April 25

Anzac Day, 2008


Australia has an extraordinary heritage. One of the world’s oldest and most successful democracies, but with a small population, the nation has played a remarkably significant role in world affairs, and above all, in the struggle for freedom.

It is on Anzac Day that we remember the great services given to the nation – and the world – by the men and women of our armed services.

It is right that we remember Gallipoli, and, more and more, the horrors of the Western front, so superbly explained  to this generation by  Les Carlyon  in the   "The Great War "[i]   

It is right, too, that we remember all of the other wars and all of the other campaigns.

In particular we should also remember the Second World War.

When the assorted politicians and summiteers recently warned that this country has never been in such a perilous situation, they obviously do not accept that the greatest external threat to our country came from a bloodthirsty and cruel Japanese Empire.

Everyone of those doomsayers should read Joy Chamber’s recent  novel “ For Freedom” just to have some idea of what danger the country was then in, and how magnificently that generation responded.[ii]

Today the danger to Australia is not so much from without, but from within.

How else can we explain the terrible decline in law and order, the undermining of teacher and parental authority, the appalling failure to add to the water, rail and power infrastructure of our land in any way commensurate with the work and foresight of the earlier generations of Australians? 

Not content with the damage they have wrought to the land and its institutions, the same zealots are intent on shredding the constitutional system and the flag.

But let us return  to the contributions of the men and women who served this country.

…the charge at Beersheba…

An example of a truly outstanding Australian contribution occurred during the Sinai and Palestine campaign in the First World War.

The charge on 31 October, 1917 by the Australian Light Horse Division’s 4th Brigade against the Turkish positions at Beersheba under Brigadier William Grant was a turning point in the campaign.

It was probably the last great –and successful- cavalry charge in history.

In honour of the ninetieth anniversary of the charge, a dedicated group of Australians re-enacted the charge last year. It is a signal event of which they were rightly proud, as should all Australians.

Three days after Anzac Day 2008, our Governor-General, and a very great soldier, Major General Michael Jeffery, with the President of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, will jointly open The Park of the Australian Soldier at Beersheba.

The Park which the two heads of state will open features a landscaped recreational area and playground catering for children with disabilities. The central feature is a sculpture by Peter Corlett, an Australian.

The sculpture commemorates the charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba.

Such a memorial, particularly one on this scale, is normally undertaken by the Commonwealth government. On this occasion the Park is being funded by a unique Australian family, one with a truly magnificent record of disinterested philanthropy.

To be fair, the government was not asked to contribute, although the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Alan Griffin, is considering maintaining the sculptured monument.

And the government was closely involved in planning the project and is sending a military delegation and seven Light Horse veterans to the opening ceremony.

The Park is an initiative of the Pratt Foundation, whose benefactors are Richard and Jeanne Pratt. It is only one of a surprisingly vast range of
charitable, educational and cultural causes which they have aided, and aided with great generosity and without any hope whatsoever of personal advantage.[iii]

…the Governor-General warns…

In the meantime, the Governor- General has issued a timely warning about  rushed and ill-considered constitutional change.

In an interview with AAP  reported by Doug Conway on National Nine News on 23 April, 2008, but given before the recent 2020 summit on 19–20 April, the Governor-General  urged republicans to avoid a "big mistake" by ensuring any changes made to Australia's constitutional system are clearly understood and represent an improvement. 

 "If there was to be any change I don't think it would logically happen before Her Majesty the Queen is succeeded, but I'm not commenting on whether it will change or not. 

"I can honestly say I haven't in my travels around the country felt that there has been a passionate desire for change, people poking you in the chest and saying let's change.

 "Of course there is media comment but it tends to be by the same people, not always in my view explaining clearly how they would change it." 

The Governor-General said we should never shirk from seeking to improve the way it is governed.

The key, he said is “… how can we improve our system of governance?"

"Now down the track if it's seen that is part of the process of becoming a republic then so be it, but that is a matter for the public and the government of the day. "What I do emphasise very strongly is that before people can make an informed decision on better ways of governing ourselves – including perhaps whether we go to a republic or not – you've got to have a good understanding of how your present system works, its strengths and weaknesses. 

"Without question our system has worked very well for over 100 years.

 "That's not to say that we can't do better, but we won't do better unless people understand where they have come from if they are looking at where they want to go.

 "If they're going to take a plunge out there simply because they think it's a good thing to do, without understanding the subtleties, nuances and the ramifications, then we have the potential to make a big mistake."  

"If you want to change, then you want to be pretty sure you're going to change to a better system. "It's too important a subject, this business of governance."

This was a very well considered opinion.

No serious observer, who has the best interests of Australia at heart , could object. We have inherited a remarkable legacy.

For this we are indebted to our pioneers, our founders and those who defended us.

Lest we forget. 




[i] Reviewed in this column on 18 December, 2006
[iii] See “Beersheba and philanthropy,” On Line Opinion, 9 April, 2008; Tall poppy syndrome is alive and well,” On Line Opinion, 19 October, 2007.


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