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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8501

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (18:12): I too would like to honour Nancy Wake. Nancy Wake was a truly exceptional Australian and one who deserves to be celebrated. Many of the things I will say have been said by other speakers tonight, but they bear repeating. This was a girl who was born in very humble circumstances in New Zealand in 1912. She came to Australia as a child of four and lived in Sydney in the tough days of the First World War. She was deserted by her father and had a fairly ordinary relationship with her mother. This led her to adopt a fairly independent lifestyle even when she was in her mid-teens. For a time she was a junior nurse at the hospital at Mudgee in New South Wales. Because of a bequest from an aunt, she was able to go to Europe. She fell in love with Europe and decided to become a journalist.

It was in her capacity as journalist that she found in the depths of her spirit an acute distaste for the Nazis. She was in Austria and she saw, following the Anschluss, how the Germans treated the Austrian Jews. She resolved that she would not be part of that but would do something about it. She became first a courier and later a member of the Resistance and still later again a spy. On her second encounter in Europe during the war she joined the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, and they were the best trained and the bravest of the brave.

Very few books have had as much impact on me as the story of her life, The White Mouse. As other speakers have said tonight, the name 'white mouse' was the title given her by the Gestapo because she was always one step ahead of them, she was always on the move and she took on many daring tasks but never once was corralled. It is funny how the Germans call the early troops in the First World War the Old Contemptibles and they called our troops in North Africa the Desert Rats and then they called her a white mouse. All those titles live in legend. In her case, indeed it should.

In the story of her life some remarkable events occurred. There were occasions of amazing courage and daring, flirting with people who could put a gun to her head and shoot her at any time, riding 700 kilometres across France until the tops of her legs were literally bleeding so that she could get some equipment to the Resistance. She became such a legend that the Germans closed in on her and she escaped via Spain to England. Sadly, her husband paid the price. He would not give her up to the Gestapo and he was summarily executed. She came back in 1943 ahead of the D-Day invasion to lead the Resistance and at one stage she led 7,000 men. It was truly remarkable activity. She was competent in the use of weapons and she was known to have killed one of the Germans with her bare hands. She was a formidable soldier. I think today we have a sort of ambivalence, Australians in particular and perhaps Anglo-Saxons in general, about letting our females fight on the front line. Quite frankly, I still believe that today, that they should not. Nevertheless, imagine what the resistance to people like her was at that stage. She was commanding 7,000 in France in the lead-up to D-Day.

Her remarkable feats during the Second World War led to her becoming the most decorated woman of the Second World War and certainly the most decorated Australian. She received the Legion of Honour, three Croix de Guerre, the George Medal and the American Medal of Freedom. That by any standards is a remarkable thing. The member for Bennelong rather graciously said that by quirk of fate she never received an Australian honour at that time. It was not a quirk of fate; it was plain bloody-mindedness and bureaucracy that denied the bravest Australian woman of the Second World War her just entitlement. Oh yes, they said, she fought in another army. She did not fight in the Australian forces. There were all sorts of excuses under the sun that were thrown up as to why she should not have an award. I have always found it extraordinary that the American President could grant the 3rd Battalion RAR after the Battle of Kapyong in Korea a presidential citation. The American President, in the immediate wake of the battle, granted our whole battalion his citation. Again, Lyndon B Johnson, after the Battle of Long Tan, granted D Company, 6RQR the same honour—the Presidential Citation—as did the Vietnamese government. Yet Nancy Wake, from her own country, did not receive a decoration until quite late in her life; following a visit from John Howard to see her, the Governor-General, Major General Jeffery, presented her with the Companion of the Order of Australia at Australia House in England in 2004. That was after slightly more than 60 years. Quite frankly, that was a disgrace.

While on this condolence motion I am not anxious to add a fractious note, I feel compelled to, in one sense. I have been an unapologetic promoter of those who served so bravely at the Battle of Long Tan. And still to this day a number of them have not been properly honoured. I had the pleasure of putting the Star of Gallantry on the chest of Colonel Harry Smith, who was the commander as Major Harry Smith at Long Tan, just last year in Maryborough outside the Long Tan museum display. It was extraordinary that he would have to wait for over 40 years to have the DSO that he was originally recommended for granted. It is a disgrace. It is a blight on our country and it continues. His two lieutenants, Sabben and Kendall, had their awards upgraded to medals of gallantry, which is roughly the equivalent of the Military Cross. But there is still the commander of the carrier group that went in at Long Tan.

As honourable members will know, 105 Australians and three New Zealanders faced 2½ thousand Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong in the rubber plantation at Long Tan. Eighteen of them died that day. It was one of the most incredible battles; they were outnumbered by over 20 to 1. And still, until this day, eight from D Company, two from A Company and one from the troop carriers—11 of them—have still not had their awards upgraded. Nine of them received only MIDs, mentioned in dispatches, which is almost an insult. These 11 unresolved awards burn in my psyche every Anzac Day, Long Tan Day, Kapyong Day and Remembrance Day when I think of that injustice.

It took us 60 years to recognise Nancy Wake—60 long years to recognise a hero who fought for the allied cause right at the front of the pack. Let us not make it another 60 years—it is 40 years now—for those 11 troops that still have not been properly acknowledged. Let us not treat them in the way we treated Nancy Wake. Nancy Wake, although New Zealand born, was certainly a great Australian, a courageous person, a person who loved life, a person who asked for her ashes to be distributed where she fought with her comrades in France, a truly remarkable woman. Rest in peace.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): I too wish to associate myself with the contributions made by honourable members on the passing of Nancy Wake AC, GM. She was, in the words of the member for Hinkler, my friend, a true legend and a hero. I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the Committee.

Mr HAYES: I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.