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Transcript - 23741

Address to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Forces Centenary Event, Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/08/2014

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 23741

Lieutenant General Gillespie, Admiral Barrett, my parliamentary friend and colleague, David Elliott, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday marks 100 years since the Australian Naval and Military Expedition Force set off from Sydney bound for the first Australian engagement in the First World War.

The first shot fired by the British Empire in the Great War was by an Australian battery in Port Philip Bay and the first successful British Empire military campaign was Australia's capture of German New Guinea by an expedition that departed within a fortnight of the outbreak of war.

The soldiers who boarded the Berrima a century ago were the first Australian wave in the great tide of events that shaped our nation and which still casts a shadow over the wider world.

When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Australia found itself at war. There was no controversy in that. The then leader of the Labor Party Andrew Fisher pledged that Australia would stand beside the mother country to the last man and the last shilling.

The men of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force were all volunteers and almost as diverse as the cadets marching today.

Charles Bean wrote of them, “school teacher and wharf labourer, bank clerk and bushman, shop assistant and farrier stood side by side on the Parade Ground.” As Bean said, “some were lured by a spirit of adventure, others simply answered the call of duty.”

From their first landing, the Australians swiftly overcame the German resistance. But victory came at a price as it nearly always does. Six Australians were killed and four wounded by the time the Union Jack was raised in Rabaul. These were the first of our casualties in the Great War. From a population of under five million, more than 400,000 enlisted, more than 300,000 served overseas and more than 60,000 never came back.

So many families received the terrible, terrible telegrams telling them of a loved one who would never come home. Of men aged between 18 and 40, 50 per cent volunteered. Of those who served overseas, one-fifth never returned.

We all know the Gallipoli story but the story of the Western Front where Australians played such a decisive role is better known in France than here.

I would like to say at this first centenary of ANZAC event here in Sydney, that by the time the centenary commemorations are over in four years hence we should know all our great war stories better, starting with the capture of German New Guinea which we mark today, obviously Gallipoli, the Western Front and the capture of Jerusalem and Damascus by Australian troops as part of General Allenby's army.

We are a country that has long played its part in the world's struggles. The Great War was bloody, bitter and awful – but it was a just one.

On this anniversary, and throughout the ANZAC centenary, we will honour all of those who have done what we have not and hope that we might find it in ourselves to rise to the challenges of our time as they did to theirs, should we ever be put to the test.

[ends]

Transcript - 23741