Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Ku-ring-gai Electorate Commemorations

Wahroonga War Memorial, ANZAC Day 2019

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (19:21:19): This year there was a passing of the baton in respect of the local Anzac Day tradition in Ku-ring-gai. Morning services at both the Wahroonga War Memorial and Turramurra Memorial Park were instituted by the local representatives of the National Servicemen's Association of Australia—the "Nashos"—over 15 years ago. For the first time this year, they were hosted by the Sydney North Region Scouts and Girl Guides Australia—albeit still in association with the Nashos. The scouts and guides organised the dawn service at Bicentennial Park, which they began in 2015 and which continues to be increasingly well supported by the West Pymble community. Later in the day Ron Seymour successfully organised the always emotionally moving community dusk service at the Kokoda Track Memorial in Wahroonga.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Hornsby RSL Club Anzac commemoration service I  attended at the Hornsby War Memorial on 21 April, where the Federal member for Berowra, Julian Leeser, MP, gave a speech full of local and contemporary relevance, and the service last week at St Johns Anglican Church, Gordon. I was fortunate enough to also attend the Anzac Day ceremony at West Pymble Public School, which was held on 9 April because this year 25 April fell during the New South Wales school holidays. I joined the Federal member for Bradfield, the Hon Paul Fletcher, MP, principal Bronwyn Wilson and the school community for readings and musical performances by the students and an address by Lieutenant Colonel Piero Bertocchi who highlighted the ongoing relevance to our national identity of the qualities of the Anzac spirit: courage, endurance, initiative, mateship and discipline.

At the Anzac Day morning services at Wahroonga and Turramurra I was honoured to offer the prayer of thanksgiving. This is of special significance to my family as my father lost two of his brothers in World War II and always grieved "the loss of a loved one who gave his or her life in the service of their country". Commodore Andrew Smith, AM, delivered a poignant Anzac address at both venues, which in part focused on those who were returning to Australia from overseas service 100 years ago. The subject of returning World War I service men and women evokes several, and sometimes conflicting, reflections, including the joy and trauma of many of those who made it home; the sacrifice of those who did not return and the enduring sadness of their families; the similarities and differences between the Australia of 1919 and the country that we live in today; and the hostile or indifferent reception received by those who came home from the Vietnam War half a century later.

What was clear in Ku-ring-gai on Anzac Day was, despite the steadily diminishing number still among us of those who fought in the two world wars, the desire to commemorate their service is as strong as ever. A large percentage of those assembled this year were young children for whom the Anzac tradition continues to resonate profoundly. At a time when well-established conventions are being questioned more than ever before, and the desire either to engage as a country or to participate as an individual in armed conflict has arguably never been weaker, many Australians still annually reflect very emotionally and respectfully on those who unselfishly served their country in our armed forces. The overwhelming evidence is that, as promised in the ode, "We will remember them". Commemoration ceremonies in my local area did not conclude on Anzac Day. In the days that followed 25 April, the Sydney Jewish community held a number of functions to commemorate Yom HaShoah, otherwise known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year's theme for the Sydney Yom HaShoah commemoration was "Memorials and Memories", a recognition that the building of memorials to commemorate the Holocaust has served both to preserve the collective memory of holocaust survivors and to shape the memories of the generations that follow.

One of the communal commemorations was held at Masada College at St Ives on 29 April. I count myself very fortunate to have attended and to have heard stories of survival and compassion as well as the address by former Leader of the Federal Liberal Party, member for Bradfield, my former Liberal Party branch member and current Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson. I have heard Dr Nelson speak many times before and, in my opinion, his speech on this evening was the most memorable of all and it received a standing ovation. The speech had great historical content but also contained a highly emotional exposition about character and the way it is informed by values—worthwhile intrinsic virtues such as courage, loyalty, honesty, love of others and "never forgetting from where you come, who gave you what you have and made you who you are".

In the words of Dr Nelson, memorials should be visible reminders not so much of what happened but of "the human spirit and qualities … that inspire us to be better people". It inevitably reminded me of my father's work in the Dutch Resistance and his brother, my uncle Leo, who saved a Jewish family who lived in his attic for more than two years in the Netherlands during World War II. There will also be an Anzac commemoration at Knox Grammar School in a couple of weeks. Whether it is Anzacs or victims of the Holocaust, we all share a responsibility to make their stories live and engaging to a new generation. Lest we forget.