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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4463

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (3:54 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 8 July 2009, of Mr Edward ‘Ted’ Kenna, Australia’s last VC winner of World War II, and places on record its appreciation of his service to his country, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Ted Kenna was a man who epitomised the values that Australians hold important. He was courageous yet modest, determined yet selfless; he was a mate and a team player. Those who knew him have spoken of how those qualities stayed with Ted Kenna throughout his life. The incident for which he won the Victoria Cross was only the most famous example.

In May 1945, the Australian 6th Division was engaged in clearing the Japanese from their defensive position south of Wewak air base on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. The 2nd/4th Battalion, which included Ted Kenna, was ordered to clear the Japanese defenders away from the Wirui mission. The mission stood on a steep, 300-foot high grass-covered spur. By nightfall on 14 May the spur had been cleared but for machine gun bunkers on the north-west slopes. On the next morning the 2nd/4th moved against them. The Japanese resistance was fierce. Little progress had been made and several Australians had been hit. Private Kenna stood up and, at a range of only 50 yards, engaged one of the bunkers with a Bren light machine gun. Failing to subdue that bunker before emptying the magazine, he borrowed the rifle from a mate beside him, Private Rau, and silenced the enemy machine gun with four aimed shots. All the while, the Japanese machine-gunned him from very close range. Private Kenna then turned his reloaded Bren gun on to another bunker, about 70 yards further on, and silenced it. His courage and selfless actions enabled the position to be captured without further delay. Three weeks later, unfortunately, he was badly wounded in the face. Fortunately, in the hospital he was nursed by Marjorie Rushbury, who was to become his wife of more than 60 years. After the war he returned home to Hamilton, Victoria, where he was born and where he lived with Marjorie until they moved into a nursing home in Geelong. He worked at the local council and played for the local footy team. He was active in Army reunions and has led Melbourne’s annual Anzac Day march.

With the passing of Ted Kenna VC we have lost one of the links to a part of our history, to a time when many, many Australian men, some very young, some not so young, set down the tools of their trade—in Ted Kenna’s case, it was a plumber’s wrench—and picked up rifles, becoming soldiers at the time of their country’s greatest need. They faced terrible dangers, appalling conditions and at times absolutely overwhelming odds. And they achieved remarkable things. At the end of it, those fortunate enough to survive came back to the towns and cities, the suburbs and farms of Australia and did their best to pick up the pieces of the lives they had set aside.

Ted Kenna was one of the most recognised and famous of those men. But he told those who interviewed him over the years that he wore his VC not for himself but, in the words of his daughter Marlene Day, for every soldier—because, he said, everyone contributes to those sorts of things. That says a great deal about the kind of man Ted Kenna was. Recognised for his individual bravery for acting to defend his mates, he wore his medal on behalf of those mates. Journalists who interviewed him quickly learnt that Ted Kenna’s own choice for the action highlight of his life was, apparently, kicking the winning point for Hamilton in the last seconds of their 1947 footy grand final. We may beg to differ on that, and we probably do. Today, as we offer our deep sympathy to his family and our gratitude for his contribution, let us also remember that Ted Kenna VC was—as well as for a few short years an extraordinary soldier—for many years a husband, a father and a mate.