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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10495


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:55): Sadly but with great honour I again rise today to speak about soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, with five soldiers killed in two separate incidents in one week in what has been called our darkest military incident since Vietnam. Private Nathanael Galagher was from Wee Waa in New South Wales. I know Wee Waa reasonably well. It is a town not unlike my own hometown of St George, a cotton town, and no doubt he spent some time working in the cotton fields or chipping, doing those horrible jobs that come with life in a country town.

He was just 23 years old and on his second deployment when he was tragically killed in a helicopter crash on 30 August 2012. He joined the Army on 22 October 2007 and was posted to the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, 1RAR. On completion of his selection and training course and reinforcement cycle, Private Galagher was posted to the 2nd Commando Regiment in November 2011. Private Galagher was on his second tour of Afghanistan. I understand that he always had positive attitude and was a very well respected soldier in his regiment. Private Galagher had been awarded the following honours and awards: the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp ICAT, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the NATO non article 5 Medal with Clasp ISAF and the multiple tour indicator, the Infantry Combat Badge and the Returned from Active Service Badge.

To Private Galagher's partner, Jessie, his parents, Wayne and Sally, and his sister, Elanor, to all his friends and family, may our thoughts and prayers be with you as you remember a man who was enthusiastic and always gave his all.

Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, just 30, from Carnarvon in Western Australia, another country town, was on his 10th deployment abroad when he too was tragically killed in the helicopter crash of 30 August 2012. It rolls off the tongue easily, 10th deployment, but anyone from the military would have an insight into the courage of such a soldier. Lance Corporal McDonald enlisted in the Army in May 1999 and was posted to the 1RAR. He served for five years, left in 2004 and then realised he loved it so much that he re-enlisted in 2005.

On completion of his selection and training course and reinforcement cycle, Lance Corporal McDonald was posted to the then 4th Battalion Commando, now the 2nd Commando Regiment, in August 2008. He was on his sixth tour to Afghanistan. I understand he was quick-witted and 'brought a positive energy to both his unit comrades and all those who served with him'. An ideas man, a problem solver and a soldier who was dedicated and enthusiastic to the core, one of the very best who let us sleep safely in our beds at night. He was a highly professional soldier but his quiet nature and humility meant that he always ensured that credit earned was passed to his fellow soldiers, which is one of those most Australian of characteristics, particularly for our diggers. Lance Corporal McDonald has been awarded the following honours and awards: the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp East Timor and ICAT, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Australian Service Medal with Clasp East Timor and CT/SR, the Australian Defence Medal, the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor Medal, the Timor Leste Solidarity Medal, the NATO non article 5 Medal with Clasp ISAF and multiple tour indicator, the Commander of the First Division commendation, the Infantry Combat Badge and the Return from Active Service Badge—quite a list indeed.

To Lance Corporal McDonald's fiancee, Rachael, his mother, Myrna, his stepfather, Bernie, and brothers Percy, Roger and Gary, and all of his other family and friends, be you listening now or reading this in 10 or 20 years time, our thoughts are with you during this difficult time as you remember a young man who was brave in battle and served his country with positivity and hope for the future. Like so many of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, he placed himself in harm's way so that we could sleep safer in our beds at night.

These two soldiers epitomise the characteristics that we envisage all soldiers having. Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald paid the ultimate sacrifice. They died defending our country so that we as Australians could continue to enjoy the freedoms and liberties we have fought for decades to maintain. Their names will be preserved in the hearts and minds of many Australians as well as having a permanent place on the walls of the Australian War Memorial, bedecked with poppies, alongside all of those who have fallen in Afghanistan and other fields of battle.

Sadly, over 100,000 Australians names are up there. It is sad to see loss of life, obviously. Too often this is splashed across the news, but what is even sadder is when the lives of such skilled soldiers as Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald are taken at so young an age.

Obviously, they had so much to offer the world, the military, Australia and the ones they left behind. As a father of two young boys I cannot begin to imagine the thought of burying a child, and the pain these families are going through. My condolences and prayers extend to you all.

I finish with the words of poet Bruce Dawe, who also served in the military, although I think he was in the RAAF and not the Army. As an English teacher I taught the poem Homecoming for years and years, long before I went into politics. The whole poem is not totally appropriate now that I am thinking of and talking about real heroes. I am thinking of Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald rather than the concept of a soldier being returned home, so I am thinking about real heroes and real soldiers. For that reason I will not read the entire poem. Nevertheless, as Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald make their final journeys home to Wee Waa and Carnarvon, or wherever they are in rural Australia, these classic Australian country towns, Bruce Dawe's final stanza is a poignant conclusion:

… as they move

on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset

raise muzzles in mute salute,

and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs

telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree

and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry

—they’re bring them home, now, too late, too early.

Lest we forget.