Unveiling of the Long Tan Cross

4 mins read
The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO
Captain Reg Saunders Gallery, Australian War Memorial

Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Kerry Stokes, our Chairman, Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, a Vietnam veteran himself, the veterans that are here, Meg Green of the War Widows Guild of Australia.

Today is a very significant day. Reflecting that significance is that we have here veterans of the Vietnam War, we have our Prime Minister and our Opposition Leader, our Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and our Shadow Minister and the Deputy Chief of Army.

Across here, on the wall to your right, is the vision for the Australian War Memorial articulated by our founder, Charles Bean, in 1948.

He’d been witness to everything from Gallipoli to Mont St Quentin in the First World War; he would conceive and build this memorial; he would write and edit the 12 volumes of the Official History and then after the end of an even greater cataclysm set the vision,

“Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.”

In every war, every conflict, every operation there is one action or one battle which galvanises imaginations and understanding of them.

The Gallipoli landings; Kokoda; Kapyong - where Reg Saunders fought; the dust of Oruzgan and Tizak in Afghanistan and in the Vietnam War, it was Long Tan.

Sixty one thousand Australian men and women served.

Five hundred and twenty-one were killed.

Two thousand and fifty were wounded.

An indeterminate number suffered and bore immense psychological pain, the reasons for which have been alluded to by the Prime Minister, and still go on suffering.

We have four million objects, artefacts, relics, here in the collection of the Memorial. So space is an issue.

Of all of those things, in my personal view, the most significant of the relics we have are the bullet ridden Gallipoli Ascot landing boat; the Lancaster bomber ‘G for George’; the bullet ridden uniform of Vivian Bullwinkel, the only one to survive the massacre on Radji Beach; and now the Long Tan Cross.

This Cross has been put up here overnight. I get the credit but the work is actually done by our staff, our Exhibitions team, our hard working, dedicated staff did this overnight. And I’d like to particularly pay gratitude and give thanks to them for doing so.

I say to Vietnam veterans of Long Tan, of all of the conflicts and battles across the Vietnam War, the families who love and support you, your descendants and for Australians this Cross is and will be permanently displayed.

It is here now in the Captain Reg Saunders Gallery, we’ve recreated the same effect for its installation in 1969. You see the images, the artillery, the extraordinary courage of those men of the Royal Australian Air Force in those two helicopters getting the ammunition through toward the end of the battle for 6RAR, the APCs arriving, the artillery as I said.

And also here we have Harry Smith’s medals and the letter than was written by Allan May, the forward scout to his mother a week later in which he said ‘I should have been the first one to be killed and I wasn’t. ’.

It is our honour to now proudly display the Cross and it’s our intention that by August next year, the fifty second anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, we will re-purpose a theatrette which is currently in the Vietnam War gallery which exhibits a film about the Battle of Long Tan. We will turn that into a semi-chapel like environment, with a semi-lit ambience and permanently display the Cross and the story of the men who fought at Long Tan and those who support them.

And I’d finally like to give thanks to the Prime Minister and our Minister and the officials who worked so hard to see that the Cross has been brought back to Australia.

And our Prime Minister and our Opposition Leader, as you exercise our political freedoms that we enjoy over there in Parliament, I know that both of you will never, ever forget that here we remember those who underwrite it with their sacrifices.

Thank you.

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