Prime Minister's Commemorative Address - Dawn Service

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We gather again.

Here in our nation’s most sacred place, and in thousands of places across this land...

….to reflect, remember, give thanks and draw strength.

Here at the Australian War Memorial, we gather on land which the local Ngunnawal people consider as a ‘cradle’ - a place where the elements are constrained by Mount Ainslie, Mount Taylor and Black Mountain.

These hills stand watch over the Australian eucalypts and New Zealand ‘hebe’ plants that line ANZAC Parade and lead to this our national place of remembrance and memorial.

This time last year - like so many other times in our history - we faced a defining moment as a nation.

A moment of uncertainty and danger when the future seemed to be masked in fog.

We couldn’t gather - but we held candles in driveways, and on balconies; and we played the Last Post on radios and iPhones. As some, especially in our West will again do today.

And together, we called on our past to light up our dawn.

And in doing so, we rediscovered a deep truth about who we are: our strength is found in each other. When we are threatened; when our peace, safety and security are imperiled - in these moments, our differences fade away. 

On this Anzac dawn, we remind ourselves of the sacrifices, courage and selflessness which helped make our country what it is today.

Some might think that our Anzac story began on this morning 106 years ago, as quiet rowboats waited just off a peninsula at Gallipoli. 

It’s true, that’s when we entered our first conflict as one people.

But the story of those times - and all the times since - didn’t begin on battlefields, on land, at sea, or in the sky.

It began in homes, farms, towns and suburbs across our country.

It’s in those places that selflessness, duty, respect and responsibility are learned. Where love of family, community and country is warmed and kindled - in the youngest hearts and the oldest minds.

It’s also where the pain of loss is felt most acutely.

In the words of the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, who served in the Second World War, “Let us not say the past is dead, the past is all around us and within”.

Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux and Beersheba; Tobruk and Changi; Normandy and the Coral Sea; Kokoda and Crete; Bangka Island and Hellfire Pass; Kapyong, Borneo and Long Tan; Dili and Honiara; Kuwait, Baghdad and Tarin Kowt. These are not just places on a map, they are places that exist in the Australian soul.

These memories are passed from one generation to the next.

And they are entrusted to us - to remember and to renew, and to remind us of who we are - and who we can be.

Sergeant Ricky Morris understands this better than most.

Ricky served in East Timor and Afghanistan.

He is a descendant of the Lovett family.

A member of the “fighting Gunditjmara”

An Aboriginal family from western Victoria.

Proud of Country. 

Proud of family. 

Proud of uniform.

Men and women - in Ricky’s words “who stood up”.

Five brothers, including Ricky’s grandfather, served in the First World War.

Four of them backed up and served in the Second World War.

More than twenty family members have seen active service - service that’s woven its way from Pozieres, Passchendaele, and Amiens, to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, East Timor and Afghanistan - and with the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force.

Ricky says “every medal tells a story” - whether it's worn over the heart of a veteran, or carried by one of their loved ones.

And that matters so much - especially today.

“Sometimes you feel alone… On days like today, you want to be with your mates”, says Ricky.

This Anzac Day, another chapter in our history is coming to a close - with the announcement last week of our departure and that of our great friend and ally, the United States from Afghanistan.

Australia has been a steadfast contributor to the fight against terrorism.

It’s been our longest war.

The world is safer from the threat of terrorism than when the twin towers were felled almost 20 years ago.

However, this has come at great cost. 41 Australian lives lost in Afghanistan. Whom we especially remember and honour this morning.

More than 39,000 Australians have served on operations in support of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.

Many carrying the wounds and scars of war.

They are the bravest of this generation.

Sergeant Andrew Russell served in Iraq, Kuwait, and East Timor, before being deployed to Afghanistan.

He was the first Australian killed there - when his patrol vehicle struck an anti-vehicle mine.

He was 33.

He left behind his wife Kylie, and his 11-day-old daughter Leisa.

Leisa is now 19 and studying criminology.

Kylie says she is, in so many ways, just like her Dad: she lives with a strong sense of duty.

Duty…..that sense of self that seeks to build a better world. Expressed in courage, endurance, mateship and service. 

The duty of Sergeant Andrew Russell is part of our national story, as is the duty of Sergeant Brett Till.

Brett was killed in Afghanistan while trying to disarm an improvised explosive device.

He joined the Army after the 9/11 terror attacks.

His wife Bree, who I came to know , says Brett “was good, humble and honourable, with unequivocal, uncomplicated intentions”.

He and his wife, Bree were expecting their first child together, to join their wonderful family with Brett’s older children Taleah and Jacob.

 Their child, Ziggy, will be in high school next year. 

I know Brett would be so proud of all of his three children and the amazing job Bree has done to raise their family.

Today, we also honour the children, spouses, partners, parents and loved ones of the men and women who have served our nation in Afghanistan - and the families of all who have served at home and abroad.

Their love, encouragement and prayers have sustained our soldiers, sailors, aviators, nurses, padres, and peacekeepers.

And they helped shoulder the burdens that follow service too.

Fellow Australians,

Shortly, the bugle will sound again.

That sound, as much a part of the Australian landscape, as the birds we hear awaking at this dawn.

Our ANZAC Reveille, in the words of Her Majesty The Queen, is our “call of awakening and rededication” … our reminder “of the standards for which we should all strive when we are called upon to do our duty”.

May we continue to be strengthened by the duty, example and memory of all who have served or continue to serve.

Lest we forget.

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