Royal Australian Air Force Centenary Parade, 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.
Linda and I extend a very warm welcome to all here at Yarralumla on this historic and celebratory occasion in the life of the Royal Australian Air Force. Today is a celebration – a celebration of 100 years’ dedication to the defence of Australia and its values, and of service to its people.
Moments ago, I was honoured to present the Royal Australian Air Force with a new Queen’s Colour – a symbol of the Sovereign’s trust in the Service. Indeed, when handing the Colour to Flying Officer Coomara Munro, I stressed to him that the Colour represented the important relationship between The Queen and her Defence forces.
And Her Majesty The Queen understands the importance of that relationship. In her letter to all members of the Royal Australian Air Force on this occasion she wrote: 'Throughout my reign, the Royal Australian Air Force has shown immense dedication to duty and has defended our freedom in many conflicts around the world.’ That is what Her Majesty has observed of past performance, and I have no doubt that is what she expects from the Royal Australian Air Force into the future.
But building for the future can only be successful if that building occurs on high-quality foundations. To echo the Chief of Air Force from his address at yesterday’s remembrance service, it is the people, not the equipment, that have built the Royal Australian Air Force.
One hundred years appears to many of us as a very long time and the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force a distant historical event. But Linda and I have been fortunate in recent days to meet two men who were alive when the formation of the RAAF occurred, both of whom served in the Royal Australian Air Force.
At RAAF Base East sale last week, we celebrated Bruce Robertson’s 101st birthday. Bruce served as a Wireless Operator in 30 Squadron in Papua New Guinea in World War 2. And, today, just prior to this parade, I presented John Cockburn, a Telegraphist in WW2, with his Australian Service Medal. John, who is with us in the audience, turns 100 today. John, congratulations!
The site of our parade today, Yarralumla, shares a slice of history with the Air Force’s people. On 4 April 1941, two planes collided and crashed nearby. Governor-General Lord Gowrie, Acting Prime Minister Arthur Fadden and the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Burnett, were in a meeting and upon hearing the collision went to the aid of the pilots and any passengers. Lord Gowrie and Fadden rushed to the Yarralumla Woolshed where Rupert Baster, a pilot from No. 4 Squadron who was on a training flight, had landed after parachuting. Burnett rescued Barry Cox, the pilot of the other plane, from No.4 Squadron, who had parachuted safely. Cox’s passenger, Corporal William Ramsay, died when the plane crashed in a nearby pine plantation.
It is the Bruces, Johns, Amandas, Elizabeths, Barrys and Ruperts and, today, a myriad of people with names from around the globe, who have enabled the Royal Australian Air Force to reach the heights of service that it has achieved.
The Air Force 2021 motto is: ‘Then. Now. Always.’ Over the last century during times of war, and in more recent conflicts, the Royal Australian Air Force has demonstrated its capability, adaptability and reliability in helping to keep us safe and preserving our national interests both here and overseas. The RAAF story today – in the ‘now’ – is equalling compelling.
While much of the RAAF’s work is undertaken on bases and in Defence precincts where personnel are by and large out of public view, there is no mistaking the reassuring presence of the Royal Australian Air Force in times of disaster. A fine example of this capability was splashed across our television screens during the 2020 bushfires. Iconic images of military transport aircraft trying to land in zero visibility conditions at Mallacoota and the subsequent evacuation of local residents is a reminder of the RAAF’s responsiveness to disasters and a willingness of members to accept personal risk.
We have seen further examples of that service over the past couple of weeks during the flood emergency in New South Wales and Queensland.
These historic and contemporary examples of service should give us enormous confidence in the capability of the Royal Australian Air Force to be there for Australia and Australians into the future; the ‘always’.
From a personal perspective, having worked alongside the RAAF and its people for more than 40 years, I can vouch for its professionalism, drive, pride in service, and pride in outcomes. I have every confidence in our Air Force of the future.
The same three words – then, now, always – can also be used to describe the support provided by the loved ones of our Service personnel. I say to those families – thank you for the love, support and encouragement you have provided. You are as much a part of today’s celebrations as those who served in uniform.
I congratulate all on parade today and thank all who helped arrange this event.
On behalf of all Australians, I congratulate all current and past Royal Australian Air Force members on your magnificent achievements over the last century.
Per ardua ad astra [‘through adversity to the stars’].