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Launch of 'For Gallantry: Australians awarded the George Cross and the Cross of Valour', Australian War Memorial, Canberra


Good morning, all.

Linda and I are delighted to be with you for the launch of ‘For Gallantry: Australians awarded the George Cross and the Cross of Valour’ by Craig Blanch.

I want to begin by quoting a few lines from ‘For Gallantry’.

"At about 8.30 pm on 12 January 1945, Sergeant Bailey while on duty in Blayney had occasion to speak to a man whose movements were suspicious. During the questioning, the man pulled a revolver from his pocket and fired a shot which struck Bailey in the stomach. Bailey immediately closed with his assailant who fired two more shots. Although fast succumbing to his injuries and suffering from the effect of shock and haemorrhage, Bailey continued to struggle with the offender and held him on the ground until assistance arrived.

“Shortly afterwards he died. The fortitude and courage manifested by this Police Officer, in spite of the mortal injuries sustained by him at the outset of the encounter, constitute bravery and devotion to duty of the highest order.”

That story stops me in my tracks. I’m not singling it out because it involves a member of the Police Force, a group of men and women whom I hold in high regard. The story affected me because I wanted to believe that Sergeant Bailey died knowing that he had done his community proud and was a hero.

In the moments before he died, what was Sergeant Bailey thinking? What was he thinking when he closed with his assailant with a bullet in his stomach, before the latter fired the second and third fatal shots?

About this time last week, I presided over the investiture of teenager Ruth Dhurrkay SC in the remote Indigenous community of Galiwinku on Elcho Island within East Arnhem Land. Ruth was awarded The Star of Courage for going to the aid of a friend who was being viciously attacked by a male teenager.

My words to Ruth were those I say when I speak to all recipients of Bravery Awards: thank you for putting the safety of other people above your own. Such a decision, even if made almost without thinking, deserves our recognition.

‘For Gallantry’ gives us an insight into the human condition.

Meticulously researched, Craig Blanch’s book describes the courageous actions of 28 outstanding and selfless Australians. ‘For Gallantry’ recounts the Australian recipients of the country’s premier former and current non-combat awards: the George Cross and the Cross of Valour.

This is the first time all Australian recipients of these awards have been brought together in a dedicated volume. Along with its military equivalent, the Victoria Cross, the George Cross and the Cross of Valour recognise compelling stories of courage.

‘For Gallantry’ features the stories of all Australian recipients of these awards spanning almost 90 years — from the incredible endurance of a Victorian teacher Richard Richards in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, to the extraordinary bravery of a policeman Senior Constable Timothy Britten, and of a geologist Richard Joyes amid the carnage of the Bali bombings.

It’s a compelling read and I must admit to finding it hard to put down.

Craig Blanch and Richard Rolfe will speak shortly about their motivations for respectively writing and sponsoring the book.

As Governor-General I was delighted to be invited to launch ‘For Gallantry’ because my appointment continually invites me to learn more of the human condition and, as clichéd as it might sound, how is it that ordinary people can perform extraordinary acts of bravery.

Acts of bravery cannot be easily categorised. Anyone at any moment might find themselves in a situation where they are called on to act. That individual’s response is instinctive rather than premeditated, motivated only by an instinctive need to help others.

Recipients of bravery decorations are selfless, deserve our praise and recognition, and are an inspiration to all.

I congratulate Craig Blanch for his persistence in pursuing the research, writing and publication of this book. As he states in the Preface, ‘This book owes its creation to many people’.

I thank NewSouth Publishing for producing such a fine book and for ensuring that today’s launch occurred.

I am proud to launch ‘For Gallantry: Australians awarded the George Cross and the Cross of Valour.’