Unveiling of Z Special plaque

3 mins read
The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO

“We are here today to honour giants”

At the other end of Anzac Parade across the lake, is the nation’s political capital. But you come here today, to its soul.

It is not the building nor the relics and artefacts displayed. It is instead the stories of 2 million Australian men and women who wear – and have worn, the uniform of the Royal Australian Navy, Army and Royal Australian Airforce. It was literally a century ago at Pozieres, France that the official historian, Charles Bean was witness to Australia sustaining 23,000 casualties over six weeks at Pozieres.

Your plaque, will be just along from the Bomber Command Memorial commemorating 3,486 Australian dead. It will be just in front of the Sandakan Death March Memorial, 1,787 Australian dead. It will be in front of the British and Commonwealth Occupational Forces Memorial, in which some veterans of Z Special went on to serve, and it will be almost adjacent to the Flanders Memorial Garden we are about to build in Portland stone, with soil retrieved from the cemeteries and battlefields of [Belgian] Flanders, in which some 13,000 Australians died.

The men whom we honour today are – and were – members of the most remarkable generation this country has ever produced. I know Ken O’Brien, who has come here from Tasmania – as have others – his father served at Pozières, for which we commemorate now, 100 years ago, the 23,000 casualties in six weeks. Returning from the front on the 31st of July, he wrote in his diary, ‘blackened men everywhere, torn and whole, dead for days’. A mortally wounded Australian asked of official historian Bean, ‘will they remember me in Australia?’ He subsequently conceived and resolved that at its end, he would build this, - the finest memorial and museum to these men of the AIF and the nurses. Its vison he would articulate finally in 1948, just after the events that bring us here today:

“Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they love.
And here we guard the record that they themselves made.”

It will always be guarded by us and future generations of custodians of the Australian War Memorial.

The irony which I point out to young Australians in particular, looking for values in the world that they want, as distinct from the one they think they are going to get, need look no further than this place. The paradox is that it’s called the Australian War Memorial, but it’s not actually about war – it’s about love and friendship: love of friends and love for friends; love of family and love of country; and honouring the men and women who devote their lives not to themselves but to us, and their last moments to one another. 

We are here today to honour giants.

We have a Hall of Valour which presents very proudly [some of the 100] Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians. There is a different kind of bravery, recognised not only by medals. It is the kind of bravery that was manifested in these remarkable men of Z Special. It is no surprise to me that the words on the plaque are ex certamine contubernium: “out of conflict comradeship is born”. Out of the conflict and all of the remarkable things done by you, the men of Z Special, of whom our nation is so proud, has come not only comradeship but also a love and respect for you, the families who love and support you, and, for us, a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Australian and our pride in being so. Welcome. 

See our Flickr account for photos of this plaque unveiling.

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