Speech to the Opening of the Australian-Chinese War Memorial, Sunnybank
WED 06 APRIL 2011
Friends, Australia’s journey is a story of nation-building against incredible odds, creating a land of fairness and opportunity renowned across the world.
That achievement has not come without a price.
We live in a free country - and in a largely free world - only because the Australian people answered the call when the time of decision came.
From those early colonial engagements in the Sudan and South Africa, through the two most terrible world wars in history and 60 years of peace-keeping and regional conflicts, the Australian defence force has stood the test.
Not only a test of wartime courage.
But a test of character, that has helped define our nation and create the sense of who we are.
We call it the Anzac story – and proudly rank it as our nation’s most enduring narrative.
It is a big story, with many layers and many interpretations.
It embraces all Australians, new and old. It tells of the defeats as well as the victories.
The times when our nation drew closer together, and the times when we forgot.
It is a big story – but it is also a generous story.
A story that is not diminished by the adding of new chapters or the amendment of old mistakes.
That is how we come to see more clearly the role of women in war, for example.
Or the role of those on the home front.
The generosity of the Anzac story has allowed us to look anew at the merit of men like John Simpson and Teddy Sheean.
And it has allowed us to bring overdue thanks to the veterans of Vietnam who were so regrettably treated on their return.
The same spirit brings us here today to acknowledge those from diverse backgrounds whose contribution was obscured by our nation’s approach to issues of race and belonging.
Those policies, regrettable as they were, have long since been cast to oblivion.
And now the time has come for restitution and accord.
There are few groups more deserving than Australia’s Chinese community.
The first Chinese came here nearly two hundred years ago.
Long before the ships took our young men to Gallipoli, the Chinese had grown deep roots in this land.
When the call of war came, the Chinese stood up to defend this land as their own because it was their own.
Yes, an Anglo-Celtic majority undeniably.
But look through the names on the roll of honour and there are Australians of Chinese heritage. Jewish heritage. Indigenous heritage. Lebanese and Afghan heritage. And so many others.
In fact, two of our very greatest soldiers in the First World War were Billy Sing and Caleb Shang.
Just as one of the most daring and resourceful soldiers of the Second World War was Jack Wong Sue.
And beyond those enlisted, there were many more refused enrolment because of their background, and they served in other capacities here at home such as civil defence or simply offered the silent service of uncomplaining loyalty deep in their hearts, putting aside any sense of dismay or offence.
The ANZAC story is a big story, and it embraces them all.
That is why we dedicate this memorial here in Brisbane.
Not to stand outside the ANZAC tradition.
But to place the contribution of the Chinese diaspora community squarely within the ANZAC tradition.
Accepted. Honoured. And valued all the more deeply because while your journey has not always been easy, you never lost faith in the nation.
Today we honour that faith.
Not just in speeches and sentiment, heartfelt as they are.
But in the form of these bursaries, which will tell the story of our Chinese veterans to a new generation and, of course, this beautiful memorial.
I speak for the entire nation when I welcome this memorial and thank Graham Perrett and all who made it possible.
Here in this garden of remembrance, it will tell the Chinese story on great days and on quiet days.
In the bright light of early morning, and in the reflective shadows of a dimming day.
This memorial will invite comment and inquiry.
It will prompt reflection and gratitude from all who admire the simple beauty of Sarah Batchelor’s design.
In a few days time, this memorial will be blessed and opened in ceremony and song.
But in truth, it has already been dedicated.
Not by a general or a politician.
But by the sacrifice of those it represents.
Loyal Australians who served their nation, despite its flaws.
Who helped our country become the better place they knew it could be.
And who take their rightful place in the Anzac story, where they have always belonged.
I proudly launch these bursaries, and commend this memorial to the people of Australia.