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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 203


Mr TIM FISCHER(10.18) —Tonight I rise to pay a tribute to those associated with the Hellfire Pass project located in the Kwai Noi Valley in Thailand. I draw the attention of the House to this very important project which is to commemorate the thousands of Australians who served on the construction of the Burma death railway and the thousands upon thousands of humans who lost their lives during the course of this project. On the Anzac Day weekend in April this year there will be a special commemoration and series of functions which, amongst other things, will include an address by Sir Edward `Weary' Dunlop on location and the unveiling of a plaque in memory of 16,000 prisoners of war who lost their lives on the construction of the Burma death railway. I might add that some 90,000 enforced labourers from Asia also lost their lives in this horrific and tragic chapter of World War II.

Last week, in company with the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks), I visited the area, assisted by the Australian Embassy. Our escort on this occasion was Mr Ken Bradley, the Vice-President of the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce and the project convenor. The project is well along the path to completion in time for Anzac Day. It involves the construction of an easy walking path for visitors and veterans to make their way from the nearest highway down to what is known as Konyu Cutting, which was built by the bare hands of many Australian soldiers in World War II under the enforcement of the Japanese occupying forces. To bring about around the clock construction and speed up the progress of the Burma death railway, fires were lit on either side of the rock cuttings under construction. I understand that that is the aspect which led to the terminology `Hellfire Pass', which is an area located some three hours driving north-west of Bangkok.

I want to pay a tribute to all those associated with this project, which I think will be a very appropriate commemoration of a very important chapter in Australian war history and in our heritage, and which is regarded equally importantly by the Thai Government, the people of Thailand and the many others who found themselves involved with this horrific railway line which, in some 12 months, was rushed through the mountain range between Thailand and Burma in many areas where human beings had not been before. In drawing the attention of the House to this matter I recognise that we live in volatile and difficult times. I suppose everything is relative. No one could give a better, more accurate or more moving description of all that took place in Kanchanaburi and in the Hellfire Pass than two members of this Parliament, the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren) and Senator Sir John Carrick, who served as prisoners of war and who were forced to work on this project, particularly in Konyu Cutting, which is a feature of the Hellfire Pass project. Both are very supportive of the project and I hope that the Australian Government will send both up there officially on the Anzac Day weekend to participate with Sir Edward Dunlop, the Australian Ambassador, and Thai Government officials at the dedication.

I appeal to veterans and ex-prisoners of war, association members and others around Australia to take an interest in this project and, if at all possible, to travel to the area, difficult though it is for them to relive some very harsh memories from the past. I assure them at the same time that some war graves which were damaged late last year in a tragic accident at Kanchanaburi war cemetery have now been repaired and that the Kanchanaburi war cemetery is once again in excellent condition. The Thai authorities were very apologetic for that damage, which saw the earth removed from the top of some 108 Australian war graves. It should never have happened and, indeed, the position of supervisor for the Kanchanaburi war cemetery, where the special Anzac Day observance associated with this very important Hellfire Pass project will take place, is being readvertised at this moment. I commend to the House the whole project, all involved with it and in particular the Convenor of the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Mr Ken Bradley.