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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8135


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (13:59): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death on 7 August 2011, of Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC GM, and place on record its appreciation of her long and meritorious public service.

Many Australians and free people around the world have joined in tribute to Nancy Wake in the days since her death in London on 7 August. It is fitting that this, the representative House of the Australian people does the same today.

Like so many great Australians Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand, but we claim her very truly. She lived overseas for long periods of her life but she was always one of us. Nancy grew up in Sydney, trained and worked as a nurse and then pursued her dreams of freedom and adventure as a journalist in Europe before the war. In later life she recalled that what she saw there in the 1930s led her to become committed to defeating the Nazi regime. At a time when many would not see the evils of fascism or the threat Hitler represented to the world, Nancy saw it straight. In her words:

I saw the disagreeable things that he was doing to people, first of all the Jews. I thought it was quite revolting.

At the outbreak of war Nancy Wake had love and money; a good life and everything to lose. Yet her courage called her to remain in France. She worked with the Resistance as a courier, a saboteur and a spy. Her enduring nickname, the White Mouse, reflected her remarkable ability to evade capture. She was three times awarded the Croix de Guerre and she entered France as a Legion of Honour. She was awarded the UK's George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom and became a Companion of the Order of Australia.

You do not get to be the Gestapo's most wanted person by being conventional, and Nancy Wake was no plaster saint. She lived a long and active life, she inspired movies and television series, she avoided politicians who wanted photos and she enjoyed plenty of gin and tonic. She never stopped telling it as she saw it and she was the author of many a memorable quote—the best of them thoroughly unparliamentary—although, if things had turned out differently in 1949, or 1951 or 1966 she would have been a Liberal member of parliament. I am not sure that either the member for Barton or the member for Kingsford Smith would have welcomed the competition, even when she was 98.

Above all, Nancy Wake was a tough, courageous lady: an Australian of exceptional courage and daring who saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel; an Australian whose wartime achievements helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end; an Australian whose extraordinary wartime efforts strained belief; an Australian who led Resistance fighters, who freed Allied prisoners, who escaped France over the Pyrenees, who returned by parachute months before D-Day, and who possessed a profound courage, the courage which she tested often and the courage which never failed her.

Nancy Wake was one of the bravest Australians who ever lived. For generations of our people to come, Nancy Wake will remain an abiding inspiration. For today, I simply offer my condolence and that of the House on the passing of this truly remarkable Australian.