In 2007, an extraordinary group of men asked me for seating near Town Hall to watch the passing Anzac Day Parade, as many of their number were too weak to continue taking part in the march. They were the Under 16s – brave, young soldiers who were 14 or 15 at the time of war, who lied about their age so they could protect our country. At just 14 years old, they marched off to war.
We have given the Under 16s seating and honoured them with a reception every year since, and I’ve always found sharing Anzac Day with these men profoundly moving. But alas, this is the first year the Under 16s won’t be in Sydney for the Dawn Service, because the few remaining men are now too elderly to attend.
The courage and sacrifice of all our soldiers is remarkable, but these men, who were boys when they enlisted, were truly extraordinary – I’ll be thinking of them today.
It is important that we acknowledge and remember the sacrifices made by men and women to defend this country, not only in wars long-past but in conflicts in different parts of the world today. Especially those who gave their lives in combat, or who survived but did so at the cost of health, serenity of mind, or fractured lives in the aftermath of war.
These were sacrifices made on behalf of all of us. Their sacrifice demands of us that we build the just, tolerant and free society they fought for. We must ensure that that the spirit of mateship is not just a slogan, but that it really lives on in this country.
I'm starting this Anzac Day at the Dawn Service at the Martin Place Cenotaph then the Mustard Seed Uniting Church Ultimo service. In the afternoon I'll join the Babana Aboriginal Mens Group Coloured Diggers March and I encourage you to be there to recognise the contribution of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women – a contribution that was ignored for far too long.
Lest we forget.