50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan and Vietnam Veterans Day: Stand-to Service

3 mins read
The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO

Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, dignitaries, veterans, families who love and support you. 

The political capital of our nation is across the lake at the other end of Anzac Parade, but the soul of the nation is here.

It’s not the building, nor the relics or artefacts that are displayed within in it, but the stories of the two million Australian men and women who wear, and have worn, the uniform of the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force. 

The origins of the Memorial, where we are gathered today, began 100 years ago. Charles Bean, the official war historian, bore witness to 23,000 Australian casualties in Pozières, 6,800 dead, and five Victorian Crosses. He returned from the front on 31 July 1916, and wrote in his diary: “blackened men everywhere, torn in whole, dead for days”.

A mortally wounded Australian asked him: “Will they remember me in Australia?” From there Bean conceived and resolved to build the finest memorial and museum to these men of the Australian Imperial Force and the nurses. The vision he articulated in 1948, “Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved, and here we guard the record, which they themselves made”, is one to which we remain true. 

On the façade of the Memorial last night we projected the names of 521 Australian men. We just now heard RMC and ADFA cadets recite the names and ages at death for each one of the men from the Vietnam Roll of Honour. We’ve done this for two reasons. First, to remind each one of us that we need to look beyond the broad brushstrokes and headlines of our history, popular imagery, and mythology and remember the individual sacrifices that were made in the name of devotion and duty – our duty – to our country. The second is that there are, in the end, some truths by which we live as Australians, and they are worth fighting for and defending, politically, diplomatically, and at times militarily. 

The paradox of the Australian War Memorial, where we gather here today to commemorate the battle of Long Tan and the more than 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War, is that it is not about war. This place is about love and friendship. Love for friends and between friends. Love for family, love for country, and honouring and remembering the men and women who devote and have devoted their lives not to themselves but to us, and their last moments to one another. 

Their spirit – your spirit – is here. It is guarded well, and it always will be, by those of us who are privileged to be custodians of a legacy which your generation, those before you, and those serving now have given us. And that is that a life of value is one spent in the service of others, and that’s what this place has always been about.

Photos from this service are available from our Flickr account.

Last updated: