Monday, 9 November 2020
Private Members' Business
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year Australia pauses. We as a nation collectively bow our heads and reflect on the supreme cost, the pain and the sacrifice that paid for our freedom, our security and our sovereignty—just one day a year. For the brave men and women who serve, who have served, or indeed are affected by the sacrifice that goes with defending our nation, these thoughts go on each day. At ceremonies right across the nation, many speeches will talk of the bravery, the loss and the torment of these same young Australians and their sacrifice in defending Australia and its interests. I believe, deep in my heart of hearts, that no words, no speech, much less my own today, will even come close to truly articulating the degree of solemn gratitude that is deserved in remembering the lives lost in war or conflict.
Instead, the day to me is the solace that follows such speeches. It comes in the power of the silence, for it is in the silence that we, as a grateful nation, can begin to embark on our profound act of remembrance. The very first Armistice Day, in 1918, followed the silence—the silence of the guns on the Western Front, the silence over 46,000 young Australians, scattered across the scarred landscape of the Western Front, a place described by Charles Bean as being 'more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any place on earth'. On the Gallipoli Peninsula, again, there was silence: silence filled the 8,141 young Australians who lay dead on that ground; silence embraced their first landing there; and, ironically, it would be silence that would cover their tactical withdrawal.
Regrettably, war seldom remains silent for long. Following the deafening fog of the Second World War in Tobruk, in the Pacific, in Singapore and New Guinea, and in conflicts right across the world, again there was silence: the endless silence of over 27,000 young Australian service men and women. Silence followed in military funerals of more Australians in Korea, in Malaya, in Borneo. Young Australian forward scouts moved in silence as they closed to contact in close country in the jungles in Vietnam. These same diggers listened to the silence as they stood, too, at the dawn. For it is in the silence of the dawn that the danger comes, and every Australian digger knows that. In the Gulf, in Afghanistan, in Iraq: more funerals, more sacrifice and more silence. In East Timor, the Solomons, Bougainville, the Sinai, Somalia, Rwanda and Mogadishu: again, Australians would be called to keep the silence.
But it is in this very silence that the torment and the scars of war remain. It's in the silence that many service men and women continue to suffer. Many—far too many—are deafened by the silence that they endure each day. Many can't bear the silence. Sadly, many succumb to the silence. Silent, too, are the spouses, the kids, the loved ones who are close to our veterans. They're silent because they don't know what to say. They know that their loved one is suffering. They don't know what to do, so they remain silent. But all they get in return is silence.
So, to every last Australian, when the 11th hour comes—when the haunting sound of the last postbeckons the silence—I'd urge you to all truly pause to reflect on the sacrifice and the torment of war and to truly listen to the sound of the silence. Lest we forget.