Opening speech for the Afghanistan: the Australian story exhibition, delivered by General David Hurley AC DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, on 6 August 2013.

Good evening Your Excellency, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

From an idea born among the original ANZACs, during the fierce World War I battles in France, this place and its iconic building have become one of our nation's most important land marks. The Australian War Memorial is a monument to our war dead and the guardian of our official war history. It is a place to commemorate and to educate Australians about the wartime experiences that have shaped our nation's character. It is a revered and respected place rich with heritage and history. But Afghanistan: The Australian Story is different. Where other galleries and collections focus on historic events and conflicts, this is the first time the War Memorial has dedicated an exhibition to a continuing combat operation. And what would normally take around two and a half years to craft has been created in just five months.

The motivating force behind the exhibition has been the War Memorial's Director, Dr Brendan Nelson. I have come to know Dr Nelson personally over the years particularly during his time as Ambassador to NATO. He has always shown great care and genuine compassion for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. Generations of Australians will benefit from Dr Nelson's enthusiasm to preserve our military history and his passion to find new ways to tell Australia's contemporary war stories.

I would like to congratulate the curators, Rebecca Britt and Chris Masters and the team who have put the exhibition together. They have worked to a tight deadline, under pressure to do justice to the work of almost 26,000 Australian Defence Force personnel who have served on Operation Slipper. These men and women have served with distinction as part of the International Security Assistance Force. They have helped the ADF build an enviable record for excellence and proven their skill and professionalism alongside their counterparts from 49 other nations. Afghanistan: The Australian Story tells their stories; through their eyes; and in their own voices. It captures all aspects of Australia's Afghanistan campaign; the equipment and the evolution of our tasks; the humour and sadness; and, most importantly, our people and their families.

The exhibition, like the conflict itself, will evoke a range of opinions and emotions. It speaks to our successes without ignoring the challenges, particularly those that lie ahead. It defines the intense spirit of mateship while acknowledging the important role of family. It recognises the ongoing battles faced by our wounded and it pays tribute to those we have lost. These men remind us that this place is not only about the sacrifices of generations past but about the sacrifices of our generation, of the modern day ANZACs who will not be forgotten.

It is true that the Australian Defence Force has played the most prominent role in Afghanistan, but we have worked alongside Defence civilians and many other Australians from the Department of Foreign Affairs, AusAID, the Australian Federal Police and a range of non-government organisations. Afghanistan: The Australian Story is for everyone who has deployed to Afghanistan over the past 12 years and for their families. It is for all Australians who want to understand our work and our legacy. 

To the men and women who have served in Afghanistan and the Middle East, you have done this country proud. On your behalf, it is a great honour to declare the exhibition Afghanistan: The Australian Story open.

 [check against delivery] 




Tuesday 6 August 2013


General David Hurley AC DSC


Formal address