Anzac Day is an important part of our national consciousness. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. It was our baptism of fire. Those soldiers quickly became known as the Anzacs, and the pride they soon took in a name that endures to this day.
In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies. The ill-fated plan was to capture Constantinople-now Istanbul-the capital of the Ottoman Empire. They landed at Gallipoli on 25 April and met fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the courage and fortitude of the Anzacs bequeathed an intangible but powerful legacy. ‘Remember Gallipoli’ became the watchword of the AIF on the Western Front and in Palestine. My grandfathers carried it with them in World War II, at Milne Bay and in Crete. And it is remembered today by the crowds that flock to Anzac parades and services across the nation. With each passing year, as more and more diggers are lost to us, their service and their sacrifice become more poignant to those who follow.
This tour will help pass the Anzac spirit to a new generation of Australians. The 15 local students participating in the 2008 Anzac Memorial Tour are: Taha Daghastani of Punchbowl Boys High School; Gary O’Shea of De La Salle College, Revesby Heights; Samantha Rae Meredith and Sarah Louise Norris of Mount Saint Joseph school, Milperra; Avani Dias of Bankstown Grammar School; Ryan Lodge of Strathfield South High School; Zakaria Kammoun of Sir Joseph Banks High School; Dylan Keith Williams of East Hills Boys Technology High School; Nagiha Sahyouni of Bankstown Girls High School; Prescilla Zeitoune of St Charbel’s College; Elizabeth Le Claire and Risto Kotevski of Chester Hill High School; Jade Cook of Bankstown Senior College; Kristina Mitropoulos of East Hills Girls Technology High School; and Mohammed Halaby of Picnic Point High School.
They have already had a few memorable experiences. After reading about the Anzac Memorial Tour in the local newspaper, former squadron leader 88-year-old Eugene Konashenko was so moved he sent a donation of $500 towards the cost of the tour. A number of the students visited him and his wife the next day in their Condell Park home to personally thank them for the donation and to hear firsthand of his experiences in the RAAF. They also met Jack Bedford, a stalwart of the Bankstown community, President of Bankstown RSL and one of the Rats of Tobruk. The contribution of these two men to our nation, like those of all our veterans, must never be forgotten.
That is what Anzac Day is all about. Anzac Day is more than just remembering the fallen. In Anzac Day we find the camaraderie of mateship, strength in adversity and a fighting spirit that is just as much a part of Australia today as it was in 1915. On Anzac Day in 1927, Australia’s great World War I military leader John Monash told an adoring crowd at the Melbourne Exhibition Building:
Anzac Day stands for the ideal of comradeship, a comradeship which consoled us on many a distant battlefield, a comradeship which, I hope, will endure till the last of us has gone to his rest, a comradeship which must never be allowed to fade, a comradeship which must hold us together in the same patriotic spirit in these days of peace that bound us shoulder to shoulder in the years of war. But after all, when the A.I.F. has passed away, let us hope that the Australian people will for all time keep sacred the memory of this day.
This is our solemn duty.
I congratulate the Bankstown Multicultural Youth Service and the 15 young men and women about to embark on this important journey. I am sure they will make us all very proud.’