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Wednesday September 2nd, 2015
Cenotaph, Martin Place
His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales


I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, the Gadigal people, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have served for this nation in every conflict and peace-keeping mission in which we have participated. I especially honour our Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, almost the entire male population of the Torres Strait, who defended Australia from these islands - and the three war veterans presented with medals by our Prime Minister this week.

I acknowledge their living culture and affirm my respect for their elders, ancestors and descendants.

As Patron of the Battle for Australia Association, I am honoured to be invited to address you on this national day of remembrance[1].

On this day, we honour our servicemen and women on land, on sea and in the air who fought valiantly, alongside our allies, from the Battle of the Coral Sea and on the Kokoda Track until the end of the war was declared. Just two weeks ago, we commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Victory in the Pacific, here at the Cenotaph.

There would have been no Victory, without the tremendous efforts of our servicemen and women to protect our island nation and the lands of our neighbours to the North.

By March 1942, the Japanese held a line from Rabaul to Singapore, just a few hundred kilometres from the tip of Australia.

Soon afterwards, Prime Minister John Curtin declared: ‘the fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia.’[2]

Today, we remember and honour those who directly carried the burden of defence of Australia through this war – and the many thousands killed in action, wounded or taken prisoner of war.

Around 17,000 had died in the War against Japan, serving in Malaya, Singapore, Timor, Papua New Guinea, Rabaul, Borneo, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, often in the most appalling conditions.

Eight thousand died in captivity as prisoners of war from brutality, starvation and disease.

At home, in 1942 /43, Australia also faced loss of life and the threat of invasion.

Darwin, Horn Island in the Torres Strait and Broome were bombed[3], Newcastle was shelled, here in Sydney midget Japanese submarines entered the Harbour, and a ship was torpedoed just off Nambucca Heads.[4]

The epic Battle of Kokoda was a critical turning point in the Pacific War when Australians fought a monumental, rearguard action against the Japanese across a tortuous jungle terrain.  Their extreme courage prevented the enemy's access to Port Moresby, within easy striking distance of our nation.

We remember, also, with eternal gratitude, the loyalty and skill of those Papuan men who played a vital role in the battle. They carried supplies forward for the troops and then, as the number of troops who were wounded or fell sick increased, carried back to safety those who were unable to walk.[5]

We remember the villagers, dubbed by our Australian men the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ who carried and treated the sick and the wounded along the track.  This year and each year, we welcome their representatives to this commemoration with gratitude and affection.  Our nation will never forget their service.

It is also equally important that we reflect on and honour all our women and men who made their contribution on the home front –women, people in science and industry, the working people and the farmers.  It was a time when everyone looked after their mates and their neighbours, and did their bit to ensure victory.

By June 1943, the strength of women in service had grown to approximately 18,000 in the Australian Women’s Army Service, 16000 in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force, 1400 in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service and almost 9000 in the Nursing Service.

In addition, many thousands of women on the home front worked in government munitions, shipbuilding and aircraft work, transport and communications, commerce and industry and in the rural sector, with the Women’s Land Army filling critical labour shortages on our farms, ensuring supply of meat, vegetables and fruit.

Here, in our Harbour, Cockatoo Island Dockyard became a hive of activity with the conversion of passenger liners to troop transport and hospital ships and major repairs to warships.

The number of munition factories increased from 4 in 1940 to 39 by June 1943. In total over 800,000 women were employed in industries which were normally staffed by men, yet were paid just a fraction of their wage.[6]

Resources and means of production were dedicated to winning the war, with John Curtin calling for austerity measures:

‘Austerity calls for a pledge by the Australian people to strip every selfish comfortable habit, every luxurious impulse, every act, word or deed that retards the victory march.’

As the world held its breath, and families suffered hardships, dislocations and loss of loved ones, others stepped to the fore:

  • Legacy - looking after the war widows and families
  • The Returned and Service League – looking after the repatriated and returning servicemen
  • The Australian Army Medical Women’s Services
  • The Red Cross and the Voluntary Aid Detachment who all provided medical care and respite services.

Schoolchildren, too, did their bit - collecting paper, rubber and other recyclables, knitting socks and collecting items for care packages.

Despite the difficulties and hardships experienced on the home front, the Australians of that generation remember this time for its sense of unity, a time when people put their hand up, worked hard and pulled together.  It was a case of “All in”. 

It was a whole nation effort, Australians at their best, volunteering and working together, putting aside differences to look after each other and our neighbours, on the home front and to our nation’s North …

That’s what we should pass to our children.

It provided the basis for what we are today – a united and resilient country. It is no accident that since this war, our nation has demonstrated an increasing commitment to the Pacific region, which all in our nation, during 1942 to 1945, worked to protect.

One of the objectives of the Battle for Australia Association is to educate the children of Australia about the momentous events of our national history between 1942 and 1945 … and we thank the many school children for their involvement in the Service today …

I congratulate the Battle for Australia Association for its commitment to honour the memory of our servicemen and women, the people of Australia, and of our neighbouring nations. 


[1] On the 19 June 2008, His Excellency, Major-General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC, Governor General of Australia, proclaimed that the “Battle for Australia Day” was to be a national day of Remembrance, to be held on the first Wednesday in September.

The Battle for Australia Commemoration Service honours those who served on land and sea and in the air repulsing the direct threat to Australia in 1942-1945. 

[2] Curtin Press Statement 15 Feb 1942 -

[3] Over 200 lives lost in Darwin, 150 on Horn Island and almost 100 in Broome

[4] At about 1:35pm off Nambucca Heads, New South Wales on 5 May 1943, two torpedoes fired from the Japanese submarine I-180 struck SS Fingal on the side of her hull. Fingal sank within a minute with loss of 12 lives.



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