Your Excellency and Sir Nicholas Shehadie. Prime Minister and Mrs Howard. Excellencies. Ladies and Gentlemen and Fellow Veterans. Young Australians, New Zealanders, and visitors.
This is a day of reflection – of remembrance – of respect – and of renewal.
Our Anzac forebears, and those whose names are all recorded on the Roll of Honour in this great Memorial behind me, would be quite proud of Australia today. They knew, better than we ever could, that nationhood was born of sacrifice. And it was in the horror of warfare, where lives are destroyed and the dreams of our youth are forever lost, that our national identity was forged. Nationhood is sustained by an enduring commitment to a set of ideals and values. I am confident that our New Zealand friends will empathise with these thoughts.
But as we reflect today on all of the conflicts in which Australians and New Zealanders have been involved, and the many incredibly dangerous situations faced by our defence forces in other operational deployments, one thing clearly stands out.
Most servicemen and women may have signed up for adventure, out of a sense of obligation, or just wanting to be involved. And yes, they fought for our nations, our flags, our people, and their families. But as noble as these ideals were, their commitment in combat, their raw courage, and their self-sacrifice in the face of often overwhelming odds, were driven largely by those physically closest to them – their mates. From all of the insights which we now have, this is the most profound message.
Mateship is at the heart of what we refer to as the Anzac values: it drives loyalty, courage, endurance and sacrifice. It is a compelling reason for most acts of heroism, and the suffering so often experienced by our servicemen and women: for not letting down the team is a powerful motivator in our nation’s psyche.
Mateship has had no limits. Well before indigenous Australians received the right to vote, those who served were regarded equally as brothers in arms.
Our military heritage as a new nation was founded on the shores of Gallipoli 91 years ago. Later generations of Australians have answered the call to preserve our freedom and defend our values and our way of life.
Today we consider also the men and women serving in the Australian Defence Force – some 2000 of who are serving overseas in difficult and dangerous circumstances. A stark reminder of these dangers came to us only last Friday with the tragic death of Private Jacob Kovco in Iraq. Unquestionably, these men and women, as did their predecessors, identify with and exemplify the Anzac values through their actions. Their cultural sensitivity, compassion and humanity greatly enhance their professionalism.
The Anzacs, and the more than one hundred thousand servicemen and women who lost their lives since, would be the last people to ever glorify war or their part in it. Their greatest gift to us, through their suffering and that of their families, is our freedom and the opportunities we are now fortunate to enjoy here in Australia and New Zealand. We can show our appreciation not just through remembering and honouring them, but by committing ourselves to follow their example.
Mateship has never been the exclusive preserve of our defence forces. It is embedded in our society. Whenever Australians are called on to assist, mateship comes to the fore. We see it in our fire fighters and emergency services teams, in our vast band of community volunteers, our medical staff, our police and many others who respond to those in need.
Not many of us are called upon to place our lives in danger for others. We admire those who do. We hope that, if we were called on to do so, we would not be found wanting. But we can all still play our part by less challenging although no less significant actions. Following the lead of many in the community, we can reflect the spirit of Anzac through our behaviour towards one another – be this a commitment to a mate in need, a desire to care for others less fortunate than ourselves or in need of help, or simply by being more tolerant, more considerate, more generous and understanding.
As we gather today to remember and reflect on the opportunities and freedoms they have bequeathed to us, those whom we revere this morning would be comforted in knowing that Australians remember and honour their sacrifice. But we can take the act of commemoration to an even higher plane by following their example – by committing ourselves to lead lives worthy of their sacrifice by looking after our mates and our fellow citizens as well as we are able. This is the test of humanity which would make us worthy of our inheritance. And in this way we can renew our pledge of nationhood in honouring those who served and died or suffered.