Wednesday, 2 December 2020
Sheean, Ordinary Seaman Edward (Teddy)
'Never give in' is the lesson of Teddy Sheean VC's final act of bravery aboard the sinking HMAS Armidale 78 years ago off the coast of Timor. 'Never give in' is the lesson that we should take from the efforts of those many Australians who fought over the years to have Teddy Sheean recognised with the Victoria Cross. Yesterday, 78 years to the day since the death of Ordinary Seaman Sheean and the loss of the Armidale, the Governor-General presented the VC to Teddy Sheean's family at Government House. This was a great day for all Australians, and we can be immensely proud.
Sacrifice is at the very heart of our civic culture. It is the reason that we recognise our service men and women every April 25th, and we pause at 11 am on 11 November of every year to recognise the time when the guns fell silent on the Western Front more than 100 years ago. Teddy Sheean VC exemplifies sacrifice and exemplifies service to others, and we can all picture him at the end covering his mates, with fire blazing away at the Japanese aircraft above, so they could live. He was willing to lay down his life to make that happen. Tasmanians are rightly very proud of Teddy Sheean, and they should be—he is a great Australian.
But Western Australians also share in the pride that Tasmanians have, not just because we're Australians as well but because Teddy Sheean was there that day on 1 December 1942 off the coast of Timor to evacuate members of the 2/2nd Independent Company, which was a commando unit that had fought an almost year-long guerilla campaign against the Japanese in Timor. Eighty per cent of the unit was drawn from Western Australia. It was Teddy Sheean, with the Royal Australian Navy, who was there to pick them up and give them a ride home. And Teddy Sheean died doing just that. In my view, it's a beautiful picture of Australian federation at work on the battlefield.
In a year like 2020, where our federation has been under immense strain, it's great to go back to historical examples like this one and recognise that, yes, we are proud of our state identities but that, in the end, we are all Australians and, on the battlefield, we don't make any distinctions. So Western Australians shared in the joy of seeing Teddy Sheean recognised yesterday at Government House.
Let me finish by reading the final part of his citation:
Ordinary Seaman Sheean's actions disrupted and distracted the enemy from strafing and killing his defenceless shipmates in the water. He sacrificed his life trying to save his shipmates and, despite his wounds, he continued firing the gun until the ship sank and took him to his death. … His heroism became the standard to which the men and women of the Australian Defence Force aspire.