Tuesday, 12 November 2013
I had the great privilege of attending yesterday's Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in my capacity, for the first time, as the Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC. Yesterday's Remembrance Day service, held in the midst of driving rain, was a very moving ceremony and marked the 95th anniversary of the armistice and the 20th anniversary of the interment of the Unknown Australian Soldier. We laid poppies in the Hall of Memory at the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, and the honourable former Prime Minister Paul Keating fittingly delivered the 2013 Remembrance Day commemorative address, 20 years after his poignant eulogy at the funeral service of the Unknown Australian Soldier. His address from 20 years ago now sits proudly at the Australian War Memorial, just as it does in Villers-Bretonneux in France, and is rightly regarded as one of his finest speeches.
We are less than 12 months away from the anniversary of the commencement of World War I and less than two years away from the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Like many Australians, our thoughts turn to all of those Australians involved in Gallipoli and indeed in every war we have been involved in over the past 100 years.
My grandfather's first cousin Edward Farrell, who had the same name as my grandfather, from the South Australian country town of Balaklava, was one of those at the first landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He was a chemist by profession. Edward enlisted on 24 August 1914 and was a member of the 3rd Field Ambulance—as you will recall, Mr Deputy President, the same regiment as the famous English-born John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the national hero who rescued wounded men with the help of his small donkey.
Edward Farrell and Simpson disembarked at Gallipoli on the same fateful day—25 April 1915. Edward Farrell's total service spanned four years and 185 days. He thankfully survived the Gallipoli landing but was admitted to the Gallipoli Hospital in May 1915 for unknown reasons, and he was employed as a dispenser. In October that year he was transferred to the St George's Hospital in Malta suffering from pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the chest lining. Temporary Corporal Edward Farrell was transferred to France in 1916 and promoted to Staff Sergeant, and in 1917 was attached to the 2nd Battalion infantry division on medical detail. He later rejoined the 3rd Field Ambulance in France, but on 7 March 1918 he suffered wounds and the effects of gassing and was admitted to hospital in Birmingham, England. Despite these injuries, in July that year he returned to France and rejoined the 3rd Field Ambulance. On 21 February 1919, he was discharged due to the cessation of hostilities. Out of his four years and 185 days of service, Edward Farrell had spent four years and 65 days abroad.
I agree with Paul Keating that it is heartening that so many Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from the brave men and women who have fought in wars for more than 100 years. It is also heartening that in Adelaide on Sunday, the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, officially dedicated a major war memorial honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been involved in every conflict and peacekeeping mission from the Boer War to the present day in Afghanistan. I represented the Leader of the Opposition at the event and, as a proud South Australian, I can attest that the memorial in Adelaide's Torrens Parade Ground is both magnificent and culturally sensitive and a fitting tribute to the significant role played by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
As an aside, it was also very pleasing to see our new Northern Territory senator, Senator Peris, attending the ceremony, along with Senator Fawcett, who I see is in the chamber, and a long list of Indigenous elders, dignitaries, military and veterans.
This is the most significant memorial in Australia to be constructed to honour the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women, and the committee which drove its construction aspires for it to be the first to be granted 'National' status. It has a ceremonial centre, including a coolamon holding the ritual fire; the Rainbow Serpent, representing creation; and a granite boulder signifying connection to country. The centre is partially bounded by a beautiful granite wall with badges of the RAN, Army, RAAF and merchant navy. It features two bronze figures representing all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served in the Australian Defence Force. I am proud to say that the former federal Labor government and the South Australian Labor government each donated $143,000 to this fine project.
As Frank Lampard, the deputy chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee, said, the Torrens Parade Ground has 39 memorials—memorials to all manner of men and women who have served in peace and war. There is even a memorial to war horses. The lack of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women is now at an end, Mr Lampard said. He added that the lack of recognition had been due in part to the fact that, in World War I, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were denied citizenship, which meant they were unable to leave Australia without government approval. As a result, they rarely declared their racial identity when signing up. It is a fact that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders served with distinction. They became prisoners of war, they were wounded and they were killed in action. They lie forever in foreign countries. Yet they have been largely invisible when it has come to recognition and commemoration.
As we approach the ANZAC centenary, this memorial is a genuine attempt to understand and recognise the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women. I personally pay tribute to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee, which was formed in 2011 and is jointly chaired by Mr Bill Denny and Sir Eric Neal. The patron of the committee is His Excellency Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, the Governor of South Australia. The vice-patrons are Robert Champion de Crespigny, Mr Bill Cooper, Justice Kevin Duggan, Mr Hugh MacLachlan, Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue and Mr Jock Statton. The committee comprises Justice Duggan, Andrew Fletcher, Perry Gunner, Jane Kittel, Di Laidlaw, Felicity-ann Lewis, Hugh MacLachlan, John Moriaty, Lew Owens, John Roberts, James Sarah, Ray Scott, Frank Seeley, Peter Seibels and Jock Statton.
Restrictions preventing Aboriginal Australians from enlisting were only abandoned in 1949, meaning that it has been very difficult to determine how many Aboriginal service men and women served in our armed forces. The lack of previous identification is the responsibility of us all. To rectify matters, the South Australian government has established the Register of Aboriginal Veterans of South Australia to identify Aboriginal South Australians who served our nation. The move is spearheaded by a team of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal veterans and supported by the Council of Aboriginal Elders of South Australia, the Returned & Services League of Australia (SA Branch), Reconciliation SA and Veterans SA. I was very pleased to hear that this project has already identified 200 Aboriginal service men and women. It is expected to be completed in time for the Centenary of ANZAC in 2015. I encourage other states to follow the lead of South Australia and to look to identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women in their states.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial in Adelaide and the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier at Canberra's Australian War Memorial are places to reflect on the noble sacrifices made by all service men and women of this nation. Both are places where we can be thankful for and in awe of their incredible bravery. As Paul Keating said yesterday:
In the long shadow of these upheavals, we gather to ponder their meaning and to commemorate the values that shone in their wake: courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia.
It was a pleasure to be with Senator Farrell and Senator Peris at the unveiling of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial in Adelaide on Sunday morning. In a spirit of bipartisanship, I recognise the contribution that previous Labor governments have made to help establish the memorial. As has been said, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been serving the people for over 100 years. Generally, however, this has gone unrecognised, despite the fact that they have given, and in some cases given on multiple occasions, above and beyond the call of duty. I am glad to report, as did Senator Farrell, that that situation of no recognition has been remedied as of Sunday morning.
From the Boer War right through until current days, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people have served with distinction in the Defence Force. Numbers are not certain, but it is believed that over 400 Indigenous Australians fought during the First World War. This is all the more incredible when you consider the barriers which were placed in the way of their enlisting. The Defence Act of 1909 specifically prohibited Indigenous Australians from enlisting to serve their country. Despite that, some of them managed, through using different names or even claiming different nationalities, to enlist and to serve the nation. It says something about us as a nation that it was only in October 1917—when volunteers were harder to find and by when the conscription referendum had been lost—that people decided they might start changing their minds about allowing Indigenous people to serve. The fact that so many people served when so many barriers were put in their way is, I think, a testament to their love of country—they actually wanted to serve their people and their nation.
I am sad to say that things did not improve in the period up to the Second World War. Many of those who had served report, and history tells us, that, while they were in uniform, they were actually treated very well—they were treated equally and they received the same pay and conditions. But when they returned they were not welcomed back into our society with the same standing as white Australians who had served in the forces. At the start of World War II, Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were allowed to enlist, but in 1940 the Defence Committee decided yet again that the enlistment of Indigenous Australians was 'neither necessary nor desirable'. But history repeats itself. When the threat from Japan loomed, those restrictions were lessened because the need was there and people were prepared to allow Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to enlist. In 1942, Torres Strait Islanders in particular were in the front line of some of the fighting in the defence of Australia.
As someone who has served in the military as an army officer and a pilot, I wish to identify two firsts to illustrate that we are not just talking about people who served as foot soldiers or who perhaps were doing some other duties. I want to talk about the first Indigenous Australian officer and the first Indigenous Australian pilot. Reg Saunders was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army. He was the son of a World War I veteran and in 1940 he enlisted in the Defence Force and was sent to the Middle East as reinforcement for the 2nd/7th Battalion. Having survived Africa, he went on to Greece and had to remain hidden in Greece for some 12 months after the German victory. He escaped Crete in 1942 and returned to Australia before rejoining his battalion in New Guinea as a sergeant. He remained in action in Papua New Guinea until 1944, when his commanding officer nominated him for officer training.
After a 16-week course, Saunders was finally commissioned in November 1944 and he returned to Papua New Guinea where he continued for the rest of the war, fighting as a platoon commander. He then returned to Australia, having lost his brother in action during the war. That was not enough. Having given that service, when the Korean War broke out he returned to the Army and he went to Korea serving as a captain in 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, fighting at Kapyong, a famous battle. After the war he came back and for a while assisted with national service training before leaving the Army, eventually in 1967 joining the Office of Aboriginal Affairs as a liaison and public relations officer. He had 10 children, and he was finally recognised with the award of an MBE in 1971.
Leonard Waters, who had grown up admiring people like Charles Kingsford Smith and Amy Johnson, joined the RAAF in 1942. Despite the competition and the lengthy training involved in becoming a pilot, he was eventually selected to be a pilot and was assigned to 78th Squadron, situated in Dutch New Guinea, flying Kittyhawk aircraft. He later flew in Borneo. He named his Kittyhawk 'Black Magic', and flew 95 operational sorties. You would imagine that when somebody with those skills—flying 95 operational sorties—came back to Australia they would be recognised for their service and for their skills. Unfortunately, he was not able to find a career in civil flying and he ended up having to go back to shearing for a living.
These examples highlight that, given the opportunity and a fair go, people from any walk of life in Australia—any race or creed—can succeed and contribute to our nation. It is fitting that, now, there is finally an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial in South Australia. It has the aspiration of being a national memorial, and I was pleased to see Her Excellency the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, there to open it. Like Senator Farrell, I commend the memorial committee, chaired by Marj Tripp with Frank Lampard as deputy chair, as well as the fundraising group led by Sir Eric Neal and Bill Denny, who raised the funds for the memorial. There was a range of both government and corporate donors, and a number of us as private donors also had the opportunity to contribute. Thanks go not only to the committee but in particular I would also like to thank the Indigenous service men and women, and their families who released them, who have served this nation for well over 100 years, and I thank also those who are still serving the nation in the uniform of our Army, Navy and Air Force.