Anzac Day 2016: Dawn Service Commemorative Address Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson

Australians all let us rejoice – for we are young and free.

With a sense of awkward humility, abiding reverence and overwhelming pride, we pause here at the Australian War Memorial - free and confident heirs to a legacy born of idealism, forged in self-sacrifice and passed now to our generation.

We gather in renewed commitment to one another, our nation and the ideals of mankind.

Young Australians and New Zealanders gave their all at Gallipoli, forging in bloody sacrifice the bond within which our two nations now live.

It heralded the cataclysm from which we emerged proud - but inconsolably mourning 62,000 Australian dead.

Witness to it all, Australia’s official historian Charles Bean, wrote at its end:

What these men did, nothing can alter now.
The good and the bad.
The greatness and the smallness of their story
It rises, it always rises…above the mists of ages, a monument to great hearted men, and for their nation – a possession forever.

Bean’s account of an Australian digger arriving at the front trench before the assault on Lone Pine says it all:

“Jim here?”
A voice rose from the fire step, “Yeah, right here Bill”.
“Do you chaps mind movin’ up a piece?” asked the first voice.  
“Him and me are mates – and we’re goin’ over together”.

A generation later, Sergeant Jack Sim of the 39th battalion endured the desperate struggle on the Kokoda Track:

Some prayed, some swore with fear – but you couldn’t show it in front of your mates.
One of the boys got shot fair between the eyes right alongside me.
It was a perfect shot….terrible to be afraid.
Yet it’s the brave ones that are afraid and still keep going.
That’s what they did you know.
Scared bloody stiff and still kept going.
They were so young
They were so young
I loved them all.

It is tempting, human beings that we are, to settle for broad brushstrokes, headlines and shallow imagery of history. Our comfortable lives breed easy indifference to individual sacrifices made in our name and devotion to duty.

102,700 Australians are named on the Roll of Honour. Like us, each had only one life, one chance to serve others and our nation.

They chose us.

No Australians have given more, nor worked harder to shape our values and our beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world than those who have worn and who now wear – the uniform of the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army and Royal Australian Airforce.

They have given us a greater belief in ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to be - Australian.

They - and especially physically and emotionally wounded veterans amongst us, families who love and support them, remind us that are some truths by which we live that are worth fighting to defend.

To young Australians – your search for belonging, meaning and values for the world you want - ends here.

Enshrined in stained glass windows sentinel above the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, are fifteen values informing character:

RESOURCE CANDOUR DEVOTION CURIOSITY INDEPENDENCE
COMRADESHIP ANCESTRY PATRIOTISM CHIVALRY LOYALTY
COOLNESS CONTROL AUDACITY ENDURANCE DECISION

Our Australia enshrines principle above position and values before value.

Our responsibilities to one another, our nation and its future transcend and define our rights.

Charles Bean concluded that what made the Australian soldier so special, ‘lay in the mettle of the men themselves’.

To be the kind of man that would give way when his mates were trusting to his firmness. To spend the rest of his life haunted by the knowledge he had …….lacked the grit to carry it through, was a prospect with which these men could not live.

Life was very dear. But life was not worth living unless they could be true to their ideal of Australian manhood.

A century later, SAS Sergeant ‘S’ reflecting on the battle of Tizak in Afghanistan said:

To fail would be worse than death.
To let down your mates in combat….would be worse than death.
I don’t (even) know why I’m getting emotional about this….
Yeah, that’s it – that’s the essence.
You don’t let your mates down.

That is the essence.

The most fragile yet powerful of human emotions is hope - belief in a better future, a better world.

Hope is sustained most by men and women reaching out in support of one another - ‘mates who go over together’ and though gripped with fear, don’t let one another down.

Their spirit is here.

This place, this day - is not about war.

It is about love and friendship.

Love of family, of country and honouring those who devote their lives not to themselves but to us; and their last moments - to one another.

After the bloodbath at Fromelles, Sergeant Simon Fraser spent three backbreaking days bringing in the wounded from No Man’s Land.

A lone voice pleaded through the fog, “Don’t forget me cobber”.

He didn’t.

We won’t.

We never will.

For we are young, and we are free.

Lest we forget.

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