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Saturday 25 April 2020
My fellow Queenslanders…
We had expected that on ANZAC Day 2020 the dawn light would once again find thousands of us in Brisbane’s beautiful ANZAC Square, refurbished in 2019 with great care and respect, and at hundreds of memorials all around our State, heads bowed in silent tribute to the fallen.
That was not to be.
The COVID 19 pandemic has brought about dramatic changes in our lives.
Even so, it was unthinkable to us, as a people, that ANZAC Day 2020 would be allowed to pass unheralded.
We can still show respect to those who gave their lives in war for our sake, and indeed all those who have served in Australia’s armed forces in war and in peace.
We simply have had to find other ways to pay our respects.
Many thousands of us will greet dawn on balconies and driveways, candle flames cradled in our hands, flickering like the spirit of remembrance within.
Others still will gather respectfully and thankfully in their living rooms before television and radio broadcasts and livestreams.
These are private acts with a profound public purpose, to solemnly remember extraordinary people.
For our powerful and tenacious connection with the 25th of April is a tribute to those who established ANZAC Day in Queensland in January 1916, a matter of months after the ANZACs waded ashore at Gallipoli.
Their foresight has ensured that great feats of arms by Australians over more than a century now ring proudly in our collective memory – Gallipoli, Villiers Bretonneux, Beersheba, El Alamein, the Kokoda Trail, the Coral Sea, Long Tan, and many more.
As we face the current health crisis together, it is also fitting to recall that even after the guns fell silent there was yet another arduous battle to face – saving the lives of wounded Australians.
Australian doctors and nurses were on the front line of this fight. And while there are many stories of their exceptional devotion and courage, one such story will serve today to represent them all.
That is the story of Sister Constance Keys, born in tiny Mount Perry, west of Bundaberg, who enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1914 and served in Egypt, the United Kingdom and on the Western Front.
Fortunately for later generations, Sister Keys’ letters and diaries from that time were generously donated by her family to the State Library of Queensland.
The physical demands on medical staff were enormous. In a Cairo hospital, Sister Keys worked in operating theatres for 12 hours a day tending to wounded soldiers, many evacuated from Gallipoli.
She also faced the crushing emotional demands of her work. Despite the herculean efforts of medical staff, men died from wounds and disease in heartbreaking numbers. Sister Keys wrote: ‘I could cry all day … but I have no time’.
But nurses like Sister Keys did find time to lift the spirits of wounded men, writing letters to soldiers who had received no mail, leaving small gifts for their patients at Christmas.
And they were brave!
On the Western Front, Sister Keys continued to tend to her patients while under fire. She was twice mentioned in despatches, and decorated by the Red Cross and the French Government.
Little wonder that nurses were looked on as ‘angels’!
Across the decades of Australia’s military history, nurses have proved to be a special kind of angel – professional to the core, tough, resilient, enterprising, and compassionate.
Every day they performed the small miracle of bringing human warmth, solace and reassurance to their patients – total strangers – in their care.
Yet even at the end of the Great War in 1918, as Australian troops began returning home, these same nurses and doctors faced another deadly adversary, the Spanish Flu.
That disease arrived in Brisbane in April 1919. State borders were closed, travel restrictions and quarantine measures imposed. Daily life was severely disrupted.
Despite the known risk to themselves, community groups mobilised to help others. In particular, many nurses who had returned from the war formed volunteer groups to provide care for the desperately ill in Brisbane’s suburbs.
As we have seen in recent weeks, community spirit continues to burn brightly among Queenslanders who are finding innovative ways to help others, reassure others, and share their experiences and their humour in adversity.
And our emergency services personnel and medical staff are once more on the front line. They have long been among the most admired and trusted professions in our communities. As they continue to deploy against the invisible foe that is COVID 19, they are showing us again why this is so.
Our health workforce joins so many frontline services to whom our society owes a renewed debt of gratitude: our teachers and school administrators, cleaners, logisticians, supermarket employees, business owners, manufacturers, community services and public servants.
On behalf of all Queenslanders, I thank these consummate professionals for their unshakeable devotion to the well-being of our communities, and extend to them my very best wishes.
They are an inspiration to us all.
So too, as always, are all currently deployed Defence personnel, and, especially today, the ANZACs.
Those thousands of men were untested in battle but found within themselves immense reserves of courage, found the strength to endure the unimaginable for the sake of home, family, State and country.
ANZAC Day is, first and foremost, a day set aside to honour their service and sacrifice with grieving but grateful hearts.
But it is also an opportunity to draw on that ANZAC spirit to renew our sense of mutual obligation.
From the ANZACs’ legendary mateship we learn that everyday words and actions can encourage others, protect others, lift the spirits of others, help them stare down fear and overcome adversity.
That is one of the ANZACs’ great gifts to later generations of Australians.
Let us once again humbly accept this gift, following their example in these distressing times through everyday acts of kindness and encouragement for loved ones and strangers alike.
I encourage you all to accept this gift, and, for those who can, stand in solemn remembrance in your living room, or on your balcony or driveway at six am this morning.
In the inspiring words of the Returned and Services League, the Queensland Branch of which I am so proudly Patron, together, we will ‘Light up the Dawn’.
In that way, we will do the ANZAC spirit even more honour by emerging stronger from adversity to recover and rebuild. More than ever, on this exceptional ANZAC Day 2020: We Will Remember Them.