ANZAC DAY Dawn Service Address 25 April 2022
Robert Lusby AM
Emeritus Professor University of Sydney,
Colonel Royal Australian Army Medical Corp ( Retired)
On this ANZAC Day, we gather in the light of dawn, to honour those who faced the darkness of war, those who sacrificed their lives and health for us, and the freedoms we enjoy.
The darkness of the unknown- in the face of the enemy and of death, the darkness of loss and suffering, and the darkness of the long-term impact of physical and mental health and on family.
Most importantly ANZAC Day is about the individuals who made the sacrifice and endured the suffering more than anything else but the background behind their efforts cannot be ignored.
The tradition of ANZAC, originating from the Gallipoli campaign, is seen as the paramount expression of the Australian people coming together as a nation. So early in our country’s history, as Charles Bean, the ANZAC Historian, said
“it enabled the Nation to know itself”.
The ANZAC’S were seen as being committed to their countries, forging a reputation that displayed courage, commitment, independent judgment, comradeship, and dedication, not only at ANZAC Cove but later on the Western Front under the command of Sir John Monash and elsewhere.
Mateship, courage, and sacrifice became central to the ANZAC tradition.
Over time the ANZAC endeavor has emerged as part of our national collective memory, a legend that is part of our culture. It has grown to encompass the sacrifices made in the various Military and Peacekeeping engagements our Nation has engaged in.
At times it has been hard to understand the emotional background that allowed a young nation to release its youth to fight in the Great War but recent events in Europe have reminded us of the ever-present danger of unbridled authoritarian power.
In what we are seeing today in the conflict between the democracy-seeking Ukraine and the autocratic Russian nation, our forebears were confronted by the autocratic German nation attacking the democratic, liberal Western nations. The German treatment of Belgum at the start of the war was not dissimilar to what the Russians have handed out in Ukraine.
The emotions that have driven the people of Ukraine to defend their country were also seen across the western democracies including Australia. The Great War was waged over the primal importance of freedom and democracy that could not have been ignored, even here in Australia.
Despite the “tyranny of distance” Australians understood the immense threat. Fear and repugnancy of the German invasion of Europe spread throughout the country and the response was palpable. A drive through any suburb or country town will show the almost universal response with many monuments erected commemorating a generation lost forever as a result.
The massive threat of an autocratic and authoritarian power seeking to alter the trajectory of modern history with worldwide consequences to every aspect of our living, could not be ignored.
Indeed, one of the first acts of our Australian government was to secure New Guinea and other German Empire settlements including North Solomons and Bougainville, in the Pacific. Had the war gone the way of the German aggressors we would have been dominated by an autocratic power and our freedoms and way of life very different.
William Pitt, Prime Minister of the UK, in sending the First Fleet in 1788 to settle in Sydney, understood the geopolitical emergence of the Pacific. The convicts could have been sent to any part of the empire, but the extra expense involved was justified in order to establish a critical base in the Pacific where one of the best harbours in the world was seen but not disclosed by Cook. Trade with China was opening up. The last frontier of the New World was the Pacific.
Today a new threat is emerging, a scenario is unfolding that we can readily recognize. The battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomons, was one of the key efforts in turning the Japanese back during WWII.
The defense of our democratic way of life will be bound up in our ability to respond as a nation just as the ANZAC’s did.
Mateship is closely associated with the ANZAC legend and played an important part in the survival kit of the young men sent to the distant fields of war. Many coming from small country towns had never traveled far from home but were the product of a frontier class that had learned to survive in the harsh Australian bush.
Even in the cities, the population consisted in part of settlers who had come with the gold rushes and again endured the hard conditions similar to those the convicts before them had. So at the time of federation, those who had populated our country had adapted to tough times, were flexible, tough, enduring, and had learned to rely on their neighbors…the seeds of mateship had been planted.
Despite a background of practical adaption, no one is ever prepared for the physical and emotional impact of war. Taken out of normal life to encounter the images of bodies blown apart, of limbs torn away, of dying and dead people along with the smell of decomposing bodies which is difficult to eradicate, is beyond what most people experience
Today as it was back in the Great War we are sending our young men and women on military missions where despite training and fitness they are engaged in the horrors of war.
A small example is the noise of war, something we don’t think of - the everpresent sound of gunfire, the percussion of explosions reverberating through your body, aircraft, helicopters, heavy vehicles, generators constantly filling the air in the background. The insecurity of what happens next, long periods of inaction followed by frantic engagement.
It's those long silent periods that allow thoughts to take over, some pleasant others nightmare reflections of what has gone before. It can be a time to forge friendships and exchange feelings and experiences. Part of the therapeutic nature of mateship.
Little wonder that war has an adverse effect on the survivors, even those who show little signs at the time. Many deal with their experiences by suppressing or burying in the back of their minds what they have seen or had to do. How often do we hear “he never talked about it?”
Loss and grief contribute greatly to the trauma of war. Loss of mates goes without saying. But on discharge, the silence can be deafening. The sudden loss of activity, the loss of purpose, and the realization of forgone opportunity can play havoc with the mind and physical state.
For our families, the grief can be overwhelming and may not ever dissipate. I still remember the photos my grandmother had around her house of her youngest son who died as a POW on the Burma Railway. One of five children who enlisted, and who grieved at his loss. His name however lives on among the children and grandchildren.
The sacrifice of health, both physical and mental among Veterans is important to recognize and deal with. Shell shock was a crude diagnosis of many survivors of past wars. Many of my generation have seen its manifestation in family and friends who returned from the Second World War and subsequent engagements without fully understanding what was happening. Today we recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as one of the common problems occurring in the men and women who serve our country.
This is no small problem, some 60,000 men and women have served in the last two decades including peacekeepers in Rwanda, East Timor and Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Solomon Islands.
Part of the unwritten contract is that we will look after them both while in active service and on their return. Included in the care has to be help with their families who are so often impacted by the poor health of an individual.
I have been pleased to be part of an initiative based at Concord Repatriation Hospital where we have developed a National Centre for Veterans Health Care. We are offering a streamlined service-“a one-stop-shop” for contemporary veterans and their families. Situated in the newly opened Rusty Priest Building and with accommodation next door. Each veteran is assigned a case manager as a guide through the service.
This is a day of commemoration of the bravery and sacrifice of those individuals who have served in our Military, and particularly those who have paid the ultimate price.
It should also be a day of reflection on man’s inhumanity to man. The Ukraine crisis is a reminder of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and ignores our Western belief in the rule of law. A stark reminder of the power struggles that have always existed in human memory.
In Closing the words of Colonel Ralph Honnor, commander of the 39th Militia Battalion as they stood down on the Kokoda Trail seem fitting.
“you have seen things in this place that no man should witness. Some of these things you must forget. But history will remember you, and in years to come others will wish they had your conviction.
And remember…remember the glory is not the exhortation of war, but the exhortation of man.
Man’s nobility, made transcendent in the fiery crucible of war.
Faithfulness and Fortitude
Gentleness and Compassion”
LEST WE FORGET