Anzac Day 2010: National Ceremony commemorative address

7 mins read
Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd MP

All nations are shaped by their histories, their memories and their stories.

By their triumphs, by their tragedies.

By their myths and by their legends.

Because together, these are the things that shape a nation’s soul.

And how a nation remembers its past animates how that same nation sees its future.

Often in ways of which they may be barely aware.

For Australia, our identity has been etched deeply by what we call Anzac.

For nearly a century, in fact for most of our federated history, Anzac has occupied a sacred place not far from the nation’s soul.

It shapes deeply our nation’s memory. It shapes deeply how we see the world.

A hundred years later, it shapes too what we do in the world.

Neither religious nor secular, whatever our beliefs are, Anzac is profoundly spiritual – inspiring pilgrimages still to that far-off place where our modern-day pilgrims drink deep from the well of national memory.

So what is this legend that we call Anzac? How has it shaped our nation’s life?

How does if offer quiet counsel and gentle direction as we seek to chart our future?

And how do we best nurture its flame for another century as we approach the first centenary of the Anzac landings?

I believe each generation of Australians has a duty to pass this torch to the next.

So what is the story of Anzac? And how do its values speak to us today?

Values of courage – courage of the type we saw in the murderous assault on Lone Pine.

Values of sacrifice – sacrifice that saw nearly 9000 Australians find their resting place today on Turkish soil.

Values of mateship – the almost biblical story of Simpson and his donkey.

Values of compassion – the decision of both the Australians and the Turks to lay down their arms for a day in order that both might bury their dead.

Values of a deeper humanity, as the Turks whom we first met in war have embraced us in peace – and the words of Ataturk (who saw no difference between our Johnnies and their Mehmets) speak to us still down the ages.

Courage, sacrifice, mateship, compassion and the bonds of our common humanity.

Good values. Important values. Values for a nation.

Yet values still of a broader and richer canvas than a narrow nationalism that simply lauds one people above another.

So how have these Anzac values shaped our nation’s life over the century?

We have become, by tradition, a nation that does not resile from a fight when fight we must.

We honour our men and women in uniform for there is no greater honour than to wear the uniform of Australia.

We stand up for our friends and for our allies and for the principles of international decency.

Yet the carnage of this war to end all wars (one in twenty-five of our entire population a casualty, one in eighty killed in action) has also made us warriors for peace.

No longer would we allow our soldiers to become mere cannon fodder for foreign generals. If fight we must, then all speed to action.

But as a nation we also strain every sinew for peace because there is no romance in the mud and the blood of war – only the cold silence of death and the sobbing of innocents.

Anzac has taught us anew the wisdom of old – blessed are the peacemakers.

These then are good values.

Values that have become good traditions.

Values and traditions that have helped shape a good and decent people.

Values that do not allow us to remain silent when we see the underdog oppressed.

Values and traditions at work today from Afghanistan, to Timor, to the Solomons, to Sudan and the Sinai.

Values and traditions that unite millions who have served in uniform and the hundred thousand whose names lie etched in stone in this memorial.

So how then do we keep this flame alight for the century to come?

April 1915 is now beyond nearly all our living memory.

And as the ranks of those who march thin further over the years to come, how do we tend this flame with diligence and care for the generations to come?

I have the greatest confidence that it will tend itself.

But as we approach the century of the Gallipoli landings just five years from now, perhaps it is also time for a further national conversation as to how we commemorate and celebrate Anzac in 2015.

One approach is for the government simply to announce a program of events.

As Prime Minister, I would like to do it differently.

In the year ahead, I would like to hear from the nation itself.

From the ground up. From every school. From every community. From every RSL.

Because if I’ve learned one thing in the time I’ve been Prime Minister, it is that all wisdom does not proceed from the nation’s capital.

So let us instead listen to the wisdom of our people.

On how we should honour Anzac on its centenary – a centenary which approaches faster than we may think.

To this end, the government will appoint a National Commission on the Commemoration of the Anzac Centenary.

This Commission will be made up of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, together with the President of the RSL – Rear Admiral Ken Doolan.

They will be supported by the representatives of the Defence Forces, the National War Memorial and by the Minister for Veterans Affairs.

The task of the Commission will be to call forth submissions from across the nation on how we most appropriately mark this important centenary for the nation.

And then at year’s end, to recommend to government what we should do.

Not just for the centenary of Anzac itself – but also for the other great centenaries that lie ahead between Anzac Day and Armistice Day.

Some have suggested enhancing this great war memorial with a new Anzac Gallery.

Others point what can be done with other memorials around Australia.

Some have said we should enliven further our commemorations with new monuments abroad – for example, preserving the submarine the AE2 which spectacularly breached the narrows in 1915 to threaten the Turkish fleet in a spectacular display of seamanship.

Others still have said we should even raise the AE2.

Or find her sister ship, the AE1, which remains lost without trace with all hands off Rabaul to this day.

Many have pointed to a new generation of scholarships to further the Anzac spirit through education and excellence.

These are just some possibilities – not all of which will come to pass.

There are in fact many besides.

Let our local communities begin the national conversation from the ground up to discuss what best should be done to honour Anzac.

I believe the diggers would want it this way.

Yesterday together with my son I visited this Memorial.

I was taken by the letters home.

Testimony to the horror, testimony to heroism, and testimony also to humour in the face of humiliation and despair.

One man wrote of the horrors of trenches:

“God it is cruel. What humans will stand is astounding...Tonight will be another long vigil gazing into death, this is truly the Valley of the Shadow.”

Another, a British officer, wrote in admiration of the heroism he saw in the Anzac assault on Helles:

“They were at home in hell-fire...They laughed at it; they sang through it. Their pluck was titanic. They were not men but gods, demons infuriated. We saw them fall by the score. But what of it? Not for one breath did the great line waver or break. On and up it went, up and on, as steady and proud as if on parade. A seasoned staff officer watching choked up with his own admiration. Our men tore off their helmets and waved them, and poured cheer after cheer after those wonderful Anzacs.”

All part of what we call Anzac.

Courage, sacrifice, mateship, compassion and our common humanity.

Values for a nation.

For our federation, they were our first generation.

But at Gallipoli, many breathed their last.

Wars always end.

But our duty to remember never will.

Lest we forget.

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