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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5434


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (1:25 PM) —I have genuine pleasure in speaking on the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008. That renowned national publication Laurie Ferguson’s Reid report rarely moves beyond the parochial, but the front page of its last edition concerned the Ballarat memorial. That is possibly because of a few connections with the genesis of this memorial.

As people might be aware, my predecessor, Tom Uren, was a prisoner on the Burma railway and has recounted his comradeship with Sir John Carrick, Weary Dunlop and others. For him that experience of the Second World War was also instrumental in forming his political beliefs and life. Many times he compared the experience of the British with that of the Australians, with regard to the death rates, the onset of cholera and dysentery and so on. He attributed the Australian survival rate not only to the leadership of Dunlop but also to the sense of common purpose and the degree of egalitarianism that characterised the way the Australians operated as opposed to the British, where it was very much about hierarchical structures—those at the top had no interest in those below. That is one connection.

The reason I mentioned this in my last newsletter is that there is another local connection. When Tom Uren’s brother-in-law, Bill Palmer, along with Bill Dircks discovered the Japanese surrender in Changi three days after the event, they constructed an Australian flag out of Japanese mosquito netting, pieces of canvas from an old army kit bag, hessian et cetera and hoisted it after reveille that day. That memorial flag is now in the Australian War Memorial. It was indicative of the perseverance and ingenuity of Australians who were captured during that period. I will refer again later to Uren in relation to another memorial in my electorate.

My wife’s uncle, Noel Keith Walsh, of Indigenous background, was another person who experienced Japanese incarceration during the Second World War. As for so many other Australians, this was an enduring hardship for the rest of his life, undermining his employability and basically destroying a lot of his future life experience. So I am pleased for those more personal reasons to speak on this bill.

As other speakers have indicated, the bill provides a mechanism that will enable a memorial located outside the Australian Capital Territory which meets specified criteria to be recognised as a military memorial of national significance. Other speakers have referred to the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, which says that, whilst they might be deemed national in character, memorials outside of national land could not be designated national war memorials.

There has been much quibbling; there has been much utilisation of semantics here in this debate to basically belittle what has been accomplished by this process. As other speakers, and the member for Shortland in particular, have mentioned, it is interesting to note people complaining, quibbling and undermining this initiative but at the same time hoping that the monuments in their electorates could be included. They are all coming forward proffering the joys of this particular monument—the colours, the stone et cetera—and indicating a desire for the legislation to be extended to memorials in their areas. At the same time they spend their whole time undermining what the Prime Minister and the government have accomplished.

So we have this new monument in Ballarat Botanical Gardens. Others have mentioned initiatives by Senator Ronaldson and the current member for Ballarat along the road to getting here and the devotion of $160,000 towards the project and its upkeep. So I say that it is no mean accomplishment that we have found a way to increase and enhance the importance of a number of memorials beyond the normal, localised monuments in so many country towns and suburbs of this nation.

Returning to my electorate, one of our important local sites is the war memorial at the Guildford School of Arts. Last night, I googled that building—and I am on its management board, as is the former state member for Granville Kim Yeadon, although he has moved many hundreds of kilometres from the electorate—and it is interesting that one of the references was to an interview, a very extensive, seminal interview, in January 1996 with Tom Uren about his life experiences, conducted by Robin Hughes. In the interview, Tom Uren says:

 … her grandfather—

that is, his wife’s—

had been a person of some eminence in the district, he was the man that laid the foundation stone of the school of arts many years before …

And he went on to say that his wife’s family was on the conservative side of politics. So he was talking there about the establishment of the memorial school of arts back in the 1920s. The school is a local institution which has sufficed as the suburb’s war memorial following the demise of the RSL a decade or two ago. It is a venue which is utilised by a large number of local organisations, particularly groups that cannot afford the plusher halls in our electorate. It is also the site of a permanent booking by the Scottish heritage association.

The school commemorates the numbers of soldiers from the suburb of Guildford who fought in both world wars. There is also a separate monument for the people who went down in the Centaur when that was bombed by the Japanese. I mentioned the continued role of the Palmer family—as I said earlier, Tom Uren’s brother-in-law Bill was on the management committee of this organisation for many years and, indeed, Bill’s grandfather, Mr Milligan, had been instrumental in raising the money through tennis games, fetes et cetera over many years to dedicate this hall in 1933. That is one of a diverse range of monuments in our electorate.

Some speakers have alluded to the treatment of Vietnam veterans on their return to Australia. Our area could not be accused of being unwelcoming to Vietnam veterans—despite the fact that the electorate of Reid and its Labor Party organisation were amongst the strongest opponents of the war, led of course by Tom Uren throughout that period—because, for all the people who talk of shame, the Merrylands RSL Club probably led the country with regard to the inclusion of Vietnam veterans in the organisation. I went there last Saturday night, to their 50th anniversary, and there is a very significant presence of people from the Vietnam War on the management of that club. That is connected, of course, to the presence of the Vietnam Veterans Association about 150 metres from my electoral office—people like Tim McCoomb and of course John Haines, the former mayor of Parramatta. John Haines, having served in Vietnam, played a major role in establishing a sister-city relationship between Parramatta and a region of Vietnam. He is constantly endeavouring to increase understanding between Vietnam and Australia and never ceases to take initiatives to provide equipment and help to that Vietnamese area. So it is no wonder that Merrylands RSL perhaps led the nation in the inclusion of Vietnam veterans and the provision of a home for them, with the presence so nearby, in Granville, of the national headquarters of the association.

Also in my electorate, in Blaxcell Street, Granville, behind the Granville Youth Club, there is a monument with two artillery shells, a large rock and a memorial plaque to Vietnam War veterans. There is another monument nearby at the Granville RSL Club dedicated to Phil Thompson, former National President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, who passed away in November 1986. These memorials throughout my electorate are all very different but they do all have the theme of remembering suffering, remembering endurance—making sure that we recall that suffering but also the continuing experiences of the families involved.

St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Lidcombe has been the site for many years of an annual service in remembrance of war. I have always been intrigued by the now very old plaques along the wall of that church, referring to individual soldiers who perished overseas in what would have then been very exotic sites—for example, Sierra Leone during the Second World War; someone obviously died of disease on the way to or from Europe. All of those people are incorporated around the walls in what is again, like the Guildford School of Arts, a war memorial site. Obviously, with the passing of time, it has been very difficult to retain that service, but the church itself still serves as a very concrete reminder of the sacrifices made, and I hope that financial pressures over the next few decades do not in any way lead to attempts to change the nature of that church.

In the suburb of Merrylands, we have had very strong contributions by the Holroyd City Council over many, many decades to making sure the community did keep remembrance of these times past at the forefront. Amongst the sites in Merrylands is a war memorial in Arcadia Street, where the council chambers were once located. That is quite historic; it has always been there. It is the site of a ceremony each year. There is a street of trees with individual plaques adjacent to the new council chambers, and another wall was constructed in recent years. I commend not only the RSL but also the council for its leadership on these matters.

It is also worth noting that, with the demise of local halls and the increasing concentration of resources, many of the plaques that graced suburbs of the Holroyd municipality have now been collected in the council chambers themselves. So there is quite a bit of history. You can see plaques that were formerly at Westmead, Wentworthville and other suburbs. These plaques are from buildings that were utilised by groups which, with the changes in society, no longer have the numbers to stay alive.

You run across these things so often. My local party organisation in Guildford meets in the Uniting Church. The month before last there was another group utilising one of the halls, so we moved into an even older hall of that church, which had been relocated. It was so interesting to find, inside that old church hall from the First World War, indications from the Uniting Church—then the Methodist Church—of people in their parish who had died or fought in the First World War. This is the kind of thing we see. There are public memorials that have been erected not only by society in general but also by churches and other organisations to commemorate people. It is quite historic, and I have referred those various plaques to the Granville Historical Society.

Speaking of the Granville Historical Society, I am pleased that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has funded a project of that organisation, which includes people like June Bullivant and Colin Humphreys. Former New South Wales Minister for Education Rod Cavalier, a person with no mean reputation for historical work, has commented that the Granville Historical Society is amongst the best four or five in the country—and that has been shown by their wide production of books over the years. The society has been funded more recently to do individual histories of all of the people who fought in the First World War. It has been interesting in recent months to read about those people in the Granville Guardian—what street they lived in, what their parents did, where their parents were located at the time they enlisted et cetera. The society is really doing a monumental work in bringing those people back to life with regard to which people were related to each other, where they lived, what occupations they were undertaking when they enlisted, their age et cetera. I really congratulate that organisation for its continued work. It really will be a monumental work when accomplished.

When I was up at Rose Hill Public School for a function some years ago, I saw an interesting booklet which I have never seen anywhere else—they might have been produced in other districts of Australia during the First World War—with individual photographs of all of the people who had enlisted locally. That area, at the time of the First World War, was still semirural. I am talking about what was then referred to as the southern districts of Sydney, stretching from Guildford out to Liverpool. In this day and age, you would not believe that, back then, it still had the occasional pig farm, poultry farms and very significant stretches of wooded areas. Basically, there was very little communication between those suburbs. But there it was—a First World War booklet with photographs of all the people, from about 15 to 20 suburbs in Sydney, who had enlisted.

I have referred in passing to a significant number of memorials of very different types in my electorate. I testify to the efforts of the local RSL clubs and sub-branches, who continue to ensure each year that the important days are marked and that the monuments are maintained and renovated. One of those RSL groups that is probably facing some difficulties because of ageing is the Lidcombe RSL club. Recently I was told that they might be looking at amalgamation with another club. They are a group that, in recent years, accomplished the renaming of the local park in Lidcombe to Remembrance Park. I do not generally like repudiating history and renaming things that have historical purpose, but in this case it was probably, on balance, desirable that they replaced the former name of the park, which from recollection was named after one of the British monarchs or princes.

In summary, as I said, we have had some quibbling, whinging and complaining from the opposition about where we are today on this bill—that basically the monuments are not, in a sense, national monuments. This is a major step forward. There will be attempts by many of those opposite to accomplish the same thing for monuments in their electorates as has been engineered through this bill with regard to the memorial in Ballarat for ex-prisoners of war. I commend the legislation. I again commend the member for Ballarat, Senator Ronaldson and also the minister for bringing this legislation forward.