MP explores local links to Anzac spirit

Craig Farrell MLC speaking earlier today.

Edited text of the address given at the 2019 New Norfolk Anzac Day Service

Given by the Member for Derwent, Craig Farrell MLC

AS we all gather here today it is difficult for most of us to imagine what going off to a war zone must be like and because others have done this before us, hopefully we won’t have to.

Ironically wars are fought to bring about peace. Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. But it has changed over the decades to remember and commemorate the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars over the last 100 years.

Unfortunately we no longer still have any of the original Anzacs from the Great War, “the war to end all wars”, but we do have men and women who served their country in the Second World War and others who served on other battlegrounds in countries such as Malaya, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. I acknowledge those here today.

I was very fortunate to be selected as the Parliamentary representative to accompany students on the Frank MacDonald Memorial Prize in 2014. I would encourage all students and teachers here today to enter the FMMP competition as it is a fantastic opportunity and a life changing event to travel to the Western Front and study World War I. The year prior to going on the trip is spent researching a soldier or nurse who left Tasmania to serve their country in far- away Europe.

There are many stories to research because in this War alone there were 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. From its population of just over 200,000 people at the time, Tasmania sent more than 15,000 of its men, women and boys to the war. Hundreds of Tasmanians also enlisted from elsewhere, expanding that number. Nearly 2900 died as a result of their service.

I had researched a soldier but I also wanted a direct link to someone I knew. I didn’t have to look far as my friend Ken O’Brien, who served in World War II in the Special Services Unit, had a father and an uncle who served in World War I. Ken’s father returned and ran O’Brien’s Store here in High St but his younger brother was killed alongside other Tasmanian boys by an enemy shell.

Ken shared with me a photo of his father standing next to his young brother’s grave. He was unmarried and has no descendants and to Ken’s knowledge his father was the only family member to ever visit his grave. Almost 100 years after he was buried in a field in France I went to the same spot that Ken’s father stood with a copy of the photo. As I looked around that cemetery, one of many we visited, I wondered how many others were in the same situation.

On the tour we also visited a German military cemetery – the difference was stark. The allied cemeteries had row upon row of white headstones standing high but the German cemetery had black headstones lying flat. Seeing this I realised that no one actually wins a war, the losses on all sides are great. All those soldiers, nurses and civilians who lost their lives all had a story – all had a family – all had a future – taken.

It is not only the ones who are killed in war that lose their lives. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it is known now has claimed many, some are so affected by the horrors of war that they continue to live with it every hour of their lives – and sadly some can’t live with it. In this day and age it is better understood than it was after World War I but there is still a long way to go. It was politely described as shell shock and many who suffered were cared for in purpose built hospitals like Millbrook Rise on the outskirts of New Norfolk. 

Anzac Day is a day for reflection. We use art in its many forms to remember and commemorate Australians at war. Just as our troops used art to escape the horrors of war. Shell art, where soldiers would make all kinds of things from spent shells shows how important it was to occupy your mind in a creative way. Some sketched and painted and the Army would arrange travelling theatre and entertainment troops to give much needed light entertainment.

Music is an important part of military parades and was used on the battlefield for practical purposes. Music was used to signal and to set the beat for marching as well as to boost morale and tell a story. In military tradition, the Last Post is the bugle call that signifies the end of the day’s activities. It is also sounded at military funerals to indicate that the soldier has gone to his final rest and at commemorative services such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

The Last Post is one of a number of bugle calls in military tradition that mark the phases of the day. While Reveille signals the start of a soldier’s day, the Last Post signals its end. The Last Post was incorporated into memorial services as a final farewell, and symbolises the duty of the dead is over and they can rest in peace.

The Frank MacDonald Memorial Prize visited many French and Belgian villages where the residents remember what the Australians did to save their towns from invasion.As a tribute to the sacrifice that Australian Troops made on the Western front a small village in Belgium called Ypres holds a ceremony at the Menin Gate every night at 8 o’clock where the Last Post is played.

Another small village in the Somme Valley, Villers- Bretonneaux, has a large yellow and black sign on the School that reads “Do Not Forget Australia,” – and they don’t. Our tour group was treated as if we were  celebrities when we got off our bus. They all wanted to meet the Australians. As part of this school’s curriculum the song Waltzing Matilda is taught to the students in memory of the thousands of Australians who died fighting to save their town. This song is chosen because the Australian troops  sang it on their victory march after saving the village.

We are incredibly fortunate to have our wonderful Derwent Valley Concert Band as well as the St Matthew’s Singers with us today to remind us all of the emotional attachment we have to Waltzing Matilda and reflect on its importance to our soldiers facing tough battles in foreign lands.

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