Click here to watch Sharon’s speech
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (18:03): It is a privilege to have the opportunity to respond to the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the Centenary of Anzac commemorations that have been held across the nation and, indeed, internationally last month.
Like many individual Australians, for me it is a time of reflection on the service and sacrifice of so many Australians and their families as a result of the intensity and devastation that the first great world war wrought on them as individuals, as families and as communities. It is a time to reflect on the profound impact that war, and the Gallipoli campaign in particular, had on shaping the character and values of a young Australian nation. It is not, and never should be, a time for celebrating or glorifying war, and this is not what you hear from the words in services, the conversations of community members attending them or the activities that occur on these occasions.
The Anzacs left us a legacy of service to others, of sacrifice for mates, of the hope for peace and a rejection, indeed, of pomp and bluster. We come together not only to pay respect to their courage and service but also to honour their legacy and to re-commit to those values.
As a mother of young men I feel particularly moved by the individual stories that we hear at this time: of young men kissing their families farewell as they set off, believing they were off to the 'adventure of a lifetime', or solemnly determined to do their duty to their young nation or simply to support their mates who were signing up. Their motivations were diverse but there is little doubt that the vast majority would never have anticipated the extent of the death, destruction and suffering they would encounter.
Many made the ultimate sacrifice on those bloody battlefields and they never returned to the families that hoped to see them come home. Many families stood at train stations around the nation to collect and embrace relatives returning with devastating injuries, suffering from being gassed or trying to manage the psychological impacts that would live with them for a lifetime. It is no wonder that many families report that those returning were extremely reluctant to ever discuss what they had witnessed.
In the Illawarra we began the centenary events last year, with a wonderful first Service for 100 Years of Anzac at the Balgownie World War I Memorial. Richard Davis did a warm welcome to country and, importantly, also acknowledged the service of Aboriginal diggers, as we can in the days now when we are doing much better at finding the information. Mark Edwell gave us the history of the Remembrance Tree and the memorial. Marie Austin represented the descendants in talking about her two great uncles on the memorial, one of whom died and the other who returned. I have to say that I also have a great-great uncle listed on that memorial: James Young.
We were all thrilled to have State Governor Her Excellency Professor the Hon. Marie Bashir AD CVO to provide the formal address, and she was warmly received by us all. The ceremony was concluded by Major General Hori Howard AO MC ESM (Ret) doing the Ode. Lots of local schools and the Army band were there and B Company 4th/3rd Battalion RNSWR provided the catafalque party. I have to say that it was pleasing that some of the restoration work on the memorial was actually assisted by one of the grants I was able to secure for them under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program.
On 13 March, it was an honour to participate in a ceremony at the Wollongong Botanic Gardens organised by the City of Wollongong RSL Sub-branch where we planted a sapling that is a cutting from an original pine tree from the battlefields of Lone Pine, Gallipoli Peninsula. The ceremony included an introduction to the Centenary Anzac torch and it was very well attended, with lots of schoolchildren there as well. On Sunday 19 April, I attended the Bundeena and Maianbar Anzac Centenary march and service. This was also strongly supported by hundreds of locals who turned out. There were excellent contributions from everybody involved, including Bundeena Public School students. Given the tough year that was caused by the fire at the RSL club and sub branch, they did a magnificent job on a very important occasion. They had also received an Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program contribution.
Another aspect of this grants program I was very pleased to support was the provision of funding to local schools for special commemorations. This included St Therese Catholic Primary School for a World War I memorial; Corrimal Primary School for refurbishing an existing war memorial wall and a new mosaic; Wollongong West Public School to establish a memorial garden and to install a plaque; and Para Meadows School to develop a resource on World War I for students with a disability. On 24 April I attended the unveiling of a wonderful Anzac Centenary commemorative plaque at St Brigid's Catholic School at Gwyneville. The students did a great service and we heard from Joe Davidson from the Wollongong RSL.
The dedication of so many local students to the task of researching and retelling the stories of their own family members has indeed inspired me to talk to my family, and I would like to briefly refer to two of my own family members. My maternal grandmother's uncle, James Wallace Young, was born in Scotland and emigrated to Australia in 1914. He enlisted in November 1916 and served in the 1st Battalion E Company of the AIF in France. He was wounded twice in battle: firstly, in May 1917 and, again, in October that year. He returned home but the effects of being gassed had an ongoing impact on him for the rest of his life. He is the gentleman on the Balgownie memorial I mentioned earlier.
The other relative is Edwin Harold Stafford, known as Harry, who lived with my great-great-grandmother, Matilda Kelly, at Balgownie. Harry was working at the local mine until he enlisted at the age of 18 in August 1917. He embarked with the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company from Melbourne in November 1917 and served on the Western Front. The records show that he was in Suez, Egypt, in December 1917. He was gassed on 1 June 1918 and admitted to a military hospital again in February 1919. He returned to Australia in September 1919 and was discharged in October. The Stafford family, like many of their neighbours, had lost members in the terrible Mt Kembla mining disaster of 1902 that took the lives of 96 men and boys from the small mining communities of the local area. Indeed, three of the Stafford family had died in that mining explosion. Just over 10 years later that small community again saw many of their young men off to World War I. Like communities across the nation, it took a large toll on what were small populations at the time. The same would have been felt, for example, in the communities around Bulli, in my area, who had lost 81 men and boys in the Bulli mining disaster of 1887—again, a mere 27 years before the war.
On Anzac Day I joined thousands of other locals at the dawn service at the Wollongong cenotaph, as I have done for many years. It was great to see thousands—some estimated close to 10,000—at that service, and 75 schoolchildren carried glow sticks through the arch of the cenotaph as the names of the 75 men on the memorial were read out. Later in the day, there was a great march through the streets of town, ending at Wollongong WIN stadium where we had a fantastic service as well. There were performances by the Wongawilli Bush Band and an address by Major General Hori Howard.
There were services across the electorate, and I have to finish by acknowledging the fantastic work of the Illawarra Centenary of ANZAC Committee, who also worked as my reference committee for the local grants program. I want to thank them for their outstanding efforts: Chairman Mr Peter J. Poulton; Deputy Chair Major. General Hori Howard; secretary Mrs Mary Clarke; and members of the committee—Ms Lee Cramer, from Wollongong Council; Ms Katrina Owers, from Shellharbour City Council; Councillor Dennis Seage, from Kiama Municipal Council; Mr Terry Weatherall; Mr Warwick Hansen; Mr Paul McInerney; Ms Deidre Backhouse; Mr Gerry Sozio; Ms Marisa O'Conner; Mr Keith Clemmett; Mr Jim Lyon; and Mr Martin Parmiter. As we commemorate further centenary events as they arise over the coming years, I know the committee will be continuing its great work.
On 3 May I opened the World War I display at the Black Diamond Museum and Heritage Centre at Bulli with Lance Brown. Lance was nine when he joined his family to meet his two uncles, Manny and Alf, at the train station when they returned from WWI. This was another successful grant project that I was really pleased to be involved in unveiling. The work was undertaken with the Illawarra Family History Group, who have an ongoing project on their Facebook page identifying Anzacs on the 100th year since they lost their lives in the conflict. It is a fantastic project, but a sad one. It reminds us why we meet together on Anzac commemorations. Lest we forget.