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A Century Later, The Power Of The ANZAC Legend Lives On

25/04/2017 6:23 AM AEST | Updated 25/04/2017 8:00 AM AEST
Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

This morning I have the privilege of attending the Dawn Service at Bomana Cemetery in Papua New Guinea.

As the sun rises on row after row of simple white stones, we will pause to remember that each one represents a young man who never came home. The sacred soil of Bomana is the final resting place of sons, brothers and fathers from all over our country. People who died so Australia might live.

Seventy-five years ago Japanese forces began their attacks on what was then New Guinea. Lae and Madang were captured quickly, fierce fighting followed in the skies and on the seas.

In July of 1942, the Japanese forces began their land assault on Port Moresby. At one point they got within 40 kilometres of the city.

But on the famous Kokoda Trail, an under-trained, under-equipped and heavily-outnumbered Australian force held the line. They held the line and - remarkably – drove back an enemy which, until then, had cultivated an aura of invincibility.

The men who lie at rest in Bomana were carpenters and farmers, factory-hands and bookkeepers. Yet in our nation's darkest hour, when Australia faced its sternest test, they paid the highest price.

The brave people we remember here in Papua New Guinea were not being deployed far from home as part of another nations' grand strategy. They were not players in another country's game. This was the Battle for Australia, a fight in defence of their homes, their families, their way of life.

My grandmother's cousin was one of them - a man by the name of Jack O'Shea.

It was only last year that my Aunt told me he volunteered for a mission considered so dangerous that married men, men with families of their own, were exempt.

Jack never returned from that mission. There's no headstone to mark his resting place. One of the many commemorated by the memorial to the missing: lost but never forgotten.

In this forbidding part of the world, beautiful yet brutal, the Australians prevailed in no small part because of the selfless locals who bravely risked their own lives as stretcher-bearers, guides and carrying water, food and ammunition. We honour their heroism today.

One hundred and two years after the landing at Gallipoli, a century on from the Western Front and seventy-five years since war came to the Pacific, Australia has transformed beyond the imagination of the brave souls who fought in its name.

We are more diverse, more inclusive, more equal nation. We are more confident of our place in the world and our ability to speak for our interests.

Yet in an age when so many old loyalties and certainties are fading, the power of the Anzac legend has not grown old.

Instead, our national tradition of remembering has flourished and endured.

It should be a source of tremendous pride – to all veterans and their families – that Anzac commemorations at home and abroad are overwhelmingly led and supported by young people.

Here in Papua New Guinea and around the world, Australians are embarked on pilgrimages to honour the sacrifice of their ancestors.

From Villers-Bretonneux and Anzac Cove to Korea and Vietnam, Malaya, North Africa and the Mediterranean, treading lightly on the ground made hallow by those who died for their country.

Wherever we gather, whether it's on a spring morning in the fields of France or a damp Autumn day in a humble country town, as a nation, we will all pause to repeat the words of our oldest promise.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. Lest we forget.



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