25 April 2018
Mayor of the Norfolk Island Regional Council Ms Robin Adams and Councillors, President of the Norfolk Island RSL Sub-Branch Mr Warren Finch and Committee, Veterans and serving members of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you to the RSL for the opportunity to speak this morning. I also had the privilege of giving this address 12 months ago, but having only recently arrived on Norfolk Island I was unprepared for the poignancy of the scene behind me.
The evocative image of Norfolk Island's very own “lone pine” across the bay stimulates the imagination and with little effort one can be transported, metaphorically at least to the beaches of Gallipoli 103 years ago today. I failed to mention this last year but have now had redemption.
Indeed images of the Pine trees of Norfolk Island must oft have been a pleasant distraction for the 81 men from Norfolk Island who have served in both the defence forces of Australia and New Zealand over the past 103 years.
So close your eyes for a moment if you will….
Imagine yourself as a tradesman from Queensland, a clerk from Melbourne, a labourer from Tasmania, or a farmer from Norfolk Island, more likely than not leaving home for the first time in your life, now sitting on a ship under orders of silence off the Turkish coast.
We might all ponder; what would I have felt and done? In that silence before the dawn, would I have been waiting for the long night to end, to be able to get on with the task, or would I have sat and prayed, hoping the first light might never come.
Sadly post the ‘war to end all wars’ we trusted that by the grace of God and because of the sacrifice of these selfless men, future generations would never again be asked to answer such questions. Tragically this was not the case, as many of those veterans with us here this morning can attest.
Today across our nations we pause to remember, things we might normally try to forget. We aren"t here today to mourn a defeat, or to honour a success. The names on the memorials across two nations, including 17 men who served in World War 1 from Norfolk Island, are in large measure just names, intangible now to younger people who never knew them.
But the essence of what they stood for lives on, and it is, surely what matters most: Being that, a generation of young Australians and New Zealanders rallied to serve their countries when their countries called and so it was, they were faithful even unto death. For this alone we should remember them!
We could do well to ponder, what would today be like if not for the valour and sacrifice shown by these brave men. They enlisted for adventure, yes, but fought for their mates, for their country and for their King, but more significantly for the ideal that as peoples and as a fledgling nation we should be free.
I doubt that we would be here this morning and at ten thousand other similar locations, if the values for which we all innately aspire, (even in our sometimes mundane lives), or for what we believe our nation represents were not also the hallmarks of a generation that served so valiantly 103 years before.
Australia's official war historian Charles Bean's account of a digger arriving at the front of the trenches before the assault on Lone Pine perhaps captures these ideals and values best:
A voice from the fire step, “Yeah right here Bill”.
“Do you chaps mind movin" up a piece?” asked the first voice.
“Him and me are mates—and we"re goin" over together”.
The Gallipoli campaign was a military failure, but those who survived the initial landing along with their reinforcements went on to be some of the most effective fighting forces in WW1. After 8 months of battling steep cliffs defended by brave Turkish soldiers armed with machine guns, and surviving the ravages of disease and dysentery, having been successfully evacuated from Gallipoli, many went on to fight with distinction in other theatres of World War 1. Success was achieved in the Middle East and in Europe, finally resulting in an Allied victory in November of 1918.
The descendants of the first ANZACS continued to serve with distinction in WW2, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with those men and women who have served our nations in peace keeping forces around the globe, all have kept faith with the values and ideals of those original ANZACS; for which we rightly give thanks.
Most of us have never served and will thankfully never experience the tragedy and horror of war. But we are better off because of those who have served and we can learn so much from their example. The challenges they faced and overcame make it a little easier than it would otherwise be, for us to face our daily challenges.
That is really the reason why we are here today, to acknowledge their sacrifice and what they have done for us, understanding if we are also prepared to strive enough for the right things; what they can continue to do for us…
They were tested and were not found wanting. They displayed a sense of duty, of selflessness, of real moral courage and persevered in the face of unimaginable horrors. These are the marks of character many of us would hope we and our children might display—the markers of decent human beings perhaps?
So once again to the Pine tree across the bay and the beautiful symbol of Norfolk Island it remains, just as it did 103 years ago for the men who left these shores to serve.
Norfolk Island musician Rick Robertson captured this when he wrote his haunting song ‘The Pine Trees Waved Goodbye’, which finishes with the lines:
Gallipoli's Lone Pine,
Greeted them with dread,
Of the seventeen that volunteered,
Eight were wounded and six were dead.
Off to War they went,
To Gallipoli they were sent,
The Pine Trees waved goodbye,
They were too young,
Too Young, to die.
Lest We Forget