Remembrance Day 1997: commemorative address

5 mins read
Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP

These moments, this hour, this day, we dedicate to our dead.

Young Australians, whose passing into the silent land, we will honour by ourselves becoming silent:

  • an echo of the eerie stillness which becalmed their battlefields on this day so long ago
  • an echo of the homes made silent when they did not return.

The two minutes silence we will observe today is a tradition born in a time when the vast majority of Australians could pause and dwell upon a name, or a face or some small precious memory. In years past, ceremonies such as today's overwhelmingly reflected personal loss - the shared silence added to other more private times when fathers, husbands, sons and friends were missed and mourned.

It is different now.

Now, thankfully, a great many Australians, have no personal experience of war, no way of knowing the anguish of enforced separation, or the greater grief of separations made permanent.

And for that reason amongst others, it is time to renew our pledge.

For most of us, not the pledge made by past generations to remember a loved one lost to war but a promise to remember all who have been lost to war and to give thanks for their valiant service in defence of our freedom and to demonstrate the value we place in those freedoms so selflessly forged. Our independent nationhood which gives us freedom to think, to move, to speak, to worship, to have a say in the election of governments, to be afforded the proper privileges of our legal system, to own and dispose of property, to raise a family and to educate our children.

Where we are encouraged to be responsible and where the individual is paramount and where the family unit is the corner stone of our nation.

Where our patriotism is quiet but deep and where we stand a united people irrespective of whether Australia is the nation of our birth or of our choice.

Where our lifestyle is defined by abundance of light and space and which is the envy of the world.

Where we regard the future of ours, eager to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

A proclamation about the observance of Remembrance Day signed on 30 October by the Governor General, on behalf of the Australian people, has given special new voice to the renewal of our faith.

That national declaration, which calls for the observance of one minute's silence, will encourage remembrance of the `sacrifice for those who died or otherwise suffered in Australia's cause in wars and conflicts throughout the world.

I hope that in schools and in workplaces, in cities and in the bush, Australians will stop, just for a moment, to consider what was lost to us. And to recognise what was granted to us by the exercise of such moral courage.

The numbers are truely staggering in their enormity – over 100,000 Australian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and servicewomen remain where they died, on every continent and in every ocean of the world.

There's an ancient saying: "Heroes have the whole world for their tomb and in lands far from their own." Of all the nations on earth, surely this is most true of our Australia.

But numbers alone can not adequately chronicle this nation's sacrifice. For each of the fallen had a family and friends whose lives were enriched by their love and diminished by their loss. Each added to the life of a city suburb or country town. Each worked before enlistment, as a teacher, a farmer, a labourer, a nurse, a doctor, a clerk, or one of countless other occupations which add to the prosperity and the richness of a nation.

And yet, although denied the full span of human existence, who can doubt their achievement.

These were Australians whose lives were lived in deeds, not years, in sacrifice, not heartbeats in service, not the turned pages of a calendar.

These men and women, these strangers from another time, have given us a legacy from the past on which to build the future.

Gifts of determination, of compassion and self confidence, but most of all, of service.

A spirit born on the cliffs of Gallipoli, then matured in the mud of the Western Front, in jungles and in deserts, and in desperate struggles on the seas and in the sky. A spirit which draws Australians together in time of need. A spirit which may seem to slumber but arises to draw new breath when needed, amid ash-filled skies, flooded ground or the rubble of a disaster.

They gained for us the friendship of peace loving people around the world. Proof of these bonds lies in the attendance today of the Buglers of Menin Gate.

Volunteers from the brave city of Ieper, who since 1928 have nightly paid tribute to over 6,000 of Australia's sons who died in the defence of Belgium, Australians who now lie within its soil but without known graves.

Their story, the legacy of all Australians who have died or suffered in war and armed conflict, has been passed to each one of us. It is the birthright of every child born into Australia, the gift of welcome extended to every migrant.

By today's act of remembrance, we cherish and nurture this possession, their gift. We prove an understanding both of its value and its cost. We build a bridge across time.

Exactly 70 years ago, at another ceremony at a place far from here, the countrymen of our honoured guests, the Buglers of Menin Gate, gathered to unveil their magnificent Memorial to those missing in action, believed killed.

Field Marshal Plumer, in declaring it opened, spoke words which echo through the decades: "He is not missing. He is here."

Today, by recognising both what has been lost to us and what has been gained, by renewing our pledge to remember, we declare, of all our fallen: "They are not missing. They are here".

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