80th Anniversary Dinner of the Siege of Tobruk
Minister Mark Furner; Assistant Minister Bart Mellish; National President of the Descendants of the Rats of Tobruk Association, Mr Roger Murphy and all distinguished guests; descendants, family members and supporters of all Rats of Tobruk; ladies and gentlemen.
I at once acknowledge the traditional custodians of these lands, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and extend respectful greetings to Elders, past, present and emerging.
It is a great honour, as the 27th Governor of Queensland, to join you tonight to mark the 80th Anniversary – even if it is a little belated – of the nation-defining Siege of Tobruk.
I say ‘nation defining’, because outside ‘Gallipoli’, few names mean as much to the war annals of Australia than ‘Tobruk’.
Over 241 tortuous days from April to December in 1941, some 35,000 Allied forces – including 14,000 Australians from the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions – withstood a brutal German-Italian attempt to siege the portside town of Tobruk.
It was Germany’s first major set-back of the War, and as with the Japanese at Milne Bay in the Pacific, it happened at the hands of Australians.
As we gather here in the comforting surrounds of the Gaythorne RSL, it is difficult for us to imagine the sheer horror which confronted our forces at Tobruk – searing heat, bitterly cold nights and blinding, swirling dust storms.
But we glean some idea of the conditions they faced from the phrases related to that Battle which are hewn into our Australian vernacular: ‘digging in’, ‘no surrender’ and, of course, the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
For back in 1941, those brave Australians and their Allied supporters did not retreat.
They did not surrender.
And when enemy propogandists attempted to chastise them as ‘desert rats of Tobruk’, they transformed the term into a badge of honour which to this day evokes thoughts of courage and tenacity.
We must be careful, 81 years on, not to romanticise the plight of the Rats, from a distance.
We risk undermining the very real dangers and harsh realities of conflict which just recently have been laid bare for us all.
But the Australian people owe a great debt of gratitude to organisations like the Descendants of the Rats of Tobruk Association.
Through commemorations and dinners like tonight’s, Australians coming together to honour the sacrifice and service of those brave men who bulwarked freedom from dusty trenches in unfamiliar terrain 81 years ago.
I thank and applaud the work of the Association, and all individuals and organisations here tonight who are dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Rats of Tobruk.
As joint Patron of the RSL in Queensland, I further thank the Gaythorne RSL for their hospitality this evening.
I look forward, with gratitude and immense appreciation for the sacrifice of all Rats and their families, to laying a wreath at the memorial service at Sid Loder Park tomorrow morning. Thank you. Lest We Forget.