Dr Karen Bird, For Every Drop Shed in Anguish Dedication Ceremony

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Today we meet in friendship and purpose without recognition of rank or generation. I acknowledge and pay my respects to all who call Australia their home. I honour all those who have come before me, stand here beside me and importantly, all those who share our inclination and made the effort to join us in person or online today.

As an Intellectual Historian, I share the thoughts of the British scholar Tony Judt who holds that as citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically on our world. If we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge. Philosophers across time are known to interpret the world in just words, the real point is - if we see the need for change, we must act for change with accountability and transparency of action and intention.

We acknowledge that change can only be built on what we have and what we know. The AWM is what we have – a monument to the dead, built in the aftermath of WW1 to honour those killed in war or because of their service. And we know that there are over 106,200 names listed on the Honour and Commemorative Rolls who were killed in action, died because of illness or their wounds, or were missing and presumed dead due to an absence of a physical body. Among these names, are those of only 453 service men and women recognised by the AWM who died by suicide caused or linked to their service. Those 453 are the known, they are the recognised. The Royal Commission into Military and Veteran Suicide is currently building on that knowledge, and we now know that there are many more names that need to be added to the Australian War Memorial Honour and Commemorative Rolls.

Mid twentieth century English essayist George Orwell recognised that change required struggle, writing that “to see what is in front of our noses needs a constant struggle”. Such a struggle has been the shared lived experience of literally hundreds of thousands of Australian family members, carers and friends of serving and ex-serving men and women since Federation. I stand here as a member of a committee formed out of struggle, seeking change. A committee not initiated by any government but insisted upon by the fierce voices of lived experience who stood on the barricades, on the shoulders, of many who had fallen before them, after years of advocacy, after enduring years of suffering and loss. We found one another in our deepest grief that demanded acknowledgment for our suffering and loss and a place here at the AWM. And today, Alex’s sculpture acknowledges that struggle, that suffering, and that loss. It provides that place for the family members, carers and friends and it provides a place for serving members and Veterans to come and reflect on their own suffering and grief for their personal struggles or for friends lost, who remain unrecorded.

I would personally like to recognise the many parents, family members, carers and friends who stand beside and before me today touched by the same hand of grief – we are a formidable group of human beings – your names are too many to mention for fear of missing someone whom I hold dear. I close today with a clear voice of appreciation to the Director of the AWM, Matt Anderson, and a nod in recognition to his predecessor, 
Brendan Nelson. Matt is ably assisted by a dedicated team - Brian Hanlon, Anthea Gunn, Laura Webster, Elise Routledge and their many colleagues. I express deep gratitude on behalf of all the committee to Alex Seton – for his sentience and compassion so visible in what we see before us. To everyone, thank you for helping us to build on what we now know, finally being able to express that knowledge without fear or whisper.

War and Service can and does have consequences. And it does come home. The human toll is all around us, in front of our eyes; this struggle is recognised but it remains ongoing. For as long as the flux and woe of human frailty returns us to war to settle our petty differences and competing interests, we, as a nation will be required to account for those who so freely sign a defence service contract and we place in harm’s way in our name. That responsibility falls heavily on all of us. As a nation we have waxed and waned in that responsibility. But from this day, “For every drop shed in anguish” will be a constant reminder to us all of that responsibility, especially at Parliament House and in the offices of the DVA in Civic – ignorance or disbelief or mismanagement is no longer a defence.

I will close now with one final comment from the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth”.

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