Thursday, 10 May 2018
Statements on Indulgence
Battle of Coral/Balmoral: 50th Anniversary
Mr Speaker, on indulgence—we acknowledge and honour the two Vietnam veterans who are joining us today—Bill McLellan, who has joined us with his wife, Kathy, and Harry Northwood, who has joined us with his wife, Marietta—who served in 1RAR Task Force, and, 50 years ago, were engaged in Australia's longest and most costly battle of the Vietnam War at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. The Australian Task Force commander called those battles some of the heaviest fighting that the Task Force ever undertook.
Twenty-six Australians made the supreme sacrifice in 3½ weeks at Coral and Balmoral. A hundred Australians were wounded. Five New Zealanders and five American soldiers were also wounded. At least 270 of the Vietnamese forces were killed, although we'll never know, of course, the true figure.
The battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral are not widely known in Australia, yet they are among the most important of our country's long commitment to the war in Vietnam. We remember all of those who served in those battles of Coral and Balmoral. We remember all of the Australians who served in Vietnam. We honour all of the Australians who have served, to fight and die to secure the freedoms we enjoy in this parliament. It is no accident that we look across the lake at the Australian War Memorial that honours the sacrifice of those men and women. Over 100,000 through all the generations have made the supreme sacrifice to keep us free, and their descendants are doing so today.
On Sunday there will be a memorial service at the Vietnam Forces National Memorial to honour the veterans of the battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. At that service I know that all will remember that the best way to honour the veterans, whether of the Vietnam War or of a century ago in the trenches of Flanders—the best way to honour those men and women who fought, served and died—is to support the service men and women, the veterans and their families of today.
On indulgence, I want to join the Prime Minister in welcoming Bill and Kathy McLellan and Harry and Marietta Northwood to the House today. In welcoming you we pay tribute to your 26 brothers who never returned home and the 100 who were wounded over this 3½-week battle. Indeed, we also pay tribute to the 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam conflict. Many of the nashos were barely 20 and the regulars often enlisted at 19.
We also acknowledge that all too often in those weeks and months after young Australians had fought for their lives many found themselves back here in Australia. The conflict you fought in was hard to imagine, but it's hard to imagine also coming back here, being demobilised, handing back your rifle and your pay book, and being plunged straight back into civilian life, with no counselling, no rehabilitation and no attempt to reconcile what you had endured in the realities of war with the realities of civilian life. It is the hard truth as we approach the memorial this weekend that too many Australians were sent into jungle dark and they were shunned on their return.
These words of a serviceman are inscribed on the Vietnam memorial, not very far from where we are here now: 'I don't seem to have many friends since I came home. If you weren't there—you can't understand.' You remind us today, gentlemen, that not only did we fail to understand then but, with a few noble exceptions, we failed to try. You remind us, gentlemen, that for too long Australia closed its eyes and its heart to our Vietnam veterans. Thank you, Bill, Harry and all those who served in that conflict. We renew our most sacred promise: lest we forget.