Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023


Holocaust Remembrance Day, Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon

8:55 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

During the month of April two incredibly important commemorations occurred in Brisbane in my state of Queensland. The first was the Holocaust Remembrance Day service, which took place on 16 April. We should remember and we should note in this place that this year is the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which was brutally put down by the Nazi regime, but one reflects a great heroism of those who participated, and pay respect to their courage. It was a very moving service this year, and I was particularly touched by the contribution of a number of young leaders from the Jewish community who made extraordinarily thoughtful presentations.

One of those contributors was Ms Hannah Mendels, who is the Queensland director of Betar, which is, I understand, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Rather than me express my views with respect to the commemoration, this important remembrance service, let me quote from Hannah's speech on the day.

Today is a day of mourning, a day of commemoration for who and what we lost during the Holocaust. As well, it serves as a reminder of what we have been through as are people and what we have overcome. It urges us to be proud of our heritage and wear our Judaism with pride. I like to think of my grandparents not just as survivors but as heroes. Them amongst thousands of others, fighting for our right to be Jewish, fighting for us to be here today, standing together, with our Jewish community honouring their memories. For that I am proud.

Well, can I say to you, Hannah, I am sure that the Jewish community is extraordinarily proud of you, of the leadership which you are providing to the youth movement. I can hardly imagine how proud your grandparents would have been to have a granddaughter who gave such a moving speech at that commemoration on 16 April.

The second important commemoration took place on 30 April, and was hosted by my dear friends in the Vietnamese community. It commemorated the fall of Saigon to the communists on 13 April 1975. This year is the 48th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. It commemorated the loss of life, the sacrifices made, especially by those members of the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam, who fought courageously when many of their previous allies and international supporters did not support them in those final years. It also commemorates some 800,000 Vietnamese who lost their lives fleeing Vietnam after the communist takeover. It is a blessing, a true blessing, for this country that so many Vietnamese found a home in Australia. Our Australian-Vietnamese community is now an outstanding chapter in our history of Australia and makes such a wonderful contribution on so many levels, so I was extremely proud to take the opportunity to commemorate this very significant anniversary, tragic anniversary, with our wonderful Australian-Vietnamese community.

I'm sure the best respect I can pay to our Australian Vietnamese community is to tell the story of one of the Australian soldiers who fought in Vietnam and who passed away this year. At the outset, I would like to thank my good friend Aunty Peggy Tidyman for bringing this matter to my attention.

Mr Richard 'Dickie' Bligh passed away this year, having courageously served his nation and fought for the freedom of the Vietnamese against the communists in that tragic war. Richard Bligh was a proud Wakka Wakka man who was born in Kingaroy. He spent a time living in Mitchell in my home state of Queensland, and he married Carol Fogarty from Barcaldine. He and Carol had three children, Sally, Janelle and Terrence. Terrence actually followed his father in the Australian Army. Rather than me saying some words about Dickie Bligh, it's probably best if I quote from some of his comrades in what they said about him.

One of those comrades was a former Governor-General, Major General the Hon. Michael Jeffrey, who was his commanding officer in Vietnam and a long-time friend. This is what the former Governor-General said about Richard 'Dickie' Bligh:

… Corporal Richard "Dickie" Bligh was "one of my best junior battlefield leaders in Vietnam" and a friend to this day. "In the trauma of war, we all learned that it was not the colour of one's skin that mattered, it was the colour of one's heart …

One of his comrades at the funeral, which was held in Perth on 30 March 2023, also told some stories which gave an insight into the regard in which he was held by his fellow soldiers. Dickie—Richard Bligh—was a forward scout, so he served in one of the most dangerous positions you could possibly serve in that conflict. He was deeply respected and deeply regarded.

I think this story reflects better than any how deeply regarded he was. In the Australian War Memorial there was a photo of Corporal Joe Danyluk with an Aboriginal soldier taken on the Long Hai Hills taken in February 1970. Both of these soldiers were from 6th Platoon. This story is in the words of one of the veterans that served with Dickie Bligh. This veteran had gone to the Australian War Memorial and seen the photo:

When Corporal Danyluk saw this, he was incensed—

He was incensed, because what he saw was a photograph of a corporal, who was identified, but the actual caption of the photograph was the corporal with an Aboriginal soldier, so it didn't actually give Dickie's name.

He rang the Australian War Memorial and told them there was not just an Aboriginal soldier, that was Lance Corporal Richard 'Dickie' Bligh. Suffice to say, the caption was rectified and the Australian War Memorial duly apologised. This typifies the respect and esteem held by his fellow soldiers. Your past will always be remembered, and at your reunions and get-togethers your mates and fellow soldiers will have many stories to tell. Rest easy, old mate.

That's a quote from one of those who served with Richard 'Dickie' Bligh.

I pay tribute to Richard 'Dickie' Bligh. I pay tribute to his family. I acknowledge their deep loss and their sorry business, and I pay tribute in this year, which we note is the 50th anniversary of the return of Australian soldiers from Vietnam. I pay tribute to all those who served in Vietnam.


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