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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3418

Mr KATTER (5:06 PM) —Yes. My father was not a bitter person but he most certainly felt the pain of being medically discharged during the Second World War. Speaking about one of the groups that he was with in the Army, he said the irony of it was that they went to Africa, they had a wonderful trip around the world and they never saw a shot fired in anger. He said he could never go in the Anzac Day marches because he had been medically discharged. He had volunteered before the war broke out. He said he could see war coming and he thought it was everyone’s duty to volunteer.

I must also declare a personal interest: I also fit into this category. I think it behoves us to declare an interest when we have one. I also joined up, but not before the war. The war with Indonesia—the ‘konfrontasi’—had already broken out. I was 18 years of age at the time. At 17 I had never envisaged that at 18 I would be carrying a rifle and be on 24-hour call-up to go and fight in Indonesia and later in Vietnam. I was in the 49th Battalion. The average age of the 49th Battalion when they went to New Guinea was 18½ years. My father and his battalion volunteered in exactly the same way as I did. They had not envisaged that Australia would be at war with Japan. The war with Japan suddenly came upon them and, some three, four or five months later, they were up on the Kokoda Trail. One thousand men from the 49th Battalion went up there. As I said, the luck of the coin could have gone the other way, but they ended up at Kokoda and Sandananda. When they were relieved at Sandananda, only 28 of the 1,000-strong battalion were able to walk out unassisted. The majority of the battalion died on the Kokoda Trail or at Sandananda or Buna. It was simply a matter of luck. Those men had volunteered and were prepared to go. They were the unlucky ones. My generation volunteered and we were prepared to go. We were on 24-hour call-up. But we were at the lucky ones; we did not end up going.

I think the amendment moved by the member for New England is an excellent one. It takes into account the reality of men who were prepared to go to war and sacrifice their life. Through the toss of a coin, they ended up one way and not the other. In the First World War my great grandad and his brother quite literally tossed a coin. As luck would have it, my great grandad lost, and his brother went to Gallipoli—he is still at Gallipoli and he will always be at Gallipoli. So today we are talking about the toss of a coin, and that should not decide whether your country honours you or does not. You volunteered in exactly the same way. Your life was at risk in exactly the same way. You just happened to be lucky that you did not get shot at.