ANZAC Day 2023 Commemorative Service
ANZAC Day 2023 Commemorative Service

ANZAC Day 2023 Commemorative Service Address

Address by His Excellency the Honourable Chris Dawson AC APM, Governor of Western Australia

ANZAC Day – Commemorative Service Speech 2023 – Perth Concert Hall

Kaya. Wanjoo. Hello and welcome.

I acknowledge the original custodians of the land that we are on, the Whajduk Noongar people and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I acknowledge and pay my respects to all Aboriginal people across Western Australia.

We gather here, on this sacred day, to reflect, remember, and never forget the sacrifices made by our brave men and women who have fought and died for our country. We stand in awe of their courage, their innovation, their mateship and selflessness, and we pay tribute to their memory.

108 years ago, the ANZAC spirit was born on the shores of Gallipoli – it is a moment in our history that shaped our nation.

Travelling through the darkness on the morning of 25 April 1915, 16,000 Australian and New Zealand troops, full of youth, patriotism and confidence, approached the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey – an area now known as ANZAC Cove.

Among the first troops to land were members of the 11th Battalion, largely West Australians, who, alongside their Australian and New Zealand comrades, were joined by troops further along the peninsula from Britain, France, India and other troops from North Africa and Newfoundland.

Our ANZACS had a limited appreciation to what would await them as they headed to shore, crammed into small boats.

As the day dawned, they were spotted in the half-light by the Turkish defenders, and before they had even reached the beach, bullets and shells began hitting the boats, killing some and wounding others.

As the men leapt from their boats, those that managed to get to shore were met with steep rugged cliffs. Soaking wet and under devastating bombardments, some had to dig their bayonets into the ground to help them climb.

They established a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach, but after a day of fighting the ANZACS did not reach their objective. The defenders didn’t run, but instead dug in and fought.

On that first day, two thousand ANZACS lay dead or wounded – and despite their efforts to get inland, and landing most of their infantry, the ANZACS were held by the Turks to a small area of land just 1km wide by 2km long.

The campaign was a disaster, but it was on that day that our ANZACS showed their incredible bravery, fighting on a foreign shore, against a formidable and courageous enemy.

They helped define and showed us what it means to be Australian, to never give up, to fight with all your body, mind and heart, and to never forget your mates.

When they enlisted, they were young, innocent, and adventurous.

Most joined to fulfil a sense of duty and patriotism, a few joined up for the regular wage of 6 shillings per day, others were caught up in the excitement of the moment, and some just followed their mates.

One thing that was consistent, was that these troops, although undoubtedly apprehensive, were full of confidence.

They were determined to succeed and no doubt had plans to return home to Australia. Many would not, or if they did survive, bore the battle scars and ravages of war.

When I discuss ANZAC day with people who didn’t grow up commemorating the events and the history, I receive the same question, perhaps you do too. Why do Australians and New Zealanders commemorate on the anniversary of a military defeat with parades and a public holiday?

There are many ways to answer this and they are mostly valid.

Memorialising those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, remembering and never forgetting the dedication to our country, the defence of our people and our way of life.

Yes – the loss and suffering and the determination to never repeat these events is core to our history and our spirit as Australians.

The shared understanding of why we commemorate the Gallipoli campaign and those many wars and conflicts that followed, is a special bond with Australians and New Zealanders that unites our two nations.

The services that are held by Australian and New Zealand people over the world are not about glorifying war, but about a commitment by our nations to never forget the sacrifice of our people who fought for our freedoms, and for our way of life.

ANZAC Day has evolved over time, in 1916 the first ANZAC Day commemorations were held with ceremonies and services across Australia, London and even Egypt. Over the following years it became established as a national day to commemorate the more than 60,000 Australians who had died during World War 1 – and became a public holiday by 1927.

As the years have passed, this day has also become about the ANZAC spirit – shown by our brave men and women who have followed in the footsteps of our first ANZACS.

On this day we now commemorate the lives of those who died in the Second World War, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and in peacekeeping operations around the world. We remember the sacrifices they made, the challenges they faced, and the bravery they showed. We thank them for their service and we honour their memory.

2023 marks 70 years since the Korean War armistice, and is the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

The heroics of Victoria Cross winners Peter Badcoe, Keith Payne, Ray Simpson and Kevin Wheatley in Vietnam is well-documented, and rightly so. Their displays of bravery, self-sacrifice and devotion to duty should always be recognised.

But alongside these great men were thousands of men and women – their comrades – all linked by strong bonds of friendship and loyalty – and all with their own stories.

In November 1993 at the service of the return of The Unknown Australian soldier from the Adelaide cemetery in Villers Bretonneux in France, Prime Minister Keating spoke of the lessons learnt from the horror and tragedy of the Great War. Stating:

“It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.
On all sides they were the heroes of that war: not the generals and the politicians, but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.”

For many of us, ANZAC Day is personal. We come to remember our loved ones, who answered the call of duty and who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Like many Australians, my wife and I have visited the war graves of our fallen family. And it is so often that the families who are left behind, who carry an enormous burden.

The poignancy of the epitaph that a widow had inscribed on her husband’s tombstone in the cemetery we visited in France, says much about the grief and loss of a loved one.

That epitaph said:

PEACE BE YOUR REST DEAR HUSBAND
‘TIS SWEET TO BREATH YOUR NAME

We remember their faces, their voices, their laughter, and their love. We hold them in our hearts and in our memories, and we promise to never forget their sacrifice.

But ANZAC Day is not just about the past. It is also about the present and the future. It is about our duty, our national shared obligation to carry on the legacy of all our ANZACs.
As was also said in that same speech our former Prime Minister said in the re-interment of Australia’s Unknown Soldier , we aren’t here to “glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier’s character above a civilian’s; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which they fought and died above any other war; or of one generation above any that has or will come later.”

Today, there is war in Ukraine and Africa and greater uncertainty in our regional security.
It is about living up to the ideals our ANZACS fought for and for which they gave their lives. It is about honouring their sacrifice, striving to be better, to be more courageous, more resilient, and more compassionate.

In the face of adversity, we have shown that we are a nation of mates, of courage, and of compassion. And as we face the challenges of the present and the future, we will continue to draw on the spirit of our ANZACs.

LEST WE FORGET.

GOVERNOR

View and download a pdf version here.

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