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Address on the occasion of the launch of the Kokoda Exhibition.

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8 AUGUST 2006

Mr John Taylor, Chairman, Shrine Trustees Mr Bruce Mildenhall  MP, Parliamentary Secretary to Premier and Cabinet, representing the Premier of Victoria Major General David McLachlan, President, Victorian Branch - RSL Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, Chief of Army Mr Shisei Kaku, Consul General for Japan Mr Alan Moore, President, 39th Battalion Association Mr Michael Ralston, Vice President, 2/14th Battalion Association Mr Owen Marshall, Vice President, 2/16 Battalion Association Mr Frederick Saku, representing the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels Veterans and their families Ladies and Gentlemen I am pleased to join you today to launch the magnificent Kokoda exhibition at the Shrine of Remembrance Visitors Centre.   Only moments ago I was privileged to review the parade marking the raising of the 39th Personnel Support Battalion, an occasion that will ensure that the ethos and inspiring deeds of the original 39th Battalion - men I am proud to describe as amongst Australia's most gallant soldiers - are passed onto a new generation of Australian servicemen and women.   And it is I think most fitting, that this new exhibition is presented at the Centre to coincide with the historical ceremony for the raising of the 39th Personnel Support Battalion.    Ladies and gentlemen, every city and town in Australia has a war memorial reminding us of the debt we owe to those who did not return and those who suffered in other ways.   A select number of these memorials are more than silent reminders; they also serve a living function to inform and educate.  With the addition of this fine Visitor Centre, the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance will now be able to play its rightful educative role in better informing members of the public, tourists and I hope, many school children on the magnificent traditions of the Australian armed forces.   This exhibition draws on primary sources - including the Australian Army Unit Diaries for the 39th and 2/14th Battalions - to provide some insights into the experiences of those brave Australians who so gallantly faced the initial brunt of tough, battle hardened Japanese forces as they advanced along the Kokoda Track in 1942.   Archival photographs and film from the collection of the Australian War Memorial show the men of the 39th and 2/14th Battalions on this most narrow, difficult and dangerous of jungle tracks. Contemporary images taken by writer and photographer Garrie Hutchinson show the terrain of battle sites such as

Kokoda Village, Templeton's Crossing and Menari.

  As a former commander of the Pacific Islands Regiment, I have experienced first hand the rugged terrain and harsh tropical conditions endured by the veterans of the Kokoda campaign; conditions that would have required immense determination, sustained courage, and incredible perseverance to overcome.   During a State Visit to Papua New Guinea last year I was also fortunate enough to visit the various battle sites along the Kokoda Track and to note with pleasure the very good condition of the various memorials built in commemoration.   The rocky outcrop near the memorial at Isurava, at which Private Kinsbury held off wave after wave of fanatical Japanese assaults, thereby posthumously winning the Victoria Cross for his valour is a particularly poignant place.   The Kokoda Exhibition brings such deeds to life through the generosity of a number of veterans and their families, along with private collectors, who have been kind enough to lend their personal memorabilia and material, including uniforms, photographs and souvenirs.   There are family stories such as those of the Clarke brothers, Russ and Dave, who fought together with that magnificent infantry battalion, the 2/14th in the Middle East and then in New Guinea; one with the 39th and one with the 2/14th.   Poems believed to have been collectively composed by the men on the Track and sung to the tunes of popular songs are on display, having been reproduced from the diaries of Lieutenant Alf Salmon.   These and other exhibits illustrate the pride of the men of the 39th and 2/14th Battalion who invariably reflected on their harsh circumstances with great humour.   The soldiers of the 39th Militia Battalion, mostly in their early 20's were unprepared for the ordeal they were to face. They were untried, poorly equipped and poorly trained and were opposing a battle- hardened, well-equipped, numerically superior force that had been specially trained for jungle warfare. Believing they were being deployed to fulfil a passive garrison role, the 39th were soon to find themselves as the only troops between Buna and Port Moreseby and immediately engaged in an horrific struggle for personal and unit survival along the Kokoda Track. Later the 39th would be supported by the gallant units of the 21st Brigade, the 2/14th, the 2/16th and the 2/27th battalion, under a great commander, Brigadier Potts.   The exhibition reminds us of the enormity of the Kokoda task and of the great courage and spirit with which our troops faced it. Along with the increasing number of Australians walking the track, exhibitions such as this will help immortalise the names of the Kokoda battles and those who fought in them.   In conclusion I trust that today's parade and launch will ensure that the inspiring deeds of all those men who fought on the Track including the doctors, nurses and fuzzy wuzzy angels who supported them receive due recognition for their part in creating the extraordinary Kokoda legend.   I commend the Kokoda exhibition to you all and I take great pleasure in now declaring it open.