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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11314


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (11:42): On 11 November, we commemorated 100 years since the conclusion of the First World War—a conflict which, in its inestimable cruelty, claimed the lives of some 40 million civilians and military personnel around the world. Australia at the time was a very young and small country of only five million. We sent 416,809 men to fight. Of those, 60,000 did not return and 156,000 returned wounded or gassed; however, it is safe to say that no man or woman who served during that time came home without bearing some wound, physical or mental.

The First World War was the first industrial war conducted on a mass scale involving innumerable machines and millions of men. The human suffering was on a similarly huge scale. At its conclusion, the First World War was popularly named 'the Great War' and 'the war to end all wars'. The cruel irony of history was that its scale and suffering gave way to a more murderous and inhumane conflict barely a generation later. But the legacy of the First World War runs deep, both physically and mentally. To this day, the landscape of northern France and Belgium is pockmarked by barrages of artillery that turned hundreds of miles of landscape into wasteland. For Australia, the First World War was our trial by fire. Many of the values our nation lives by today trace their birth to places like Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Pozieres and Beersheba. Courage, mateship, teamwork, larrikinism, endurance and a healthy disregard for authority are all essential parts of our identity which grew from the horrid brutality of the First World War.

One hundred years on, the sacrifice of our diggers is not forgotten. Over the last few weeks, I was fortunate enough to visit a great many local commemoration services, including the main commemoration at Memorial Park in Meadowbank. At this peaceful memorial overlooking the Parramatta River, local school students came together with community leaders to hold a wonderful ceremony. Bernie Cox again led the service, which was capped off with the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the event and was funded by the federal government's Armistice Centenary Grants Program. We were very fortunate to receive a number of these grants which enabled our community to commemorate the centenary. The Ryde District Historical Society received $5,000 to create a register of local memorials; Karonga School received funds for a living memorial, which will be accessible to students with special needs there; and both Epping Boys High School and Eastwood Heights Public School received over $10,000 to create memorial gardens.

Our electorate of Bennelong sent a great many of its sons to far-off lands during the First World War, and it's worthwhile that we consider their immeasurable sacrifice and courage. Between 1914 and 1918, over 2,000 men volunteered from the area that is now covered by Bennelong. At the time, there were only a mere 3,500 dwellings in this area. This level of volunteering is almost unprecedented across the country. Remarkably, these volunteers came in a steady stream throughout the war, barely dipping after the threat from Gallipoli or during the defeat and stagnation of the Western Front in 1916. This patriotism and bravery is incredible and worthy of the huge turnouts seen across Bennelong last month. During this time, it's important we all stop and give thanks to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety, freedom, and prosperity. We stand on the courage and labour of generations past who valued the future of their country more highly than themselves. They set an admirable example that we would do well not to forget. Lest we forget.