’. As the compartment he was in continued to fill with water, Rogers apparently accepted his fate, noting, ‘Well, the waters beat us’. He led the remaining men to their deaths with a prayer and a hymn. Three hundred and fourteen crew were on Voyager when Melbourne hit her side just behind the bridge, slicing Voyager in two. After impact, the ship’s forward section sank within minutes.

In March 1965, Rogers was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

These 15 values don’t belong to one service.

Or, as you have heard tonight, to officers over enlisted personnel.

Or to men over women.

Or indigenous or non-indigenous.

They are intrinsic to the Australian Defence Force and underwirite our success: on the battlefield, on peacekeeping or humanitarian operations, at home or abroad.

Pick one.

Own it.

And prove worthy of the sacrifice recorded on the Roll of Honour at YOUR Australian War Memorial.

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