Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (16:42): I am proud to associate myself with and be part of this motion on the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.
They shall grow not 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.
Far from ‘the years condemn’, the opposite is true for those who fought in World War I. Anzac Day is not a commemoration hanging on by its fingertips. In fact, the further away we are from the actual event the day commemorates, the brighter the eternal flame burns. In my electorate of McMillan, people from all walks of life, me among them, honour the memory of the fallen in dawn ceremonies that, as we all know, feature brass bands and choirs, stirring speeches and sleepy children laying wreaths at cenotaphs. But our enthusiasm for the day may not always have been as strong.
Back in 1919, the Australian Labor Party convention wanted to eliminate from all school texts any reference to any commentary extolling wars, battles or heroes of past wars. In 2008, the Australian War Memorial’s then principal historian, Dr Peter Stanley, wrote:
… Anzac Day from the early 1920s, remained neglected as an historical event. For 50 years after Bean—
published his definitive official history very few seemed interested in the Great War.
For a time, in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, it seemed that Anzac Day might vanish into obscurity, like Empire Day.
But an assertive Australian national identity has returned to affirm the connection between Gallipoli and nationhood.
In that same insightful article, Dr Stanley asserted:
Nations create the history they need.
That begs the question: why do we need to affirm the connection between what those soldiers did and who we are today? Why do we need that history? The bravery of those who suffered in the face of mud, blood and bullets can never be questioned. The horrific nature of what occurred at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in many other battles throughout World War I twists the mind. The more you read about it, the more dramatic, sad and tragic it becomes.
The aftermath of that terrible time left a stain on Australia that wormed its way down the generations. If the same commitment in relative terms were made today it would mean 2.5 million of Australia’s best and brightest enlisting for service, with 350,000 of them never returning home and a further one million coming back but being far from what they were—damaged forever, shell-shocked with missing limbs and haunted by a past they could never outrun.
There is no question in my mind that those men and women who endured the bleakest and most savage of injustices 100 years ago should always be remembered. Anzac Day reflects on the horrors of war and the carnage that comes in the wake of such sacrifice. However, as the years progress and our slim generational attachment to the fallen becomes ever slimmer, I begin to wonder what drives people to remember and to commemorate. Young people, born generations after that tragic time, are helping to lead the charge to make sure we never forget. In the information age they are searching for an identity, an essential answer to what makes us Australian. The Anzac story is one to which they come back again and again. They, like me, are astounded at the sacrifice of that generation. They, like me, probably wonder whether we would be as strong again. I would like to think so. Perhaps we do not just make the history we need but keep the history we need—the history that reminds us what it means to be truly heroic, truly brave; the history that reminds us what Australians are capable of.
The Anzac story is an important narrative for a small country. It is a story that has often been retold in many guises. It is reflected in any tale of Aussie success or failure, whether it be Bradman, Freeman, Flynn, Mawson or anyone else who has stepped onto the world stage. Australia in the true Anzac spirit is a small nation that fights above its weight. This is our mythology, our reality. We know we can do anything, for it is in our DNA and it is in our history.
But why so many before dawn? Why do we stand there in the darkness before the sunrise? Why do people begin coming to the ceremony out of the darkness: children, Scouts, Guides and people by their hundreds? What is calling them to come out? Is it the Anzac spirit? Is it spiritual? Is it the unseen? Is it the blood of the Anzacs and Turks crying out through the generations, ‘We are not to be forgotten’? The blood of the finest generation of men cries out for justice from a failed, fatal conflict in a foreign war on foreign soil. Is it the blood of the fallen crying out from a cenotaph, ‘We were sacrificed on the altar of futility’? Is that what this generation identifies? Or could it be the most human of emotions? Is it grief, secretly passed through the generations by the thoughts and actions of their parents and grandparents? It is a response that grows over the years rather than diminishes. Is it that call to remember? The question for me is to be answered by other generations not this one. I just note the call.
I would like to mention, as I conclude, those who helped us with the local Anzac commemorative grants: Steve Moy, Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks, Lenoar Gullquist, Ray James, Perce Brewer, Ron Blaire and Colin Teese. They did a marvellous job. It was an honour to work with them. It was an honour to see the programs that they put together in this celebration.
This is a sombre moment. I heard the member for Wide Bay, the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking about his electorate and the establishment of the monuments that were there to represent those who survived Gallipoli and were then tragically mowed down in the next tranche of the war. I put the question to the parliament today and to the Deputy Prime Minister: could we send our children to that again? Could we send our 18- and 19-year-olds to that again? Like the Deputy Prime Minister, I was asked on behalf of the federal government to attend ceremonies a couple of years ago. We were asked to take a tiny cross made by kids from Tasmania and place it on one of the crosses. It is unimaginable. If the guns and the bullets did not get them, the conditions certainly did. Even though I said in my speech that I would like to think we would be as brave and as strong as they were, I would have to say to the House that I do not know whether we could be. But remember that this nation was believed to be absolutely under threat. We owe them a great deal for their sacrifice.