Anzac Day Commemorative Address Dawn Service 2023

4 mins read

Prime Minister, The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

We gather before the dawn because they did.

Picture those first Anzacs. Far from home, huddled in their boats, waiting, wondering.

Lance Corporal James Bell of the 9th Battalion would later recall sailors lined up on one of the battleships and giving a muted cheer, waving their caps in a circle and “uttering a subdued whisper, barely audible to those in the boats”.

They set off in the gap between moonset and sunrise. The quiet amplified any sound, the darkness any fear. And as the night began to melt into the half light of the new day, imagination gave way to reality.

Gallipoli is just one battle in our history, but in all its stories of valour and resilience, in its simple truth of Australians looking out for each other no matter how bad things got, it has come to stand for something so much bigger in our collective heart.

Every Anzac Day, from the greatest memorial to the simplest cenotaph, we honour all who have served in our name, and all who serve today.

It is a collective act of remembrance, reflection and gratitude – one carried out by multiple generations of Australians and devoted to multiple generations.

But an important part of its spirit will always belong to that fateful coast half a world away and more than a century distant.

Every loss, every death at Gallipoli was like a sapling torn out of the earth, leaving a hole where a tree should have eventually stood. Across Australia, communities began recording their names.

One of Australia’s first war memorials was erected the following April in the Sydney suburb of Balmain, in my own electorate. 

Among the names it bears is Private Cecil Robert Winch, who landed at Gallipoli on that very first day and did not live to see another. 

And yet amid it all there was courage. There was camaraderie. And, especially when things were at their worst, there was humour. 

While so much has changed in warfare since, the great character of Australians at war has not.

Yet it must be acknowledged that we have not always honoured those who have fought in our name as well as we should.

Likewise we must acknowledge the truth that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who donned the khaki fought harder for Australia than Australia was sometimes willing to fight for them.

Yet we learn, and we keep taking steps forward together.

Australians have gone overseas for us. 

They have gone because there is so much to fight for.

And what we have created as Australians, and nurtured over generations, is something we must never take for granted.

As we gather here, in towns and suburbs across the country, and in former battlefields across the world, we are surrounded by their names and the places that made their final claim on them, laid out in an atlas of grief.

Every one of those names was once a familiar face. A voice. A future that lived brighter and longer in the imagination than reality allowed.

In so many distant cemeteries, epitaphs are spelt out in the simplicity of sorrow. 

In a cemetery on the Western Front, the inscription from the sister of Queensland stockman George Laurie begins:

Far away from all who loved him ...”

In Gallipoli, the message that stands at the final resting place of William Henry O’Bree is from his parents. It simply says: 

We miss him at home.”

We do not know where all Australians fell, lost to the final embrace of the earth or sea.

Teams of volunteer investigators have laboured to solve the mysteries of the missing and offer the only consolation left to so many families.

The first team of searchers that headed out in Gallipoli’s shadow was led by Vera Deakin, the daughter of former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. Her team ended up dealing with 32,000 cases.

Every case a human being. Every one of them missed at home. Every one of them a loved one.

Of course, many did come home only to face another battle within. A battle that, tragically, is not always won.

If we are to truly honour our veterans, we owe them something more than just gratitude. Just as they stepped for us, we must step up for them.

Across our country this morning, Australians have gathered in peace, free citizens of a free nation. 

One hundred and eight years after those first Anzacs set off in their boats, we remember them and all who followed – and we reflect on all that has been made possible by generations of sacrifice. 

We hope that war will one day be done, that the cause of peace will prevail, and we can stop inscribing names on memorials.

But even then, we will keep gathering before the dawn. 

We will gather together, we will gather for them.

It is because of them that we can await the light.

Lest we forget.

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