Launch of The Last Post: A ceremony of love, loss and remembrance at the Australian War Memorial by Emma Campbell

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Emma Campbell
Parliament House, Canberra

Thank you, Brendan. Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I have been fortunate to work at the Australian War Memorial for 12 years, with a dedicated team of historians, curators, conservators, educators and visitor assistants, to name but a few of the professionals there. We love military history, and we are quietly passionate about helping the public better understand the Australian experience of war.

We do this in a number of ways: through the exhibitions we display, the publications we write, the tours and talks we give. We explain where Australians fought, what happened during their battles, the triumphs and tragedies of their campaigns. 

And since the introduction of the Last Post Ceremony, we have been able to help visitors connect to the nation’s military history, and – in many cases – their own family’s heritage, in another significant way.

There is an almost immediate effect on people when you tell them a personal story of service and sacrifice. No matter what age, or where they are from, they can find something to relate to, sympathise or empathise with. Those servicemen and servicewomen are no longer just a name on the Roll of Honour, but a real person, who loved and was loved.

This book includes just a handful of those stories, but they are representative of the whole.  Nurses, infantrymen, pilots, transport drivers, artillerymen, commandoes and seamen –  but also husbands, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers.

I hope this book is a touching memento for those who have attended or participated in Last Post Ceremonies, but that it also encourages others to connect with our military history and – perhaps – to come here to Canberra to visit the Memorial and take part in a ceremony.

It is a book that required help from many people, and I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to them.

Firstly, to Dr Nelson for his vision for the Last Post Ceremony, his support of the concept for this book, and his encouragement as the manuscript took shape.

I thank Hugh and Janny Poate, Mark Donaldson and Ben Roberts-Smith for their thoughtful reflections on the ceremonies; and also Vin and Nancy Cosgrove, who generously gave their time to be interviewed on what the daily event means to families. A number of descendants of those whose Last Post stories have been told also helped with photos, or gave permission to use images of each of their relatives. I would especially like to thank Richard Pirrie and Daryl Kelly, who also provided information about one of the soldiers whose story is told in the book.  

The Australian Defence Force has been very supportive of this project, particularly in allowing members to respond to questions regarding their involvement in the ceremonies. Paul Cottier and Geoff Banning were a great help in coordinating the responses.

At the Memorial, I am grateful to many colleagues who have contributed to this work. In particular, I thank the talented team in the Military History Section, led by Ashley Ekins, who research and write the biographies; as well as the dedicated Last Post Ceremony team of Erica Bozsoky and Jennifer Surtees, who provided intricate details about the day-to-day running of the event and came to my aid many times when I was seeking the names of people in photos, or a family member to contact. The Memorial’s Commemoration and Visitor Services team gave thoughtful insights into the ceremonies and their impact on the public.

The beautiful and often poignant images in this book are the result of the creative and production talents of the Memorial’s multimedia and photography team. In particular, I would like to mention Steve Burton, who took many of the images presented here and helped me with this momentous collaboration. Bob McKendry was also a driving force in meeting deadlines and ensuring image quality.

Memorial editor Christina Zissis deserves praise for her editing work throughout. It is a far better book because of her attention to detail and astute suggestions to improve the narrative.

I thank our publishers, NewSouth Books, particularly Kathy Bail and Elspeth Menzies, as well as Deborah Nixon, Justine Maloney and Emma Hutchinson who saw this book through to production.

I thank my friends and family: my parents and siblings, who are here today, together with my husband Pat and sons Finn and Sam. They all gave such valuable support to me while I concentrated on this project.

Thank you to Chris Wagner and the communications and marketing team for organising today’s event.   

And of course, to Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten for launching this book and helping to draw attention to the Last Post ceremonies and the work the Memorial does in preserving – and sharing – our nation’s military history. Thank you.

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