Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

ANZAC Day Ceremony - Hornsby Cenotaph

Alister part of the ANZAC Day local march

I would like to acknowledge our distinguished guests, the Hon Paul Fletcher and Julian Leeser, the Federal Members for Bradfield and Berowra, my state parliamentary colleagues, the Hon David Elliott, the Minister for Veteran Affairs, and the Hon Matt Kean, the Member for Hornsby, the Deputy Mayor of Hornsby, Councillor Michael Hutchence, RSL President Terry James and his executive, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to thank you all for being here today because it is only by our observance of ANZAC Day that it lives on as an important day of Remembrance for the future generations of our country.

Today I am going to speak about three themes in the context of ANZAC Day.

They are Respect, Pain and the example left by our service men and women.

Whilst Respect has always been a big part of ANZAC Day from its inception, during my life ANZAC Day has turned from being a combination of Respect and the experience of personal Pain to being dominated by Respect for those who have served.  It may be why ANZAC Day has had a popular revival and more people go to ANZAC Day ceremonies today than was the case in the 1980s and 90s.

I will explain what I mean.

In my early life, ANZAC Day ceremonies were events attended by people where a majority of them had lived through and were directly impacted by the pain of the First or Second World Wars as civilians or military people.  Today, by contrast, ANZAC Day is mostly a Respectful remembrance by people who are overwhelmingly without a direct connection to any war. 

In saying that, I do not wish to diminish the importance of veterans from the Korean or Vietnam Wars or the subsequent wars in which Australia has fought.  We have great Respect for those veterans and their families and for their contribution to our country but they are very much in the minority of people here today.

In the past some people have stayed away from ANZAC Day because of their personal pain.  We all know that veterans of the Vietnam War for many years felt unappreciated by our community for the sacrifices that they made.  But I am not just speaking about the Vietnam veterans.

As a boy, ANZAC Day was the one day in the year when I knew my strong, rock-like father would cry at some point in the day. 

ANZAC Day was a yearly reminder for him of the two brothers that he lost in the Second World War and the other people that he knew who died.   Some years he would march on ANZAC Day but not every year.  His personal memories of the war are to this day, as an almost 92 year old, still full of pain. 

And he was not alone.  When I grew up, our community was full of people who had physical signs of the war as well as psychological ones.

For example, the man who operated the lift at our dentist did not have an arm because it was lost in the war.

When I met my maternal grandfather’s brother, my great uncle Jim, he used to encourage my brothers, sisters and me to knock on his wooden leg.  He seemed to enjoy the surprise that young children had when they discovered that he had a wooden leg under his pants.

Uncle Jim was shot in the leg in the First World War and lay in Pain on a battle field in Belgium for two days.  By the time they rescued him, they had to remove his leg to save his life.  His brother Cedric was at Gallipoli and died on the Western Front near the Mennen Gates in Belgium after being hit by a bomb. 

Every night as a boy, I could almost set my watch as Mr and Mrs Cohen passed my house at dusk on the other side of the street, arm in arm, as they went for their daily walk.  Mr Cohen was an incredible man.  He was completely blinded as a soldier in the First World War by German mustard gas in the trenches on the Western Front.  When he returned to Australia, he completed his legal studies and practised as a leading solicitor until his old age.  He had all of his books, letters and other documents read to him.  Such was his memory that he could function at a high level as a lawyer without being able to read.

But now all of the First World War ANZACS and most of the veterans from the Second World War are dead. Their physical and psychological pain has mostly gone too.

We can only imagine what they went through and what it was like.  But although they have gone, the community Respect for these men and women, which was always an important part of ANZAC Day, has probably increased. 

As their Pain of war, which was ever present when they were with us on ANZAC Day, has gone, what has been left behind is an enormous Respect for them.

And that is because we understand the importance of what they did to protect our freedoms and build the country that we have today. 

But we can follow their lead.  They have left behind an opportunity to emulate their spirit. Those who have served our country during wars have done so because they wanted to preserve and protect their families, neighbours, country and freedom.  Their over-arching motivation has been community service. 

You can be a great patriot and citizen of Australia today by being involved in community service and helping to bind our community together.  In the recent floods, we saw SES volunteers from all occupations and walks of life helping members of our community in need. 

Rotary, Lions, Meals on Wheels, Lifeline or the Rural Fire Service, the Local P & C of your school, to name only a few, are other organisations that provide an opportunity to serve our community as a volunteer.

The men and women who have served in conflicts overseas saw first-hand the tragic loss of life.  They have taught us that we must Respect human life and each other.

Ceremonies like today give us a chance to show our Respect for them and their sacrifice.

Lest we forget.