Address at the opening of the First World War Galleries

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His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, representing the Prime Minister;
The Honourable Maggie Barry MP ONZM, representing the Prime Minister and Government of New Zealand;
Mr Andrew Barr MLA, ACT Chief Minister;
Heads of Mission of the Canberra Diplomatic Corps;
Ms Gai Brodtmann MP, representing the Leader of the Opposition:
Mr Bob Hawke AC and Mr John Howard OM AC, former Prime Ministers of Australia;
Chief of the Defence Force and Senior Defence Leadership;
Members of the Australian Defence Force;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentleman

Thank you Rear Admiral Ken Doolan AO RAN (Retd), Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and the Honourable Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial.

Lynne and I are delighted to be here today for the culmination of a great deal of hard work, ingenuity, passion and perseverance by so many talented people—a special group who spent years dedicated to honouring the actions of their fellow countrymen and women in a war now almost 100 years past, but by no means forgotten.

It is a wonderful feature of our modern national character, the thirst and zeal we have to reflect and remember.

This trait is embodied nowhere with greater effect than here at the Australian War Memorial.

As a museum, archive and shrine, it preserves our relics, our art and our culture—and most importantly, that aspect of our national spirit, captured at those distinct moments in time when it was most tested.

For many Australians, this is quite personal, as we are directly connected—through our parents and grandparents, our children, our friends, or our own service—to the legacy upheld and guarded within these walls.

As a guide to our conscience, the War Memorial reminds us of the perils and horror of war and the burden borne by our people.

Yet it also reinforces the importance of abiding by what is right, what is true, what it necessary.

It is a reminder that our standards, beliefs and values do not come without commitment and sacrifice.

It is a place of guidance and affirmation—of assurance and inspiration.

A place that does not glorify war, but praises the strength of our national values, and our patriotic and devoted citizens.

And it is a place of unity and understanding—where all are welcome to learn our story and share in our perspective.

Where some old foes are remembered and their sacrifices honoured.

Where our many international friends can appreciate not only our national triumphs, but also our gallantry and courage in defeat.

The War Memorial is where we proudly present the military heritage that has inspired Australians for more than 100 years—and offers insight into some of what has gone into shaping and revealing who we are today.

This morning, we honour the fact that with the refurbishment of the First World War gallery, our national memory, conscience and unity has once again been strengthened by the Australian War Memorial.

So I join with the Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, in thanking and congratulating all those involved in this significant undertaking.

I know from first-hand experience that the dedication, passion and skill of Australian War Memorial staff is remarkable and unwavering.

I also acknowledge the outside contractors, designers, conservators and artists for their immense contribution to this project, as well as the vital support provided by the Australian Government—as a key contribution to mark the Anzac Centenary—and BHP Billiton’s Sustainable Communities program.

When Lynne and I visited this new exhibition last week, we felt as though we experienced, in some small measure, our nation’s First World War journey.

All who visit will benefit in the same way.

First, there was the lead-up to the war—the bright colours, vibrancy and pristine nature of the uniforms and heraldry; the young, fit, excited faces of the volunteers; the optimistic and confident language of telegrams and letters.

Then, the conduct of the war—darker, more foreboding; with the expansion of the battle comes the development of deadly and sometimes life-saving technology; immense human loss and tragedy; individual heroism and mateship.

Then, 1918 and the armistice—a battle weary nation; but arriving at that point also brought hope.

A time for thanks and pride, yet balanced with a sober understanding of the huge cost borne by our nation and her people.

For Lynne and me, that relatively brief time in the new gallery became a meaningful journey, full of reflection and, indeed, emotion.

We found it, as you will, a story told with respect and dignity—so again I thank all those involved for allowing us, for allowing your fellow Australians this experience.

The gallery will capture your imagination with its many photographs.

In touring this gallery, at times, and perhaps for no reason easy to articulate, visitors may be struck by a particular image.

A photograph of a very large group of young men at the start of the war—happy, arms flung around each other.

I said a lot, but it was 20 or so—but to me, they represented so many.

Seeing these soldiers, other visitors may have the same thought as I—about the preciousness of their lives—themselves, their families and their mates.

And, yet at that moment in time, they are blissfully unaware that soon they will face immense horror and unimaginable trials.

I know that during the course of the war these young men, and many thousands like them, would show the world who we are as Australians and set an extraordinary standard for all that will follow.

This was just one image that resonated with me—there are many others that will speak individually to all as you tour the gallery.

And just as much as I think Lynne and I felt, that contemplation sparked by the visit will last long after any visit is over.

For this reason—and above all else—we are all immensely grateful for the efforts of the Australian War Memorial in ensuring this new gallery has such a personal account, because it will be part of our experience we will long remember.

This is vitally important as our living links to such a time pass by.

All those great men and women who served in the Great War or endured the agonising wait here at home—it is easy to feel they are looking down on us today, looking over this place—they would be so very pleased.

Well done to all.

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