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Wednesday November 9th, 2016
Government House Sydney
His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd), Governor of New South Wales


As I pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land at Government House, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, may  we reflect on the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to this nation. In the Great War, over 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders fought – 350 from New South Wales - and several were recognised with medals for their distinguished service, despite not being able to vote, not being counted in the census, and, officially, not being allowed to enlist.[1]

I pay my respects to them and their families, Elders and descendants.

I welcome you to Government House for the launch of this valuable and insightful book - New South Wales and the Great War.

The Centenary of the First World War has provided an opportunity for Australians to pause, reflect and recognise the sacrifice of the men and women of New South Wales during a significant period of our history.

In two days’ time, we will commemorate Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, the day when ‘the war to end all wars’ that had raged for four long and costly years, came to an end.

In the horrific loss of human lives and personal tragedy, this war was incredibly damaging to a young, sparsely populated and newly Federated nation.

In 1914, the extent of the losses that would follow would have been unexpected. The Australian Government saw it as a duty to Empire and an opportunity to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to the Empire.

Each State raised its own volunteers into units that would be forged into the Australian Imperial Force.

As the most populous state, New South Wales sent a higher proportion of its able-bodied men than other Australian states.

From the capture of German territories in New Guinea and the sinking of the Emden in home waters; to the Gallipoli campaign; the battles in the Middle East and along the Western Front in France and Belgium; Australians fought with distinction for their country, and for their families back home.

This informative, highly visual book not only honours those men and the women who served beside them as nurses and medical personnel, it tells the story of New South Wales and our people as they faced the momentous changes that the war brought to their communities and their hopes and fears for family members on the frontline.

This book helps us to visualise our State’s war experience – from familiar to unfamiliar stories, both overseas and here at home.

Through archival records and photographs it captures the emotional experience of war:

-  The photograph of women laying floral tributes on a wharf at Woolloomooloo at the point where troops departed, which continues to have echoes today

-  The fate of Edmund Resch ‘brewer by appointment to His Excellency the Governor-General’ who was taken to the German Concentration Camp at Holdsworthy, due to his German background

-  The power of public subscriptions to create our war memorials

-  And the impact of repatriation, a ‘particularly Australian term’, as returning servicemen and women were re-unified with families in their native land. 

Bearing the stresses and strains of life on the home front, Australians also had to bear the loss of loved ones and friends who did not return - and the burden of those returning with serious illnesses or injuries.

While many books will be written about the service, dedication, patriotism and sacrifice of Australians in the Great War, this book has a unique focus on the men and women of New South Wales during these difficult times – not only those who left our shores but those at home who kept the wheels of industry, commerce, education and family life turning.

It was the dedication and sacrifice of the ordinary people of New South Wales that ensured the State continued to function during the dark period of the Great War.

New South Wales and the Great War:

  • shows how women’s lives were changed during and after the war;
  • addresses the establishment of the Australian Red Cross and the Returned Soldiers Kiosk in Central Park - later to become the Returned Services League;
  • discusses the bitter debates about conscription and the peace movements;

and most importantly,

  • tells the everyday stories of the men and women of New South Wales.

The enormous contribution that New South Wales-based industry made to support the war effort; the establishment of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow; the flying school at Ham Common, now better known as RAAF Base Richmond; the role of parliamentarians, public servants, school teachers and the Universal Military Training Scheme - the first of its kind in any English speaking country - are all addressed in this book.

New South Wales and the Great War is a rich visual presentation and written record of the war drawn from the wonderful repositories of the New South Wales State Library; the New South Wales State Records Authority; the University of Sydney Archives; and the many local councils and societies across the State.

Many people have contributed to this book – and I am sure fuller thanks will be expressed by others this morning but I would like to acknowledge:

  • The NSW Centenary of ANZAC Advisory Council, then chaired by His Excellency General Sir Peter Cosgrove, which commissioned this workat the end of 2012;
  • General Gillespie, as the incoming Chairman of the Council, who provided strong support for the project;
  • The History Committee headed by Air Vice-Marshal Treloar which formed in early 2013; and
  • The authors – historians Dr Naomi Parry and Brad Manera who pulled this project together.

It is my understanding that the New South Wales Government has gifted some 4,000 copies of the book to schools, libraries and universities across the State.

This is a wonderful contribution to the present and future generations of students who will be as fascinated as I was to learn how our State faced and endured the loss of population and the privations, trials and uncertainties of the Great War.

I congratulate everyone involved in this publication whose generosity made the completion of this project possible; and the many others whose support enriched the quality of New South Wales and the Great War.

Together, you have provided an enduring record and testament to the experience of the people of New South Wales in the First World War.

It is now my great pleasure to launch New South Wales and the Great War.


[1] The Defence Act of 1903 forbade the enlistment of any ‘persons not of substantially European origin or descent’  

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