Investiture Ceremony for Ordinary Seaman Edward 'Teddy' Sheean VC, Government House
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today, including Indigenous Australians who have served in the Australian Defence Force.
Good morning. Linda and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House on this special occasion.
Today is a momentous and historic day.
For the Sheean family — many of whom are here with us at Yarralumla; other family members are watching online.
For the Tasmanian community.
For the Royal Australian Navy and entire ADF.
And, for Australia.
It is a day to remember Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean.
To acknowledge the gallantry, courage and selflessness he showed 78 years ago today. And to reflect on his legacy and what it means to us today.
Since Her Majesty The Queen approved the awarding of the Victoria Cross for Australia to Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean in August, we have witnessed an outpouring of emotion.
Linda and I saw this emotion on the faces of Teddy’s family last week in Tasmania.
We’ve seen it on the faces of veterans and our modern sailors, and on the faces of serving members of the Army and Air Force — all have celebrated this announcement.
I have on my staff here at Government House five sailors — three serving and two retired. Two of them, by coincidence, are from Tasmania. They would not be embarrassed by me sharing that they were filled with pride and emotion when the announcement was made.
Beyond the naval and military communities, we’ve seen Australians of all ages respond to Teddy’s story.
It is worth pausing to think about why this is. Why, 78 years on, does one young man’s bravery continue to resonate?
Firstly, think about Australia in 1942. We had been at war for three years. Part of our army was fighting tooth and nail in the Middle East. Others had been captured by the Japanese. Our Navy had lost ships in both the Mediterranean and the Pacific. A large number of our trained airmen were committed in the desperate battle over Europe. Each of these serving personnel had left behind loved ones who both longed for and, fearing the worst, dreaded receiving news from the front.
Compounding this stress, the enemy was at our doorstep. Darwin was bombed. Broome was strafed. And midget subs entered Sydney Harbour. Australia was under threat, our future uncertain.
But we stood our ground.
This is the backdrop against which Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean enlisted.
It is part of why Teddy’s story is relevant to us today — particularly given the events of the past year — because, in the toughest of times, he and many like him stepped up to serve their country.
Secondly, the story resonates because of Teddy himself. Linda and I have had the pleasure of meeting some of his relatives who knew him. By all accounts he was charismatic, popular, loud and bursting with confidence. His rowdy last night in Latrobe before departing is still a strong part of local folklore. In the words of Dr Ray Leonard, the last surviving sailor from Armidale: “He was the youngest man on the ship but also one of the most outspoken … he came across as a popular, affable, warm, likable man. He didn’t speak quietly … he was not lacking in confidence … he was a go getter.”
He was also fiercely loyal. In the words of his nephew Jim Shea who was 11 when Teddy went off to war and who is here with us today: “He never picked a fight, but he never walked away from one.”
Teddy was clearly memorable to those who knew him.
But he also wasn’t unique. We all know someone like this. They are our sons or daughters, our brothers or sisters, our friends. This familiarity is another reason Teddy’s story continues to resonate.
Thirdly, there is the action. Where the ordinary turns to extraordinary.
A rapidly sinking ship. Enemy planes strafing Teddy’s shipmates. The chance of survival, spurned in an instant by his decision to return to his gun to try to save his mates. Sacrificing himself for others. It is inspirational and it should inspire us.
In that moment, Teddy Sheean exemplified the characteristics that our first Anzacs left us: mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.
Finally, Teddy’s story resonates because of those who have carried it forward. The family, the shipmates and the community who never let him be forgotten — who insisted and persisted … to bring us to today. So, to Garry Ivory and all involved — on behalf of all Australians, thank you.
Today, we remember and honour Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean. His story resonates because as Australians we continue to see — and hope to see — part of Teddy in the world around us: selflessness, loyalty and honour.
On behalf of all Australians I acknowledge his remarkable service, gallantry and sacrifice. May we all remember it, honour it and learn from it.