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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8495

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:39): I rise to support the motion of condolence of the Prime Minister for the late Nancy Wake and, in doing so, associate myself with and support all of the eloquent remarks that have been made both in the House and in this Main Committee chamber. As earlier speakers have pointed out, Nancy Wake led an incredible life, a long life and a life that mattered at a point in international history where the choices between freedom and the terrible alternative were startling for her.

Previous speakers, from the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister through, have outlined in great detail her feats. Her main feat was courage in a critical situation. In doing what she did through World War II, risking her own life and taking what was clearly an instinctive decision that in the face of evil she would do something, no matter what the cost, she saved countless lives—and not just the lives of those in her immediate vicinity where she was working during her time with the underground. Critically, she was there risking her life in preparation for D-Day, as the previous speaker said, and the invasion of Normandy, which was to be the turning point in the European war that would drive the Nazis back and ultimately end that awful war in Europe. Each day Nancy Wake's life was at risk. She would have gone about her work thinking, I suspect, that her life would come to an end at some point. As the member for Hughes pointed out, she should be praised for taking risks—but an additional point is that she would have known the odds were that she would be caught and would suffer an awful fate.

As you would expect, in recent days there has been a great deal written about Nancy Wake. There has been a wonderful book written about her, which I have not read, but I have read some of the commentary in the papers. We have some great historians in Australia who have written about the exploits of Nancy Wake, and we can reflect on the richness of her life and her contributions. One of those commentaries that stuck out for me was written by one of the gallery journalists, Paul Daley, who has written a few books on World War I. He wrote about an assignment he had when he was in London—he was told to track down Nancy Wake to interview her, and to do it within one day. He pointed out in the article that he had to find Nancy Wake somewhere in London to interview her—I think she was into her early 90s at the time—and it dawned on him that he had to do in a day what the Gestapo was never able to do over the course of the war. I recommend that the member for Higgins and others read that comment that Paul Daley wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald Sunday edition a couple of weeks ago. He found her in a hospital near the hotel where she lived. She had aged but she had lost none of her spirit and none of her forthrightness.

It is no surprise that on Nancy Wake's return to Australia she sought to involve herself in public affairs. The story of this parliament in the years immediately after the Second World War is of people of both political persuasions, having served in that war and having sacrificed so much, wanting to come back and very much be a part of this parliament. It is no surprise at all, having fought so hard for the principles she believed in, having seen the sacrifice that people like her had made and having seen first-hand the atrocities in Europe, that coming back to Australia she would want to make her contribution in a democracy and in the federal parliament of Australia. She never quite got there, as we have heard. As some of my colleagues have said, maybe parliament was not suited to her—imagine what she would have been like in the party room! I think she would have been fantastic in the party room. It would have been another chapter in her history but I think we can all agree that few people have led lives like hers, with so many chapters and having done so much.

It is right that we honour her in this parliament today but it is also right that we teach her story—which is an Australian story—and that it be taught not just in schools but right throughout the country in the years to come, ensuring that in the decades ahead everyone knows the story of Nancy Wake.