Students’ ANZAC Commemoration Ceremony
Representing the Premier, Assistant Minister Mr Bart Mellish MP; Queensland Senator James McGrath; representing the Lord Mayor, Cr Lisa Atwood; senior defence representatives; distinguished guests; students.
I am pleased we are able to uphold a long and respected tradition by once again coming together in Brisbane’s refurbished Anzac Square, after COVID-19 disrupted last year’s ceremony.
This morning we gather in sombre reflection, not just to mark the anniversary of the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia’s first major military campaign on the stony sands of Gallipoli, but to make sense of how this brutal event in our past, has helped shape the nation we live in today.
On the dark foggy dawn of April 25, 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops began their landing at Anzac Cove – but they were off course, and had beached in an area that was steeply rugged, making access to higher ground difficult and treacherous.
As the sun set on that first day of battle, 2,000 of the 16,000 soldiers who had landed at Gallipoli had lost their lives or been wounded by enemy fire. By the end of the eighth and final month of fighting, 8,700 Australian troops had died.
From the very beginning, the military campaign was doomed to fail.
But out of that failure, was born a tremendous demonstration of friendship, gallantry and grit in the face of the most extreme of adversities.
The courageous and tenacious bonds of fellowship seeded on the battlefields at Gallipoli, took root throughout World War I, and became embedded in Australia’s essence.
These soldiers did not possess special or unusual powers.
Indeed, each man was someone’s brother, son, or husband.
They viewed themselves as ordinary Australians, although their sacrifice was anything but ordinary – some were the same age as the older students joining us here today, even though the official enlistment age was 18.
They came from different backgrounds and places, but were united by a willingness to join their fellow Australians to defend their country.
One of these men was Private Percy Leonard Cooney from the Kenmore-Moggill District in Brisbane. Percy enlisted at the age of 22, and fought with the Australian Imperial Forces in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, in France.
After recovering from extensive injuries, he returned to the battlefield, but in August 1918, was sadly killed by a shell attack.
He was laid to rest in the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, thousands of kilometres from home and his grieving mother, Ellen.
In 2016, almost one hundred years after his death, my wife Kaye and I were both honoured to travel to his gravesite and place a hand-knitted poppy on his headstone, as a mark of respect for the ultimate sacrifice he had made.
In this way, there is a sense that despite Percy’s death, he lives on in the memories and stories we share, as do the many thousands of men and women over our history who have fought and died for peace.
The three powerful words – “Lest We Forget” – spoken each time we honour those who fell defending our way of life, caution that a failure to remember can be perilous.
Harmony and freedom require a determined vigilance.
The battle at Gallipoli happened over a hundred years ago.
Yet, we all have a duty to remember this important legacy, laid down by the efforts of the first Anzacs, and continued by those who served our nation in World War II and in all subsequent conflicts and peacekeeping campaigns.
I applaud the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (Queensland), of which all Governors have been proud Patron since 1916, for their efforts to preserve the Anzac traditions, through really beneficial initiatives like today’s Students’ ceremony.
Honouring the legacy of all who have served is especially important for the young people here today – you can draw on their experiences to help guide you in times of difficulty, such as the current COVID-19 challenges.
You will also be the ones to carry the significance of stories – like Percy’s – into the future so that generations to come will be inspired by what Anzac Day represents.
We Will Remember Them. Lest We Forget.