Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

ANZAC Day Commemorations

Laying wreaths at Hornsby Cenotaph

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Wahroonga) (17:17): On the day prior to my father's fifteenth birthday, the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis—very much like the current invasion of Ukraine by the Russians. Freedom is inherently fragile, and war is sometimes required to defend or win back freedom. These are timeless lessons, particularly for our young people so that they may put into context the sacrifices made by our service men and women to protect our modern-day freedoms. It is now 108 years since 25 April 1915, which was when, in the early hours of the morning, the Anzacs—many of whom were very young men—landed on the beaches of Gallipoli.

In the recent Anzac commemorations, many members of the Wahroonga electorate awoke to attend in large numbers at dawn and later at local Anzac Day ceremonies like I did at West Pymble, Wahroonga and Turramurra. They respectfully commemorated all of the men and women who served our nation, too many of whom never returned home. It was wonderful to see young people of a similar age to those original Anzacs playing a major role in the commemoration services, as they have in recent past years, particularly through Scouts and Girl Guides. At the dawn service in West Pymble Bicentennial Park, Wahroonga's community spirit was on full display with large numbers of people in attendance. That service was followed by the morning services at Wahroonga Park and Turramurra Memorial Park.

Two days prior, I joined the Anzac Day march at the Hornsby District War Memorial that was organised by the Hornsby RSL Sub-Branch. In the days after Anzac Day, I had the honour to join local Anzac Day services at the West Pymble Public School and Barker College. Each service was well supported by young people who remembered the timeless Anzac qualities of valour, courage and community before self, which we need more of in our modern world. I commend the Sydney North Region Scouts, Girl Guides NSW, local Rotary clubs, Hornsby RSL Club and the schools for organising the various services and ensuring that the memories of our fallen will live on through subsequent generations.

Anzac Day is a commemoration of the lives lost in all wars. It is a reminder that war must not be taken lightly as human life is fragile. Unfortunately, we are again reminded of these lessons today as Russia continues to advance its war against Ukraine. It is estimated that there has been over 16,000 civilian casualties and more than 100,000 casualties on both sides. As a result of the war, around 5,000 refugees have come to Australia seeking refuge. This is a tragic loss of home and life overseas, and it is a reminder of how lucky we are in Australia.

As a descendant of a veteran, I remember the story of my father who joined the Dutch resistance at the age of 17 during World War II. He was reluctant to talk about the war as it brought back sad memories of the friends and family that he lost. My father did not march every year on Anzac Day but we were always proud when he did. It was not until his fiftieth wedding anniversary, when I took my mother and father to the Netherlands, that we learnt that his main job in the resistance was to risk his life stealing guns from the Germans. There was a depot where the German soldiers used to place their guns on a fence. After taking the opportunity to steal a rifle when the Germans were not looking, my father would then walk for about 15 minutes to the city in the middle of the day—in daylight—with a rifle hidden under his coat. He would take it down a lane to the rear door of a private bank where an arm would come out of the door after he knocked. He never saw who was on the other side of the door and they never saw who he was. The rifle would be handed to the person in the bank and the door would then close.

My uncle Jacques Henskens was in the Dutch East Indies army and fought and survived capture by the Japanese. He was subsequently made a prisoner of war. He was on the Burma railway with many Australians. When the camp was liberated, he was only 40 kilograms in weight—he was 182 centimetres tall. On his return to the Netherlands, Jacques was hospitalised for six months because of the malnourishment and ill-treatment that he suffered. He told me that every second he was in the camp, he could think of nothing but food as he was starving every day. My father and my uncle never forgot their experiences of war, and neither will I. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Clayton Barr): Lest we forget. What an incredible story in the family.