Commemorative Dinner on the 80th Anniversary of the sinking of the Centaur
Deputy Speaker, Member for Greenslopes, Mr Joe Kelly MP; Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses, President, Colonel Julie Finucane OAM; Guest speaker, Historian, Dr Madonna Grehan; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands around Brisbane, the Turrbal and Jagera people, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and to any First Nations people here today.
Thank you for inviting Graeme and I to attend what is a very significant Queensland commemoration.
Even with the passing of 80 years, this anniversary is no less poignant as it was when Australians woke on the morning of 15th May 1943 to learn that the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur had been torpedoed and sunk off Moreton Island with a huge loss of life – 268, doctors, nurses, patients and crew perished that night, and just 64 survived.
Amidst the horror of war, this loss delivered a devastating blow – a blow that continues to resonate today.
Just under a month ago, on the 18th of April, the wreck of the Montevideo Maru was discovered off the Northern Coast of the Philippines at a depth of over 4,000m.
It too, was torpedoed – on the 1st of July 1942, just a little under a year before the Centaur.
When I heard the news of its discovery, I could not help thinking of the fact that I would be speaking at this commemoration dinner, and while you might think the link is tenuous – it just reminded me of the horrors of war and the long-lasting effects these tragedies have on families.
The sinking of the Montevideo Maru was a tragic accident. It was sunk by an American submarine. The Captain of that submarine did not, and could not, know that the ship was full of Australian Prisoners of War.
The sinking of the Centaur, also by a submarine, differs sharply but equally as tragic for the Australians aboard.
The AHS Centaur was a white ship, fully lit that fateful night and bearing the red cross insignia, recognised internationally as the markings of a hospital ship.
The utter inhumanity – we have never been quite able to understand, let alone explain it. Was it a mistake? Was it deliberate? There were protests, enquiries, investigations and hearings, and theories abound to this day; I am so looking forward to hearing Dr Madonna Grehan’s discourse as she can lay before us something that is both definitive and unbiased.
It is a tragedy that lives on, and tonight we honour and pay tribute to those we lost on the Centaur that night, 80 years ago.
We Will Remember Them.