Bulimba Memorial Park, Brisbane
25 APRIL 2012
Soldiers of Australia.
Veterans of Australia.
Some may ask, after 97 years, what more is to be said of ANZAC.
The official history has been written.
The great speeches have all been made.
The trees planted as here in this memorial park, each one strong, old, established, each one of them here in memory of one of our local lads who went abroad to war only never to return.
The names Jacko, Simpson and the others, and their gallant deeds, all now etched into the nation’s memory.
The places, Gallipoli, Lone Pine and Suvla Bay, now the commonplace names of our streets, of our towns and of our cities.
The sounds, the bugle, the thud of cannon fire, the shrill whistle of shrapnel, echo still across the chasms of time.
The smells too. The smell of rotting flesh, the unmistakable stench of war, of all wars since time in memorial, compounded still by the sheer scale of this first, most modern carnage – killing now occuring on an industrial scale.
And then there is touch – the letters home from the front, epistles of hope crafted in a sea of despair, but as real, tangible, physical objects, paper held by a soldier’s muddied and sometimes trembling hand, loved with the ink of his pen, then held again by mothers, by wives, by sons and daughters, a world away from the slaughter.
These letters are like sacraments of a secular world, sacraments as we were once taught, the outward, physical sign of an inward spiritual event, transmitting life from the dead to the living.
In some senses, they are the epistles of our nationhood.
Signaller Ellis Silas of the 16th Battalion writes a few weeks after the Gallipolli landing, he says;
“The roll is called – how heart breaking it is – name after name is called, the reply a deep silence which can be felt, despite the noise of the incessant cracking of rifles and screaming of shrapnel. There are few of us left to answer our names – just a thin line of weary, ashen faced men, behind a mass of silent forms, once our comrades – there they have been dead for days, we have not had time to bury them.”
So to answer the question – what more is to be said? – I say a library of some 9000 volumes for that is the number of our own we committed to Gallipoli’s soil, a soil they nourish still.
These men, and the men and women who down the ages, proudly have worn the uniform of Australia, speak to us with fresh, clarion, clear voice each ANZAC dawn.
They and their voices burst through the acrid cynicism of our age like a shaft of unalloyed light.
They bring to us old values for this our new country – strong values, true values, values that have weathered the ages, values that have stood the test of time, values that soar above the petty controversies of our day, values that declare themselves still as our nation’s compass, values that are tested, values that are sure, values to help chart our future course, if we have eyes to see and hearts to hear.
For if it were not so, why do we gather now in thousands upon thousands, and more thousands each year as the distance between now and the time of ANZAC passes. We are here because these values of ANZAC mean something to us that is real today and they offer hope for tomorrow.
So what are these values and what to do they say to us and what hope do they offer us today.
Courage, when we feel we have none.
Fortitude, when we too readily complain about the tiniest hurdles in life.
Determination, when it’s so easy to simply fall away.
Solidarity (what they called mateship) when the ethos of our age is often to look after number one.
Sacrifice, speaking to an age when we demand everything today, if not yesterday.
A passionate sense of national purpose, now seen by some as unfashionable, if not down right extreme.
Civility, as reflected in the ANZAC’s attitude to their foes the Turks (and the Turks to them), now speaks to an age when civility now seems often to be dead – as people tear each other to pieces, without even the excuse of war.
These are the values (just some of the values we see, sense and smell in what we still call ANZAC today) which confront afresh each April amidst the resignation, the malaise and the torpor of our current age.
They speak to us of new possibilities for the future.
They speak of a positive vision for our future.
They speak to us of the sheer perseverance that we need to get to that future
They say no, resoundingly no, to the despair that sometimes characterises our age.
Instead they say to us; lift up your eyes and with the eyes of our national imagination, imagine the country that we dare to be.
One which incorporates this ancient spirit of ANZAC into our modern way of life – and to do so, build the nation’s house on the surest of foundations – foundations of courage, of determination, of ingenuity, of mateship.
For otherwise, their sacrifice is in vain.
And the nation they fought for is little more than pedestrian, and every man’s journey, an unremarkable place.
I believe by instinct we Australians choose ANZAC and we are at our best when we so choose and respond to the better angels in our nature, and our absolute worst when we do not and we meekly submit to the spirit of the age.
Beyond these things, I believe the ANZACs would have us reflect on one further thing still.
Yes, they say to us honour the dead, and the values for which they died.
Yes, they say support the living.
And most importantly tend to the wounded.
We will soon have among us tens of thousands of returned servicemen and women from Iraq, from Afghanistan from Timor and from other parts of the world.
Our solemn oath to the ANZACS (and through them, through their RSL) is to look after these modern day ANZACs as well - who will march in greater and greater numbers in the ANZAC parades of the future.
This is the solemn duty of all Governments.
The solemn duty of the RSL.
The duty of all of us gathered here today in solemn ceremony.
Lest we forget the ANZACs of the past. Lest we forget the ANZACs of today. Lest we forget the values of ANZAC as we build the Australia of tomorrow.
Lest we forget.