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Anzac Day National Address, Australian War Memorial, Campbell ACT

[Delivered at the Australian War Memorial and broadcast nationally]

This is Ngunnawal Country. Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.

I also acknowledge our current serving men and women, veterans and their families and loved ones.

This morning, Linda and I attended the Dawn Service in Canberra. It was, after two COVID-affected years where we could not gather in large numbers, as powerful and poignant as ever.

That is not surprising.

On Anzac Day we are drawn to memorials, to marches, to moments of reflection – both in groups and privately.

We remember those who have served, those who have sacrificed and the contribution they have made to our country.

On one hand, we do not need to question ‘why’ we do this. It is obvious – to honour those who have served and continue to serve our nation, and to acknowledge the debt we will always owe them.

On the other hand, considering why we pause to reflect and remember tells us much about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Over the past two years I have been privileged to recognise the service of two men who came from worlds apart and who fought in significantly different wars – Teddy Sheean VC in the Second World War and Tony Jensen MG in South Vietnam.

Both men set examples of bravery under fire.

Their response to danger and peril continue to inspire decades later.

Their service was, as we often state, ‘in the Anzac tradition’.

Following the two award ceremonies I reflected on the continuation of the Anzac legacy and the characteristics we attribute to arise from it – mateship, courage, sacrifice and endurance.

I asked myself, are similar examples readily identifiable across our military history? Do the characteristics still matter? I am firmly of the opinion that the answer to both questions is: Yes!

To the first question: pick a conflict, operation or mission and you’ll be able to find similar examples.

I will highlight just a few.

Major Irene Drummond, the most senior of the nurses massacred on Bangka Island in 1942. Her words to her nurses as they all faced certain death, “Chin up girls, I’m proud of you and I love you” speak to her own bravery and compassion.

Courage and sacrifice – characteristics that are part of the Anzac legacy.

Captain Reg Saunders was the first Aboriginal soldier to be commissioned as an Officer in the Australian Army. The son of a veteran, he served in the Second World War and in Korea. After the Battle of Kapyong in 1951 he stated,

“At last, I felt like an Anzac, and I expect there were 600 others like me.”

The Anzac legacy wasn’t etched in stone at Anzac Cove. Each generation has built upon it.

Barry Martin OAM passed away last month in Queensland. Thirty years ago he was deployed on peacekeeping operations to Cambodia – our largest deployment since Vietnam. At his funeral, his Commanding Officer said ‘Barry could sense if something was not right with a soldier from 100 paces away … he was everywhere at all times and supported all.’

Mateship – that’s a key part of the Anzac legacy.

To the second of my questions – do these characteristics still matter?

They do.

We see them in the service of our modern veterans and those still serving. They have inherited the Anzac legacy and, through their service, have added to it and will hand it forward.

We are proud of them and we will always be there for them. It is critical that we continue to look after our veterans – caring for mates is also part of the Anzac legacy. To that end, we recognise the support of their families and their contribution.

The characteristics are not confined to our people in uniform. They are evident today in the actions of normal Australians. We saw many fine examples of this recently in flood-affected communities in South-East Queensland and northern New South Wales. Countless acts of bravery have occurred, most anchored in mateship in its many forms and exemplified by courage and endurance.

I sum up my reflections on the stories of Teddy, Tony, Irene, Reg and Barry – and noting that they’re representative of thousands upon thousands of others – as follows:

Who we were – in the sum of the stories of those who have served, we see common characteristics and values. We see a continuous line from diggers who landed at Anzac Cove, through to those who served in the Second World War, in Korea, Vietnam, on peacekeeping operations around the world and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Who we are – we see the Anzac legacy in today’s serving men and women, their families and, indeed, writ large in the community around us. Those common characteristics and values – mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice – are not unique to military service. Our forebears took them into uniform. But their service, experiences and sacrifices have forever embedded them in our nation’s DNA.

And, who we aspire to be – if we learn from the Anzac legacy and if we continue to live up to it, history tells us that we can overcome any challenge.

The Anzac legacy is not reflected in a single individual nor a single event. Instead, it is the sum of thousands of stories. Of ordinary Australians who, when given a job to do, got it done, did it in a way that made us proud and looked after each other during and after.

Finally, the characteristics that we take from the Anzac legacy to define us – mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice – are inherent in Australia. They always have been. They’ve been strengthened and reinforced in conflict and on peacekeeping operations, but they have always been at our core.

We shouldn’t shy aware from these characteristics over any concern that they be viewed as ‘jingoistic’ – they are real in us.

They speak to our past, our present and our future.

To who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

And that should make us all optimistic for our future.

Lest we forget.