He never stops. The other day when I spoke to him he was very upset. The doctor had told him he had to get a pacemaker. He told me: ‘I don’t have time for an operation. I’ve got too much to do.’ What he was doing was organising the dedication of a monument to the 7th Division. As well as working for Legacy for the last 20 years, Dick is also the President of the 7th Australian Division AIF Association, ‘the silent 7th’.
The 7th Division did not receive much recognition during World War II and not enough since. We are more likely to recognise the places they served: Tobruk, Kokoda or Milne Bay. But the story of the 7th Division is a story worth telling. They were a force of 40,000 volunteers who signed up to defend Australia in our darkest hour, the time of our greatest peril and our greatest generation. They fought throughout the war. They were the first flown into the battle at Nadzab in September 1943. They were the last to make an amphibious landing at Balikpapan on 1 July 1945. They were willing, strong and well trained. Many of their best were left behind. More than 6,500 were killed or wounded-one in six. Their efforts were rewarded with five Victoria Crosses. In 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin told this parliament:
Today as in 1915 men are dying so that the nation may live. There will come a new dawn, bringing with it peace and freedom for the peoples of the world, but we can reach it only by striving bravely through the storm and the blood and the grief of war.
These are the men who marched through this storm and these are the men whose deeds we have a solemn duty to remember-not just tomorrow on Remembrance Day but every day.
Straight out of training, Dick Payten was sent to a faraway land and a distant war. But, in February 1942, when Dick boarded the USS Mount Vernon at Suez, he had no idea where he would land next. He joked to me that he felt like a mushroom, ‘kept in the dark’. What he did not know was that a fleet of ships carrying him and the 7th Division across the Indian Ocean was charting a course into Australian history, a course set by Prime Minister Curtin. Against the wishes of Churchill, Curtin ordered the 7th Division home to defend Australia. And that they did.
Last month the memorial to the 7th Division was dedicated on Remembrance Driveway at Bass Hill. It is a monument that speaks for the silent 7th. It would not be there without Dick Payten. He was the driving force behind getting the memorial built and dedicated. Even the prospect of a pacemaker could not stop him. It is right that this place pause tomorrow to remember men like Dick Payten. And it is right that my local community has a place to remember the service of the 7th Division. It is a memorial that is long overdue, as is the recognition in the proceedings of this House of a good man like Dick Payten.