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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5449


Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (2:02 PM) —Mr Speaker, also on indulgence, on behalf of the opposition I join the Prime Minister in remembering the passing overnight of Mr John Ross—Jack Ross—Australia’s last remaining First World War digger. In a lifetime of memorable achievements, Jack Ross lived to the great age of 110. Earlier this year, in celebrating this birthday, he became Australia’s oldest man. By anyone’s measure, an innings of 110 ranks as a great achievement. As great as it is, we stand today to record not simply Jack Ross’s longevity but above all his important place in history as Australia’s last serviceman of the First World War campaign.

Mr Ross and the 416,809 Australians who enlisted with him in the Great War, known then as the war to end all wars, belonged to an extraordinary generation of Australians. They were the first of the Anzac tradition that so many have followed. They were the generation who built modern Australia, with Federation having taken place only a few years before. These men answered the call in their hundreds of thousands and, shipped halfway around the globe, saw some of the most horrific and brutal circumstances that humanity had ever seen fit to visit upon itself. As the Prime Minister has said, Jack Ross enlisted in January 1918, at 18 years and 10 months of age, and due to the armistice later in the year he did not see active service. By the fortunes of history, the war ended before Mr Ross had completed his wireless training and, unlike so many young men of his generation, his life was spared.

That should not diminish Jack Ross’s bravery in the eyes of Australians, when you consider that he took up the call and joined the Australian Imperial Force fully aware of the carnage of Gallipoli and the devastating losses in the trenches of the Western Front. Those dreadful losses had been sorely felt right across Australia, including in his own birthplace of Maryborough in Victoria. He signed up to that war knowing that his decision to do so might very well mean his death. Signing up when he did was an act of bravery. We should not forget in this place that the enlisted men of the First World War represented 38.7 per cent of Australia’s total male population of the appropriate age at the time, making their sacrifice, and that of those left behind, even more profound. This was truly a nation under arms.

As history records, the Great War was sadly followed, too soon, by the Second World War, and Jack Ross again donned a military uniform. In early 1943 he joined the Volunteer Defence Corps, undergoing part-time military training for the defence of his local area. He was discharged in October 1945 with the rank of corporal. For most of his working life Mr Ross was employed by the Victorian Railways, except for a period as the personal secretary to the Hon. Clive Stoneham, MLA for Maryborough and Daylesford. He is remembered as being a proud Labor man, as the Prime Minister noted—he was a life member of the Australian Labor Party—and a justice of the peace.

Twice married, Mr Ross is survived by his daughter Peggy, his son Robert and four grandchildren. Irene, his first wife, passed away in 1971 and in 1974 Jack married Janet Bell, who sadly passed away in 1981. In 1999, the Howard government awarded Jack the 80th Anniversary Armistice Remembrance Medal in recognition of his First World War service and in 2002, as a centenarian, the Howard government also awarded him the Centenary Medal in recognition of his contribution to Australian society.

In farewelling Mr Ross today, we farewell an extraordinary generation of Australians—many of them our own grandparents—our Great War generation, the men of the AIF who sacrificed so much to build the nation we have today. We often use the term ‘nation building’ in this House, but for Jack Ross and his generation nation building was something they lived and breathed, and all too often paid for with their lives. Australia owes so much to this brave war generation and in this place we honour their service again today, as we should on every day that we stand in a free country, here in Australia, a country made free by the sacrifices of so many others. To his friends and family and the many family members and descendants of other Great War veterans, we can never repay their sacrifice and today, to the family of Jack Ross in particular, a grateful nation says, ‘Thank you, Jack.’


The SPEAKER —As a mark of respect, I invite members to show their concurrence with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—


The SPEAKER —I thank the House.