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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6269

Dr ALY (Cowan) (12:17): I'd like to start by thanking the member for North Sydney for bringing this important motion and to also welcome everybody here in the chamber today who's come to listen to this motion. Many of the speakers before me have spoken quite frankly and openly about the issues that happened 100 years ago. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise this as just one example of Australia's humanitarian efforts during wartime. Australians are known for our warmth and generosity, and there are many stories of our humanitarian efforts.

The humanitarian effort with the Armenians, though, was Australia's first as a Commonwealth nation. Wherever they went in the Middle East, Australian forces encountered Armenians. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a community of several thousand lived in Egypt, mostly in Cairo, and that the Anzacs, who were stationed at the Mena Camp in Cairo, met these Armenians as they patronised their businesses. I've been to Mena House several times in Cairo, and each time I'm regaled with stories of the Australian history and presence there.

Here's a little known story: in December 1914, Henry Miller Lanser, a motor mechanic from Sydney, visited a recording studio in Cairo owned by an Armenian Setrak Mechian, and he recorded a Christmas message to his family back in Australia. It is the only known recorded letter by made by an Australian soldier during the First World War and perhaps the only one in existence.

In late 1915, 5,000 Armenians were rescued from the Mediterranean coast by a French cruiser. They were taken to Egypt to Port Said using three Australian transport ships. The Egyptian government established a camp for the Armenian refugees. There are many, many more stories of encounters between Australians and Armenians during the war. The Australian-Armenian humanitarian the effort culminated in the establishment in Lebanon of the Australian-run orphanage in late 1922. The Australian-run orphanage housed around 1,700 Armenian orphans. The Australasian Armenian Relief Fund was formed during that year, and its secretary, the Reverend James Cresswell, toured the Armenian refugee camps and orphanages in the following year, documenting some of the heartbreaking images of suffering among the Armenians he saw there.

Australia responded, with then PM Billy Hughes allowing for free transport of relief supplies for Armenian refugees on the new Commonwealth line of steamers right up until 1929. After the war Armenian migrants to Australia increased, particularly in the 1960s. The largest single group came from Egypt in 1962 and 1963 as a result of the nationalist movement in Egypt by Gamal Abdel Nasser, which saw the expulsion of Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Maltese, predominantly out of the port city of Alexandria, which, incidentally, is where I was born.

Australia has had a long relationship with Armenia and with its people, as we have had with many other nations. The relationship with Armenia, though, is characterised by a humanitarian bond exhibited through a range of humanitarian efforts by Australians and a relationship forged by respect for human life.

Australians should indeed be proud of our history. We should be proud of our history of humanitarianism—something that we might want to reflect on from time to time, because this history is part of the forging of our nation's character and our Australian values. The humanitarian efforts by Australians towards Armenians should be recognised as an important part of our history. It serves to remind us all that even in war there is heroism, compassion and a shared humanity. Once again I thank the member for North Sydney for bringing forth this motion. I believe it is a very important motion for the Armenian people in Australia, and I hope that this motion starts a long road to reconciliation that is much needed for the people of Armenia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.