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Transcript of remarks at the launch of the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience, Wodonga, VIC

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4 September 2015




It is fitting that Albury Wodonga should be the first stop on the journey of the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience, because this has been a significant place in Australia’s military history.

Within weeks of the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, men from Albury and Wodonga and from all around the district had enlisted - men like Archie Rapsey, a farmer from Bonegilla.

Private Rapsey was killed in action at Pozieres on the 18th of August 1916. He was 24 years old.

This exhibition tells his story.

It also tells the story of Private Harry Derrick from Tallangatta, a prisoner of war, who died in Germany the day after the Armistice.

And it tells the story of Private Tom Snowden of the 8th Infantry Battalion, who came back from the war and went on to serve as the President of Wodonga Shire.

To us, the soldiers of the Great War are legends.

But in their day they were parents, children, cousins, mates and friends - and we should never forget that.

Their lives were as joyous, as sad and as complex as our own.

We must never forget the 400,000 who volunteered from an Australian population then of under five million; the 330,000 who served overseas; the 155,000 who were wounded; and the 61,000 who never returned.

When the injured did return, some blinded, some missing limbs, some with wounds it seemed impossible that a human being could survive, they would change trains at Albury and the women of the Red Cross would go and help them where they could.

It is hard to fathom the scale of loss.


But that conflict - that loss - was not purposeless.

It was for country, empire, King, and the ideal that people and countries should be free.

It was for duty, loyalty, honour and mates: the virtues that outshine any cause.

The Great War was the crucible that forged our nation and that’s why the Centenary of Anzac is an important commemoration for everyone.

As the historian Les Carlyon has said: if we remember them, if we remember what they did, they are still alive in our hearts.

So we do remember.

We remember the terrible victory on the Western Front as well as the magnificent defeat at Gallipoli.

Ninety-seven years ago this week, the Australian Army won the Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin and helped to seal Germany’s defeat.

It was in fact, in the words of Sir General John Monash, “the finest feat of arms of the war”.

The centenary of Anzac does not - will not - glorify war.

Rather, it commemorates what is best in the human spirit, what is noblest in our character and acknowledges that the worst of times can bring out the best in us.

We all owe the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra a debt of gratitude for the generous support that has helped to make this travelling exhibition a reality.

It was, after all, the Commonwealth Bank that managed the pay of soldiers on the front line during the First World War and it was the Postmaster-General’s Office which managed communications between the front line and the home front.

I should also acknowledge the Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, Senator Ronaldson, currently in China, but who, along with his Department, has overseen flawless commemorations this year.

I congratulate the Australian War Memorial for the care that has been put into this exhibition, to bring the Great War back to the towns and cities who gave up their young men to fight in the service of their country.

I hope that all who pass through the doors of this exhibition gain a better understanding of that heroic generation whose sacrifice shaped our world and whose spirit still breathes over our country a hundred years on.

I hope that as many people as possible will visit this exhibition over the next couple of years.

It was a privilege and a wonder to walk through the exhibition this morning.

It is a truly remarkable feat to bring to life those lives, those times, that struggle - those lives, those times that have shaped so significantly our lives and our times - and it would be a terrible disappointment if millions of Australians did not take advantage of this over the next two years.

Thank you.