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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 439

Mr IRONS (10:46 AM) —I fear that I will not have enough time to do justice to the gentleman I am going to speak about today, but I will do my best. One of the best things about being the member for Swan is meeting the great diversity of people who make up my electorate. From refugees and proud local veterans to the working disabled and senior citizens—each has a remarkable story to tell, and all make or have made a valuable contribution to our society.

During the 2007 election campaign I met a man who had one of the most remarkable stories of all. When I met Fred Harper he was 100 years old, and it was after his and his father’s war medals had been stolen. I befriended Fred not only because he was a great bloke, in every sense of the typical Aussie bloke, but I considered him to be an Australian national treasure. Today it is my sad duty to inform the House that Mr Fred Harper, aged 101, of Redcliffe, Western Australia passed away on 29 December 2008, peacefully, in his sleep.

Born in Adelaide in 1907, Fred and his family moved to WA where his father enlisted in the Army in 1914. Fred’s father subsequently became one of the legendary Anzacs who fought in Gallipoli in 1915. Following the war, Fred’s parents split up, and Fred and his brother were considered orphans and sent to the Clontarf Boys Home—a story which I can particularly relate to, as I was institutionalised myself at the age of six months.

In 1941, at the age of 34, Fred departed Fremantle port to serve with the Allied forces in World War II in no fewer than three theatres: Egypt, Palestine and the Middle East. Having survived the war, Mr Harper returned with his medals to live a full life in the West. When Fred’s medals were stolen, it was with the generous help of the member for Bradfield, who was then the Minister for Defence, that it was arranged to get the medals reminted, and we presented them to Fred at an emotional ceremony in 2007.

Fred married and had five children. His wife passed away in 1978, and he outlived one of his sons and one of his daughters. In the latter part of his life, he lived with his daughter Leonie and son-in-law John. I know they miss him terribly, and I think they are listening to me now acknowledging Fred in this place.

It was an honour to invite Fred to Canberra as my special guest for my first speech last March. During his trip, I arranged for Fred to visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where Fred was presented with a pack containing information about his father’s war experience and record. I believe this meant more to him than the medals he earned.

At 101, Fred was still proud to hold a valid driver’s licence. This leads me to speak about something Fred’s granddaughter, Julie Fowder, said at his funeral about ‘Pop stories’. His great-granddaughter Chelsi did a reading at Fred’s funeral, very bravely and with plenty of emotion. At Christmas 2007, after claiming he was too tired and too hot to attend a family function on Boxing Day, Fred was spotted by family members cheekily driving down the Great Eastern Highway with his mate Ivan. When confronted with the fact that they had seen him when they passed him, he quickly replied that they must have been speeding.

In this House we are particularly good at offering condolences for those who have died in the course of defending Australia; today, I speak about Fred. He was one of Australia’s national treasures, and I hope to continue to meet people with his spirit in my capacity as the member for Swan.