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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 9042

Ms PARKE (8:35 PM) —I want to speak briefly about an event I attended in North Fremantle on 29 September. On that occasion I was invited to the clubrooms of the North Fremantle Amateur Football Club to help celebrate the official launch of a book by Baden Pratt entitled Hell for Leather: the Forgotten Footballers of North Fremantle. This book, to use the words of former Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter, who contributed the foreword, is a story that simply had to be told. But it is much more than that. It is a book that captures the absolute folly of war and the sheer waste of young men’s lives—men who more than 90 years ago left behind their beloved football ground in North Fremantle to fight in the trenches and mud heaps of the Western Front. A large number of them never returned, and those who did were never the same.

But the war did not just kill the footballers; it also killed a football club, the original North Fremantle Football Club, which was devastated by the war. More than 40 members of the club volunteered for service, 11 were killed  and another 20 or so were seriously wounded. Hell for Leather, which I think is a magnificent title, also looks at the impact of World War I on Fremantle at large—on the port, the hospital, and the wider community. It traces in thumbnail sketches the lives of many North Fremantle soldiers who were killed in the Great War—which is not an appropriate title for any war, in my opinion—and of the North Fremantle footballers who were killed in World War II and in Vietnam. The book is the result of an amazing community effort and has been a profound act of remembering those forgotten footballers.

The community’s commitment to remembering goes further. The North Fremantle Amateur Football Club has traced the gravesites and memorials of those nine footballers killed on the Western Front in World War I. This month the club is sending 32 club members to Europe to visit the sites. Some of the young footballers going on the trip spoke movingly at the Hell for Leather book launch about their fellow club members who had been killed all those years ago. They plan to conduct special ceremonies at each of the sites and to place a club football jumper with the number and name of the fallen footballer on the grave or memorial. Of course, both the pilgrimage and the book coincide with the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.

We are now seeing in Australia an increasing awareness, beyond the Anzacs in Gallipoli, of the Australian contribution in wartime and in peacekeeping. This awareness is extending to such events and places as the Kokoda Trail, Nui Dat, East Timor and Afghanistan, but it is also extending to arenas that have always been in the background but never really properly commemorated in Australia, like the Western Front and Palestine. This year has seen special Australian Anzac Day ceremonies taking place in Villers-Bretonneux in France and in Beersheba in Israel. In thinking about the journey which the members of the North Fremantle Amateur Football Club will undertake this month to visit gravesites, I was reminded of my own recent experience visiting Commonwealth war cemeteries in Gaza, Beersheba and, most recently, Cairo while I was working with the United Nations in the Middle East.

At the beginning of last year, a friend of mine who grew up in Fremantle told me in an email of his great sadness that his dad’s uncle, Victor Charles McIntosh, who served with the 10th Battalion, AIF, had died in Cairo on 13 January 1915 at the age of 21 and that no-one in the family had ever been able to visit the grave. Last year on 13 January, I visited Victor McIntosh’s grave in the Commonwealth war cemetery in Cairo, exactly 92 years to the day after Victor’s death. I took photos of the grave and the cemetery which I sent to the family.

The point is that, in remembering all those touched by war—the soldiers, the civilians, the dead, the wounded, the veterans and the families—and in visiting the memorials and the thousands of rows of crosses and tombstones in distant places, we remember the futility of war and the tragic waste of lives and we make a renewed commitment to the non-violent resolution of conflicts.

I especially want to praise the author of Hell for Leather, Baden Pratt, for showing that each of the young men from North Fremantle who died on the Western Front or at Gallipoli was an individual loved by his family and his community, was an individual who loved his country and was an individual who loved his football. I also want to pay tribute to Paul Farrell, the President of the North Fremantle Amateur Football Club, and to all the club members, especially the young footballers, who are making this trip to the Western Front. I venture to say this is the most innovative and impressive contribution by any football club in Australia, professional or amateur, to the celebration of 150 years of Australian football this year and, more importantly, to marking the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI and the lives of these young men.