Thursday, 25 April 2013

War is a very personal thing

ANZAC Day Address 
Coorparoo RSL, Brisbane 
25 April 2013 

War is a very personal thing.

Many who have come here to Coorparoo this morning are here because they wish in their own way to honour a father or a grandfather, a mother or a grandmother, a brother or an uncle, a sister or an aunt, a husband, a wife, a partner, a friend or simply the families who have supported them.

We remember their faces. We remember their laugh. We remember their stories.

We cherish their letters and the now battered photographs from times long past.

ANZAC Day is not simply about solemn commemoration.

It is about deeply personal human memories which run deep into the strongholds of our soul.
ANZAC Day is about the ties that bind – the cords that link our past with our present and our future.

And so, as your local Member of Parliament, I honour each and every one of you who have come here today to honour each of your loved ones, who at some time or at some distant place has shared our highest national honour – the honour of wearing the uniform of Australia.

For what you all do today, just by being here, is a good thing – to honour them; and in so doing, honouring the great family that is the nation we proudly call Australia.

War is not only a very personal thing, but war, in fact all Australia’s wars over the last century, affect the lives of all our local communities.

Here in Queensland, some 57,000 young men signed up to serve in the “war to end all wars”.

Together with our fellow Australians, we suffered the highest casualty rate of all Allied countries who fought in the Great War.

Our casualty rate (that is, dead and wounded combined) was 65% – two out of every three who served.

Nor was our own community here in Brisbane spared.

205 of our local lads landed at Anzac – 131 from South Brisbane, 17 from Bulimba, 15 from Kangaroo Point, 11 from East Brisbane, 11 from Woolloongabba, 9 from Coorparoo, 7 from West End, 2 from Morningside and 1 each from Hawthorne and Norman Park.

And many, many others besides, across the many battlefields of the First World war, as reflected in the names carefully inscribed on each of our local war memorials, including this one here at Coorparoo.

Our losses locally carved a hole both in people’s lives and in the wider life of our community.

Families shattered. Fiancés killed, maimed or never the same again. Staff members who never came home to occupy their desks again.

No community, least of all ours, was spared.

And each family and each community has its own, unique story.

My own family story is no different from the rest. My father was an army regular and fought both in Palestine and in the Pacific.

All of my mother’s elder brothers served as well – and all returned.

My older brother has also worn the uniform of Australia as an army regular in Vietnam.

My mother, too, supported the war effort as a nurse – both at the Mater and, toward the end of the war, at what was then called the Greenslopes Military Hospital.

War was also a very personal thing for my mother as it was for so many of the young women of our district.

She told me once she had a beau who she planned to marry after the war.

His name was George. He joined a predominantly Queensland battalion, the 2/25th Battalion, and served both in North Africa and in New Guinea.

Since my mother’s passing some years ago, I’ve now read the letters that she left behind. They’re so much like the many letters exchanged between couples separated by the geography and the uncertainty of war.

His Christmas card from New Guinea (replate with the Australian Military Force’s censor stamp attached) for Christmas of 1942 addressed simply to my mother at the Mater Hospital, South Brisbane.

His earlier letter from Darwin where he declares that “Darwin is a very dull and uninviting place, a terrific contrast with Nambour as a matter of fact…with only about three hotels, one picture theatre and a few shops.”

Before any Territorians here become offended by the comparison, please bear in mind that my mother came from Nambour (as did I) and George it seemed was determined to impress my mother.

The other thing that strikes you about this extraordinary correspondence is that, in North Africa, he begins as Private George Parkinson in 1940, whereas by 1943 he is signing off as “Lieutenant George Parkinson”.

As the ranks thinned, so the promotions accelerated – a further reflection of the tragedy of war.

In July 1943, he wrote from New Guinea that “the tales you read in the newspapers about the mosquitoes are really not exaggerated” and that the local mozzies had a dietary preference for his particular blood type.

A further letter came in October of 1943, this time from the Captain of George’s Unit, informing my mother of Lieutenant George Parkinson’s death in combat against the Japanese at Milne Bay.

My mother wrote a poem in honour of the 2/25th Battalion, which she still recited to us when we were kids.

George’s Captain also wrote of George Parkinson’s life the following – that “George had much, very much to live for” but that he had given his all, quoting the verse:

“Here lie we –
Because we did not choose –
To shame the land –
From which we sprung.

Life is perhaps no great thing to lose –
But young men think it is – 
And we were young.” 
As Prime Minister, it was my honour and privilege to place a flower on George Parkinson’s grave at the Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby.

I read these letters again last night in my study as I prepared for my remarks today.

The paper and the envelopes are now brown and stained with age.

But the message is not.

And these letters are of no greater importance than the hundreds of thousands that have been exchanged between Australian families and their loved ones over a century – all proudly wearing the uniform of Australia.

War, therefore, and its cascading impact down the generations is a very personal thing.

For the future, therefore, let us always be vigilant in our defence.

Resolute in our diplomacy to prevent other wars.

And forever loyal to the memory of all those who have gone before us as we labour for our country’s future.


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