New Zealand High Commission Canberra, Australia

ANZAC Eve Speech

On Sunday 24 April, Acting New Zealand High Commissioner Vangelis Vitalis addressed the Woden Valley RSL Sub-Branch.


Sunday 24 April, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests.

Let me begin by thanking the Woden Valley RSL for its invitation to me to share with you this very special tradition of its annual ANZAC Day eve dinner.

It’s a privilege to be with you and to be brought up to date with the very many activities that you undertake to support each other and other members of the local community, especially – but not only – veterans.

As the Acting Patron, I was pleased to be invited to provide this evening a short ‘vote of thanks’ to you Dr May for your fascinating and insightful address.

Dr May, you have spoken to us in moving terms about the experience of Australian POWs. I found your presentation thought provoking and a powerful reminder that the War in the Pacific was a horrific one. It is something we must not forget.

You also helpfully recalled for us those important twin themes of apology and remembrance. These two inter-related and very human themes are clearly powerful ones both for those POWs and their captors.

Your address also reminds us of the suffering that often went relatively unnoticed for quite some time for the Prisoners of War. The suffering was terrible. Lives were lost, not just on the battlefields but during internment in POW camps.

I was also fascinated to learn too about the role that the Japan POW Research Network has played in this process of reconciliation and memory. That work and its importance is underscored for me by the tragedy you described of the loss of nearly a thousand POWs and more than two hundred civilians on board the Montevideo Maru in July 1942 – sunk by a US submarine off the Philippines. For my part, I was very surprised to learn that this constitutes the most significant maritime disaster in Australia's history. There is no doubt a story here waiting to be told and I hope you will update the RSL on your research in due course. It is a fascinating topic.

Thank you Dr May for reminding us of this important chapter in the region’s history.
I would like now if I may to say a few words – and when diplomats say a few words, brace yourself! – about what we are gathered here for this evening.
Tomorrow is of course ANZAC day. It will be my privilege to lay the wreath on behalf of the New Zealand Government with the Acting Prime Minister and then to separately lay a single poppy at the memorial with my wife in memory of those who served.
We all know the story of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. As the official Australian war historian reminds us:
“Day and night Australians and New Zealanders had fought on that hilltop [in Gallipoli]. In this fierce test, each saw in the other a brother’s qualities…Three days of genuine trial had established a friendship which centuries will not destroy.”

Of course Gallipoli is an important moment in both of our countries’ histories. Indeed, we both regard it as a defining moment of nationhood.

But ANZAC Day is not just about Gallipoli – it is also about the other major battles where we fought together. In the First World War – Paschendale, the Somme, Flanders and so on – and the Second World War and beyond that to the war in Korea, the war in Viet Nam through to the present day conflicts in Afghanistan.

In fact this year, we also commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Crete. There is a direct ANZAC Day connection too, for it was on 25 April in 1941 that Hitler signed Directive No 28 ordering Operation Mercury, the German airborne assault on Crete, which of course was defended primarily by ANZACs commanded by New Zealand’s General Freyberg.

And as our speaker tonight has reminded us, there is too the horror of being a Prisoner of War - a particularly traumatic experience during World War Two.

We have been reminded too of the high price our countries pay to uphold our civic values – not least by the recent loss of Australian and New Zealand lives in Afghanistan. Let me assure you that we, as New Zealanders, feel your losses in that distant battlefield almost as keenly as you.

I was privileged this year to hear your Prime Minister become the first foreign leader to address the New Zealand parliament.

She told our parliament that all countries have special relationships, agreements, treaties and arrangements - but the relationship between New Zealand and Australia is different.

We are, she said, “family.” How right she is.

Less than a week after she spoke those moving words, the Canterbury earthquake devastated New Zealand. Your Prime Minister’s rhetoric became a reality. The outpouring of sympathy and the open handed generosity of Australians was a moving reminder for me of the closeness of our relationship.

As with the New Zealand response to the flooding in Queensland and the fires in Victoria, it was Australia which was the first to provide us with messages of support and, most importantly, immediate practical and unstinting assistance.

When confronted with these kinds of natural disasters, New Zealanders and Australians don’t just ask ‘what can we do?’ They roll up their sleeves and get on with it. No fuss, no bother, no expense spared. That is what family is all about – that is what the ANZAC tradition demands.

It is hard to describe for you my emotions as the Acting High Commissioner to receive a phone call from an elderly woman in New South Wales who offered her home to “the kiddies in Christchurch” to come and have a break. This and literally thousands of other offers are what make this relationship so very special – a gentleman that walked off the street and handed in a cheque for $500 and told me “young man, you make sure this gets to the people who need it” I can assure him that it did. Then there was the young family whose kids donated their pocket money for a month to the earthquake appeal; and the schools from Queensland who wrote to their Christchurch counterparts wanting to “talk about our experiences”.

There is no doubt families always do better when they work together and so it should be for Australia and New Zealand – except perhaps on the sports field!

In this regard, let me mention just this once the fact that we will be hosting the Rugby World Cup again later this year and this may the one time where New Zealanders will not be wishing Australia well!

Our two countries’ rich shared history is symbolised by a remarkable correlation in the fundamentals that bind us - a bedrock of shared civil values and aspirations which define us as New Zealanders and Australians.

And it is these kinds of values which I think the Woden RSL and their brother and sister organisations in New Zealand foster and inspire so very well.

The Maori proverb inscribed on the wall of the New Zealand War Memorial in Canberra is how our relationship should be – Mau tena kiwai o te kete, maku tenei – “Each of us at a handle of the basket”.

Finally, whether it is in sport, on the battle field, in scientific endeavour, driving together for economic prosperity in the region and beyond or working together in international organisations or coming to Woden Valley RSL events such as this one – there is one constant that unites us in this uncertain world – New Zealand and Australia will always be family – something which, as your official historian of the First World War reminds us, ‘centuries will not destroy’ – except he might have added during the Rugby World Cup.

Thank you again to our speaker tonight for her thoughtful words and presentation – and, above all, her reminder that ANZAC Day is about much more than the catastrophe at Gallipoli.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests – please join me again in expressing our appreciation to Dr May for her address this evening.


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