Anzac Day Dawn Service
My fellow Queenslanders
We join this morning on land sacred to traditional owners and to those who have come after.
We acknowledge Elders, and all those who will never grow old, as we grow old.
We are here together in anticipation of the dawn … “the promise” of the dawn, usually thought of optimistically.
Yet this morning we immediately remember the men of the Australian Imperial Force, crouched together in boats on the other side of the world, 103 years ago, awaiting their call to battle.
Among those men were many Queenslanders, of the brave 9th Battalion, the first recruited in Queensland, among the first ashore that day; among the first to die.
Under a hellish hail of shells and shrapnel, targeted by sniper fire, the men who came to know themselves as ANZACs fought with intensity and courage.
These were, for the most part, untried men from the cities, towns and villages of our then-very young Commonwealth.
They were volunteers who came together willingly.
They formed an army which fought with bravery, resourcefulness and discipline. And as we tend now to say, they “looked out” for each other. They were mates – together - until the end.
They were by no means professional soldiers. Yet part of their enduring legacy was to crystallize the ideal of the Australian soldier, the ideal admired and emulated ever since.
The soldiers were tended by medics and chaplains, stretcher bearers and nurses for whom the war was a nightmare’s length from the calm of Federation Australia, yet whose devotion created an ideal of service beyond all praise.
Many of those who fought at Gallipoli, went on to fight for victory on the Western Front.
Others nobly joined up to fill the gaps of the fallen – to fight for the many loved brothers, fathers and friends who, so sadly, never came home.
Gallipoli … then the Western Front: 100 years ago, on the 24th and 25th of April 1918 – the third anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli - the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades led the British counter-attack on the crucially important French town of Villers-Bretonneux.
It was a surprise attack under cover of darkness – unconventional strategy, ferocious in the delivery.
Fierce and tenacious, those courageous, committed soldiers triumphed over the odds, and that remarkable action effectively ended the German offensive which had begun on the 21st of March 1918 with prospects of German success; the Australian counter-attack turned the tide of the war.
Beyond the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery there stands the imposing Australian National Memorial, high on a hill.
On that memorial are movingly inscribed the names of the 10,772 Australians who died in France, with no known grave: we know who they were, but their resting places are known but to God.
This year we mark the last centenary of the First World War, and so this year we look back with accentuated awe and sorrow; we look back upon the terrible price paid by our young nation for victory, but that was the victory which cemented the freedoms we are so privileged to enjoy today.
Why do I say “privileged”? It is because human history demonstrates the competition of ideologies.
Our society, thanks in large part to these noble Anzacs and their heirs, remains among the free-est in all the world.
So many joined to produce this outcome.
From an Australian population of just under 5 million people, as many as 417,000 enlisted, 332,000 served overseas, 152,000 were wounded and 61,000 never came home.
This morning we remember, with great sorrow, the widows and orphans of War, the mothers and fathers who lost their sons; we acknowledge the holes torn in the fabric of the nation’s families; a loss still felt today.
The Empire for which they fought has faded into remote history, though that Empire translated into our much valued Commonwealth. Today we gratefully honour the memory of all peoples who served side-by-side with Australians.
And we particularly acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of New Zealanders, the people of our much respected neighbour nation ever linked with ours in the sacred name, “ANZAC”.
This extraordinary altruism continues to enrich our humanity …. We acknowledge the heirs to the Anzacs, the members of the Australian Defence Force today serving at home, and far from home, through Operations Accordian, Aslan, Manitou, Mazurka, Okra, Paladin, Resolute and Highroad. And we recognize sincerely the cost of their service, to their families.
With this recognition, we express profound gratitude and respect for this willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve the nation of Australia.
As we have all come here this morning, proudly in our own individual ways, I want to tell you that 103 years ago, as news of the Gallipoli campaign filtered home, a groundswell movement gathered pace, and in the hearts of grieving but grateful Australians, a promise was made to remember always the sacrifice of those who wore our uniforms, those who served in our name.
We are known as a people who keep promises.
On this day we are here, very early in the day – unified, respectful and grateful; we are together at countless war memorials, large and small around our nation, and so many of them in our great State of Queensland – so many of them in our regional centres, and there will be Queensland commemorations today in population centres of not only many thousands, but also hundreds, even dozens … and then we are together across the nations, with commemorations over the seas, at Anzac Cove in Turkey, at Villers-Bretonneux in France, at Ypres in Belgium, at Kranji in Singapore, at Hellfire Pass on the River Kwai in Thailand, at Sandakan in Malaysia and on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
Through two world wars, through conflicts from Korea to Malaya and Borneo, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, passing more than a century, we are here today, together, expressing our reverent respect, indeed veneration, for those who have served, continue to serve, and who have given even their very lives in service of our country…of us.
As to the spirit pledged to us by those who sacrificed their tomorrows for our today: may we vow to honour their pledge with sincerity and devotion; for if we do, their sacrifice will not have been in vain.
And so together, my Queenslanders, unified this morning in front of this Eternal Flame, I ask that we renew our solemn promise: We Will Remember Them.