Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Davies, Major Bruce, MBE
Today in this place and in front of all Australians I rise to commemorate an Australian soldier, a father, a grandfather and a husband—a man who established an intellectual reputation which was quintessentially Australian—an Australian soldier whose name was Bruce Davies MBE.
As we farewelled Bruce in front of his friends and family last week in Melbourne, I read A Soldier's Prayer, Psalm 144. It was the same prayer I quoted in my first speech several years ago. It's the kind of prayer that robust Christians, not just soldiers, have relied on for centuries when faced with the greatest challenges, not just in war. I repeat it here today in honour of Bruce. It goes:
Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge—
Bruce Davies was an Australian soldier of the Vietnam generation, and I know that, at least later in life, he would have liked that prayer.
Bruce's life was long and productive. He was 77 years old when he died. He was an historian and a distinguished veteran of the Vietnam War. When we met, Bruce and I were the only two full-time officers on the staff to run a battalion of reserve soldiers stretched halfway across South East Queensland. At this stage in our lives, work was central. Just as in our later years we grumbled and mumbled to each other about the world, about military events and about the government, in those days we had a common focus for our frustrations: those unfortunate Reservists in our care. Fortunately, it was before social media, and what we said and what we did is lost forever.
As you can imagine, my entry into politics gave Bruce a whole range of issues to verbally attack me on, but it was with that almost unique characteristic that marks Australian sledging. Bruce, of course, would never miss a chance to use what little influence I might have had as a first-term backbench senator for something he wanted. It was in this period that I heard of his good works in support of the Vietnamese community in Melbourne. He was generous to a fault.
Most recently, the most I had to do with Bruce was over two of his many books. The smallest was a well-researched but very controversial book on a particular battle in Vietnam, which contentiously involved several members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. It was exhaustively researched and very well written. I found it absolutely fascinating. Bruce then asked me to write the foreword to his larger book, a history of the Vietnam War from Australia's point of view. I read the manuscript and once again learnt so much about the war and the context of Australia's involvement. It was a scholarly but very practical work. How strange it was to talk last week with Bruce's daughter, Peta, with the television on in the background, and to suddenly realise that Bruce was talking to us coincidentally from a documentary on the AATTV, the Vietnam training team. I hadn't seen it before, and anyone who wants to understand the compassion of Australian soldiers, especially at a time when we've been presented with the alleged failings of certain soldiers in Afghanistan, should consult this documentary with Bruce and others on the AATTV.
Duty was a topic that Bruce would discuss with me. He recognised that we all have rights but not unfettered ones. We all have rights that we should be free to enjoy. More importantly, he understood instinctively that each of us has commensurate, if not greater, responsibilities to exercise. We saw that when Bruce spoke to us from the AATTV documentary.
Bruce might have had many motivations to be a soldier, but my impression, and his approach to instructing us to be soldiers, was that he believed that, in order to protect what Australia is and what it stands for, soldiers need to prepare and train hard and be the best they can be. Protecting and preserving is best achieved by preparation.
A life well lived is a life worth remembering, and our good friend Bruce Davies is certainly one to remember. Bruce was a proud Australian soldier who served his country for many years. Bruce served with absolute distinction in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, and then twice in the highly decorated AATTV. In the period 1965 to 1970, Bruce spent all or part of every year on combat duty in Vietnam. Vale Major Bruce Davies; you will be both missed and celebrated.