(McMillan) (16:55): It is a Monday morning, Madam Speaker, and I am in Princes Way, Drouin. People are coming out of the early morning light. I am sitting in my car waiting for Michelle Grattan or Paul Bongiorno to come on Fran Kelly’s national program, to give me an early morning fix. It is Vietnam Veterans Day. I have been invited by the local Vietnam veterans to be at Drouin cenotaph at eight o’clock to say a few words. I recognise Gary Elliott and his wife Elma. I see a lady and reckon it is Heather Sell. I see a mobility trolley drift in and then another mobility trolley drift in. People driving along Princes Way would not have had a clue why these older people seemed to be gathering around the cenotaph. The people walking on the footpath would not have had a clue what these people were about to do. One of them had a wreath. They were setting up a microphone. They were going to make it quite special.
I said to Peter Liefman, ‘Why am I here? Where are the councillors? Where are the other people who normally attend these functions?’ He said, ‘No, Russell, we’re only inviting you, just you.’ They did not care whether I was Labor, Liberal, Green, free man or Democrat; they wanted their local federal member to join them there on that Monday morning. I was there representing this parliament and I was proud to be there. I was honoured that they asked me. I said a few words but they were totally and absolutely inadequate for the service that the people who were gathered, them and their families, gave to this nation in the Vietnam War—totally inadequate but I did the best I could.
Then Peter Liefman said, ‘I’m going to read the ode but I want to say a few words first.’ He said a few words and then said, ‘I want to read this part of the ode.’ I listened very carefully because then, in strong words that echoed around the cenotaph and through that early morning street, where no-one was moving, although the traffic was still flowing, Peter said:
They went with songs to battle, they were young—
Then he hesitated and I realised that this man was talking about himself —
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow—
We have all seen people who are a glow—
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted—
And he made this point—
They fell with their faces to the foe.
He was making his point in that early morning light in Drouin that they were courageous young men from this country who we sent to the Vietnam War. Then he said:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
With that, as happens at every one of those services, they pressed the button on the machine to play the obligatory cornet. We waited and we waited but it did not work. We waited some more. They said, ‘We’ll fix this.’ Then they pressed the button and the last post was played.
Madam Speaker, we owe an unfathomable debt to all those who have served this country in all facets of war. We just heard the member for Ryan talk about the embedding of the armed services within a program you have played a very major part in over time. I want to recognise those Vietnam vets at that place, in Drouin, that morning, remembering their friends and remembering what they had been through. I was very proud to be the member of parliament in Drouin that morning representing you, Madam Speaker.