Speech - ANZAC Day Dawn Service




"ANZAC Day Dawn Service"




Ladies and gentlemen; friends.

It is with a great sense of honour that I address you again at this year's ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

Today, we're now just one year from the centenary of the start of the Great War, and two years from the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.

They promise to be big occasions, with the national spotlight on our commemorative activities. These days in the world of 24-hour media, that's inevitable. Inevitably also there will be an air of celebration and much noise.

But the fact is, the ANZAC tradition is not about celebration or noise. It's about the things we don't have—the young people lost, and the voices that have fallen silent. It about remembering what those lives and voices were like. And why they were sacrificed. It's about quiet, local events like this one. The true spirit of ANZAC is local, in communities just like ours.

Thinking about what we've lost in preparation for today, I started to look at some of our local history here on the Northside, including some of the old war photographs that have been so carefully assembled over the years by organisations like the Sandgate Historical Society and the Chermside and Districts Historical Society.

The societies have put together a great record for us. There are photographs of construction workers, of members of the Australian Women's Army Service, of whole families enlisting to go to war.

They show the Geebung-Zillmere Scouts of 1938, who went on to become the soldiers of the 1940s.

The  Geebung-Zillmere Scouts of 1938

The Geebung-Zillmere Scouts of 1938

A typical group of boys, some barefoot, many cheeky-looking. With the exception of iPhones, probably not much different from today. And like adolescents today, on the verge of becoming men.

Except that we know from the vantage point of history, they're going to grow up much faster than others – fighting in places like Crete, Tobruk and New Guinea. Some of them, of course, never got the chance to grow up at all.

It brings out the parental instinct in all of us. But also brings out great pride – because these boys could have been our parents or grandparents.

Today they could be our neighbours. What this photo illustrates is that when it comes to defending our nation, our local community here on Northside has always played its part.

The Northside was pretty sparsely populated back in 1914 and 1939, but within weeks of the start of the Great War large numbers turned out to enlist. More followed after Gallipoli. Yet more after the battle of the Somme began depleting the AIF in July 1916. By November 1916, there were 2,400 men training in Chermside Camp alone.

With that kind of presence, the community formed organisations to give "send-offs" to departing soldiers and planned "welcome homes" for returning diggers.

They also raised money to be able to send parcels to the troops on the front line.

Even the pupils of Chermside State School chipped in by spending many years throughout the Great War knitting socks for the soldiers in the trenches. I doubt that would happen today, but I imagine today's youngsters would show their support through Facebook and other forms of social media.

Looking out for one another, in good times and bad: it's what lifts this nation above being merely a collection of individuals.

You find this sort of commitment to others spread right throughout the records left behind by local volunteers. There are men like  Sergeant Jack Drew, from Sandgate, whose diary tells of walking the battlefield looking for his mate  Arthur Vivian Jeays, and of his relief at finally finding him alive in a field hospital behind the lines. Walking a battlefield, looking for a friend. How very dangerous. How very Australian. How very human. How very local as well.

The Northside boys kept an eye on their mates, and Jack's diary entry demonstrates that he was a brave and loyal friend indeed.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that's really what we have to be to the veterans and their widows and descendants today—brave and loyal friends. Including to the very young just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to be good mates. Looking out for them. Keeping an eye on them. Remembering them by acknowledging the silences they have left behind and the loved ones they have left behind for us to care for.

As the son of a veteran for the Second World War, and the grandson of a veteran of the First World War, this is a family duty I accept. And I'm sure it's a duty each of you will accept and hand down to your children and grandchildren also.  Which is why there are so many here today.

So today, we are united by sacrifice and by the tragedy of war.

It is a universal, and unifying, story about courage.

And it is a story about time. It is a story about regeneration and about how we deal with the sacrifice to ensure that such horrors can never endure again.

Every year, on this day, we ask ourselves that one fundamental question: why did they fight? And why do we still fight?

We do so because of principles that stretch back to the birth of Western civilisation.

Truly fundamental principles that form the bedrock of our modern democracies.

The principle of justice.

The principle that nations that trample on the rights of others must be resisted.

We don't put our young men and women in harm's way unless it can be justified by much more than the self-interest of empire builders.

Because they do more than just honourably defend us – they are fighting for universal principles.

Because underlying those universal principles are the notion and pursuit of equality.

The central idea that drives us is the idea of egalitarianism: that one person is as good as the next.

Our ideal was no master, no servant, just individuals bound together as equals.

Our officers and soldiers were not treated as separate castes. Our commanders valued the lives of their soldiers and spent those lives with the utmost reluctance.

Of course, these egalitarian ideals were not born at Gallipoli – Australia was egalitarian from birth.

But, at Gallipoli, those ideals were tested – and proved their worth.

What emerged was a moral code that rapidly established itself as our supreme national virtue – a combination of bravery, resilience, the ability to improvise, and sticking together in hard times no matter what.

Since our earliest days as a nation, this ethos has had a powerful hold on the Australian psyche.

It is our national story – a story about being there for others when they need help, no matter where they are, or who they are. It is about defending anyone's right to pursue their own small patch of equality.

What my grandfather, my father and those who lie in numerous graves across the world believed was this: that a nation founded on the universal principle of equality is a nation worth fighting for.

That's what ANZAC Day means to me.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.