Tuesday, 24 November 2015
I rise this evening at a time of profound sorrow for the French nation and for all peace-loving nations and peoples across the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people, with those who have lost love ones and with the injured. Those who have committed this dreadful outrage must not win. They will not win.
It is difficult, I know, but even at the worst of times, during times of utter despair, we must continue to work for peace and democracy. Martin Luther King said, 'We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.' So it is with the world today. This was brought home to me in the most touching of ways on the evening of 11 November when I had the privilege of attending a twilight commemorative service at the cenotaph at The Entrance Memorial Park on the Central Coast. This was a very special occasion.
Those who fought in the unimaginable slaughter that was the Great War, and the millions it affected, were changed forever. There was no town or city that was not haunted by the memory of those who left and did not return. It is part of who we are as Australians that we meet to commemorate the sacrifices that have been made in our name and to reflect upon the stark horrors of war then and now as we honour the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who defended us, our values and our way of life.
Since 1927, each evening at the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, buglers have sounded the Last Post to remember those who gave their lives. The Menin Gate contains the names of nearly 56,000 servicemen who died and have no known resting place. At Ypres in Belgium, 13,000 Australian soldiers lost their lives and the memorial contains the names of no fewer than 6,193 who perished. Nearly every community across Australia had at least one soldier who went missing at Ypres.
This November, buglers from the Menin Gate travelled from Belgium to the Central Coast to take part in the Remembrance Day commemoration at The Entrance. This unique twilight event was the product of an enormous amount of hard work by students from the Woy Woy campus of Brisbane Water Secondary College, Kincumber High School and The Entrance campus of the Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College. They worked tirelessly alongside the Last Post Association in Ypres, Belgium, The Entrance Long Jetty RSL Sub Branch and the Australian War Memorial to plan and present the event. I particularly want to acknowledge the leadership and the teaching professionalism of the wonderful Roger Macey, who established an exchange program with his teachers at Woy Woy many years ago. From that small seed, this great event grew; and, along with it, many passionate students of history gained a sense of real understanding of what memorialising our fallen is. Their superb efforts included a series of fundraising events and lobbying of local councils and governments for support in order to be able to finance the buglers' attendance. Students raised the majority of funds from the sale of Peace and Remember Me rose bushes. The outstanding commitment and hard work of these young Australians made the event a truly moving experience for all who attended and I offer them my greatest respect and congratulations. I want to particularly acknowledge Claire Rosier, who wrote and performed a song on the evening that was haunting and amazingly powerful. It really transformed the experience for all of us who were lucky enough to attend that evening. Claire was also featured in a program about this endeavour on the ABC last month.
As we listened to the Last Post played by the Menin Gate buglers at 11 o'clock, we paused to remember those who gave their lives to defend our freedoms and our democratic way of life. To have the Menin Gate buglers on the Central Coast added further poignancy and understanding to the occasion. In addition, the students had been able to identify the names of 18 men from the Central Coast whose names are inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial. Each one was remembered in a special roll of honour as part of the service.
We have been taught yet again that that violent conflict is brutal, traumatic and the most wretched form of conflict resolution. As Herodotus has King Croesus say: 'No-one is fool enough to choose war instead of peace. In peace, sons bury fathers; but in war fathers bury sons.' Too many fathers have had to bury too many sons.
It is at times like these that we can remember, through the work of students like those I met at The Entrance Remembrance Service, the power of hope that education brings and how education can change lives. Events such as this serve to deepen our understanding and to prove that education offers opportunities for reconciliation and regeneration.
I also want to pay tribute to the Central Coast sub branch of the members of the Vietnam Veterans' Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Association. It was a great honour for me to attend the Vietnam veterans day and Battle of Long Tan commemoration event at Ettalong Beach on 15 August this year to remember the heroism and sacrifice of those who were injured and those who lost their lives in the service of their nation. I particularly want to acknowledge the powerful and moving speech of Walter Pearson on that day. He closed with these comments:
We should never forget that the product of war is not glory, honour and sacrifice, despite the flags and bugles. The product of war is death and destruction, physical and mental, to soldiers and civilians. And that is why we are here today to remember those men who had their lives stolen from them, torn from them, those men once had a future but now those futures can never be.
On such occasions, as when we gathered at The Entrance, we come to the question of how and why we remember those who fell. I want to acknowledge the speech given at that event by Connor O'Heir from Kincumber High School. Connor reminded us about what was going on:
We remember their service in not only defending Australia, but also those in distant nations involved in one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Whether it was the Australians serving in Ypres or Gallipoli, Crete or Kokoda, the Battle of Kapyong or Long Tan, or contemporary missions, we all owe a great debt to those who have defended this nation, its people and the people of the world.
Connor reminds us how important it is that we do not fall into the trap of celebration rather than commemoration. These events are a time for us to remember the anguish of war. It is not a time to allocate right or wrong nor a time to glorify war; rather, it is a time to reflect upon the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price in whatever conflict they fell and wherever they may rest.
We remember Private Richard George Buckton, born in Wyong on the Central Coast. On 7 October 1916, George enlisted, and four weeks later he left for Europe and the Western Front, never to return home. He served in Belgium and in France and was killed in action on 4 October 1917. He was 25. He has no known grave. His obituary in the Gosford Times, written by his mother and brother, David, read:
In loving memory of my dear son and brother, Private Richard George Buckton, who was killed in France on 4 October 1917. He was only a Private in battle, a part of the great rank and file, but we at home remember the day he left us with a smile. He laid down his life for his country, in response to his dear country's call. Australia is proud of our hero, who was only a private, that's all.
Private Buckton's name is one of the 18 Central Coast men whose names are inscribed on the Menin Gate.
What I was reminded of from attending The Entrance service is how an important part of the education of our children is to explore how we can educate for peace and for democracy. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Like peace, it has to be fought for and it has to be won. It is a battle that occurs every day. Much will be written and said in the coming days about the heartbreak, evil and appalling atrocity of events in Paris and the support we must as a nation offer. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that, when reflecting upon these events and upon those who have given their lives for us, it remains our role to reinforce our commitments to work for peace and democracy. In spite of the pain and anguish being felt around the world, we have no other real choice. Sometimes peace and democracy have been won and have to be won on the battlefield, but it can also be won in our classrooms. That means that within our schools we can teach for the society we live in now or we can teach for the society we want to see.
What is also important is that there is no educational program that will convince students that they have a role to play in society and that their voice is significant, unless they are provided with a role and a voice.
What I learnt from the remembrance service at The Entrance and what has been reinforced in the few days since is that our young people are our greatest hope and that, as a nation, this is where our future lies. Vale those who have passed in the course of fighting for peace.