Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Speech in Parliament - Centenary of Anzac - 24 March 2014

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:41): Today in this grievance debate I want to talk about the importance of the centenary of Anzac, particularly for local communities. Quite rightly, over the coming months and indeed the coming four years we as a nation will, 100 years on, reflect on the contribution and the sacrifice of so many Australians in battles from Gallipoli through the Western Front to war's end. All of us here in this House know and reflect at critical times like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day on just what a massive contribution it was. From a population of just on five million, 400,000 served, 160,000 were injured and 60,000 were killed.

Those national statistics tell so much, but it is really only when you look at the individual contribution of communities—in country Australia, in electorates like mine that comprise both country Australia and outer suburbia, and in electorates like that of my friend the member for Holt that comprise an outer suburban area as well—that you reflect on the contributions within the community. Obviously with statistics such as those I just read out we know logically that no community was untouched, but telling the local stories over these four years is, I think, incredibly important. I think it is incredibly important for school students to be able to know that in their town they can look to the local history and imagine people 100 years ago walking the same streets they now walk, in many cases. That is certainly the case in so many country towns. Certainly students at a number of schools in my electorate walk the same playgrounds and sit in the same classrooms as those who served in World War I did when they were at school a little over 100 years ago.

I had great pleasure in being able to award the first grant of the Anzac centenary program. That might sound a little odd at first, because we are not up to the centenary of the beginning of the war. But my colleague on the other side will know that in Victoria the name Monash is one that always comes to mind, as indeed it does nationally, and the reason for that grant was to recognise and remember an important event 100 years ago last February. That was when Monash took 3,000 volunteer troops to Lilydale in the second week of February 1914 for a week-long training camp. This tells us that, while the nation wanted to avoid what would surely be an awful war, it was simultaneously preparing for it in quite a sophisticated manner. The camp lasted a week. The 3,000 troops travelled to Lilydale by train. They camped at what is now the Lilydale Lake. Back then, it was a swamp, really, around Olinda Creek. They obviously lit up the town of Lilydale for the time that they were there.

On the Thursday of that week, they travelled to Coldstream to stage a mock battle, having had a few days training. It was there that Monash first met General Sir Ian Hamilton, who was out from the United Kingdom. He came to view the troops and he met Monash, and spoke very highly of him afterwards. Back then, in 1914, they sat under a gum tree and discussed a range of military matters, and it was that meeting that they reflected on when they were at Gallipoli in those very difficult months.

When we look at the local angle, we know that those 3,000 troops, who came from some of the inner suburbs and some of the outer suburbs, were volunteers. In later years they would have looked back on that training camp as a better time. We know that all of them at the time were on a journey. For some of them, it was a terrible journey that would end outside Australia, either at Gallipoli or on the Western Front. For others, it was a journey that would continue but one that would affect their lives in no small measure for the rest of their years.

That example I have just given is something that local primary schools and secondary schools can really grasp, something that is right in their backyard. I think it is an important thing if all of us here try and help bring these stories to life, 100 years on, for our community and for our nation.

There are so many aspects of service in World War I that deserve attention. One that has received some attention but that I know all in this place will agree deserves more is the contribution of Aboriginal soldiers in World War I. The 1st AIF was an entirely voluntary force, and that remained the case throughout the war, with conscription referenda defeated—but a significant number of Aboriginal Australians joined up and went and fought overseas. Looking at the history, no-one knows the precise number, for the very obvious reason that they were not accepted. They volunteered in spite of the fact that they were not officially wanted. In fact, the only way they managed to join up was not to join up as Aboriginals but to join up in some other way, often by changing their names. They joined up to fight for a nation that still did not recognise them as citizens and would not give them a vote until the year of my birth, 1967. Those stories need to be told as well. As it happens, many of those were from in and around Healesville, in my electorate of Casey.

I will certainly make it my business over the course of this year in this place to tell some of the stories of those who, at a time, were not recognised as Australians but wanted to fight for Australia nonetheless and did so in numbers of at least 500.

I will finish on one example. The story of one soldier, very well known in the Healesville area, was illustrated very well in the Age back in January 2003. I am quoting from the article from the Age of 25 January 2003:

Jarlo Wandoon tried to enlist for World War I as an Aborigine and was rejected … Jarlo Wandoon is commemorated on the honour roll in the Healesville RSL, under his whitefella name James Wandin—

which he used to join up and to serve in World War I. That is one important story; there are many others that I will tell in the weeks and months ahead.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are no more contributions, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

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