Friday, 29 August 2014

Speech in Parliament - Casey Electorate: First World War Centenary - 28 August 2014

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (12:35): In the dying days of 1918, Winston Churchill predicted with precision what we would all be doing over the next four years. With the mechanised machine gun madness of our costliest war just over, along with 60,000 young Australian lives, he spoke to a group of Australian and New Zealand servicemen in London. He said:

I think we have, all of us, a feeling that we stand today very high up in the headstream of Australian history … We must look forward 100, 200, 300 years…when that great population will look back … when every family will seek to trace some connexion with the heroes who landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, or fought on the Somme, or in the other great battles in France.

Ninety-six years on we are beginning a period of family, community and national reflection like never before. We are seeking out every detail of the family stories of sacrifice, suffering and selfless service: where they fought, where they died and, if they survived, what they did when they came back to Australia. In each of our communities we are simultaneously shining the spotlight on the centenary of significant historic local events.

In the Yarra Valley electorate I represent, earlier this year we commemorated the centenary of General Sir John Monash's camp out at Lilydale—this occurred in February 1914, months ahead of the war—where 3,000 future ANZACs trained for a week in Lilydale and in Coldstream preparing for the war they hoped would never come.

Just over two weeks ago, when the nation remembered the centenary of the founding of the Australian Red Cross, the local branch met in the Athenaeum Theatre in Lilydale to remember the extraordinary endeavours of the local women who founded their organisation on that very first day. They met in the very place where that occurred, just nine days after the bell had rung on the start of war. Their first president was Nellie Melba, the world-renowned opera singer, who would ring the final bell on the war to the people of Lilydale—in this case, literally. She heard the war had ended from a Navy contact she had who telephoned her as soon as news of the armistice was received. She travelled from her Coldstream home down to the main street of Lilydale, where she rang the town's fire bell to signal the war's end.

Just a few days after that, on Saturday 16 August, the local community met again at that place on the centenary of the day that the first Lilydale resident enlisted. His name was Ralph Goode. He was a stretcher-bearer from the first day at Gallipoli to almost the last on the Western Front. When we met, a book was launched that had been put together by a local historian, Anthony McAleer. It told a bit about Ralph's life before the war and after the war, but, critically, published his war diaries that his family had retained. It is a comprehensive book. It is instructive to look at the entry on the first day and then look at the entry each year around about that time over the four years that he was involved. On the first day he was a man of few words:

Volunteered for active service in the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC)—accepted.

A year later he is talking about how terrible it is on the battlefield—16 weeks in the firing line. A year after, he is talking about the loss of those from the Lilydale community. A year after, he is talking about the horrors on the Western Front, and then ending with his arrival back in Melbourne. This is one of many stories that will be told over the coming years, and I know all members in this place are doing the same in their electorates.

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