The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

26 July 2008

NO.024

Address to the luncheon in honour of the 90th anniversary of the Nambour RSL sub-branch and dedication of the Wall of Remembrance

Nambour, Queensland

26 July 2008

Sub-Branch President, John Henderson, Parliamentary colleagues Claire Moore, Bronwyn Bishop, Alex Somlyay and Peter Wellington, Mayor Bob Abbot and local councillors, veterans and guests.

In Canberra the nation pays tribute to its wartime dead by honouring the memory of the Unknown Soldier - of whom former Prime Minister Keating memorably said: we do not know his name, but he is one of us.

Today here in Nambour we have honoured the service of people whose names we know. Every one of them, too, is one of us. They are our friends, our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and grandparents. Literally, so. Many carry our surnames. Everyone here today will have known them - or known of them. Including me.

There's no prouder claim an Australian can make that that his or her grandfather fought with General Monash.

Private 1984 David Temple Swan, originally of Brisbane, joined the A.I.F. on 17 January 1916 - answering the call for reinforcements four weeks after the evacuation of Gallipoli.

He proudly joined the 49th Queensland Battalion, transferring to another Queensland battalion - the 41st - soon after, becoming part of John Monash's 3rd Division.

Our mind's picture of those recruits is usually of an eager teenager, exaggerating his age, or evading the disapproval of his parents, to run away and enlist. My grandfather was different, but representative of many others. At 37 he was already, by the standards of his time, middle aged, a husband and father.

By way of the Middle East, he arrived in France in time to enter the freezing cold frontline trenches for Christmas 1916.

The following June he and his comrades were thrown into the murderous Battle of Ypres in Flanders - where he received serious shrapnel wounds to his back, just missing his spine, during the taking and holding of Messines Ridge.

Such were the casualties in the A.I.F. at that time that after just two months recuperation, he returned to his battalion, which fought subsequently at Broodeseinde and endured some of the darkest days in the history of that evil Flanders salient.

The following March and April, the 41st played a big part in stopping the great German Spring Offensive on the Somme Valley at Morlancourt - a moment many have hailed as Australia's most consequential contribution to world affairs. It may have been then that he was gassed - for the second time - and wounded in his right hand. And it's no wonder that under those circumstances, he was struck down by the influenza that was soon to kill as many people as the Great War itself.

In one sense he was lucky. At 40, he was invalided out of the service, missing the last murderous battles of the summer and autumn of 1918 in which so many of his comrades fell. But - as for so many men of the A.I.F. - it was a temporary reprieve.

As Les Carlyon tells us in his monumental history, The Great War, while only three per cent of gas casualties turned out fatal, the figure is misleading. 'Many who had been gassed returned home with chronic bronchitis and skin rashes and died young.'

Such happened to my grandfather, whose broken health never allowed him to make a success of the soldier's block he took up in Amiens here in Queensland, and he died in 1936 at about the same age that I am now.

The men and women who returned from the nightmare of that War set out to remember their comrades and widows in both symbolic and practical ways. By erecting great monuments like the Australian War Memorial. By lovingly tending the war cemeteries that dot the countrysides of North Africa, Gallipoli, France and Belgium. By ensuring our Governments looked after veterans and their dependents through organisations like the Repatriation Commission, set up 90 years ago.

And, of course, through the establishment of the RSL - like this sub-branch in Nambour, also celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It's a club very familiar to me. In the 1960s and '70s it was managed by my father, Maurice Swan.

Dad, like his father, went off to fight in a world war - for the RAAF, where he too was shelled, bombed and attacked by enemy infantry, constructing airfields for the fighters and bombers of RAAF on Tarakan and Balikpapan in 1945. Like his father, he saw mates killed.

And I have many fond childhood memories of sitting in the bar (very different from how it is now), drinking raspberry lemonade, as my father went about his duties here.

RSLs like these have changed enormously from my father's and grandfather's days. But their essential work remains - to serve our veterans, assist their widows and survivors and support the young men and women now serving under our flag in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

RSL sub-branches and clubs like this one serve the whole Australian community - just like the men who enlisted along with my grandfather and my father in 1916 and 1941.

Ladies and gentlemen, there's no better monument to the people who fought for democracy, for mateship and to serve the Australian people than the organisation they themselves created to keep those values alive.

And so, today, while remembering the service of the men and women from Nambour whose names we know, we also acknowledge the work of an organisation we all know and respect, the Nambour RSL.

Thank you.