Gower, Steve: Remembrance and commemmoration: Coates Oration 2008

Steve Gower

Remembrance and commemoration: speech (Sir Albert Coates Oration) delivered by Steve Gower AO AO (Mil) ME, Director, Australian War Memorial on 25 November 2008 at Ballarat University

The speaker touches on individual stories (Coates, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, Albert Jacka, ‘Pompey’ Elliott, and others) before moving on to general remarks about the nature of war, commemoration and remembrance. He touches on the history of war memorials, the work of CEW Bean and associates and quotes a World War II general: ‘War is an obscenity, but bravery is glorious’. Turning to the revival of interest in Anzac in recent years, he denies that

mentioning values implicit in the ANZAC legend is part of an underlying attempt, either subtle nor overt, to glorify ANZAC Day and deliberately make it part of nation-building. War is far too destructive and wasteful an activity to relate to glory, notwithstanding such sentiments 90 years ago …

What is indisputable, however, is that at Gallipoli and at Kokoda, and at battlefields elsewhere around the world, those Australians who served displayed mateship, courage, and sacrifice. If only because of that, they should be remembered with fondness, compassion, and admiration. They certainly loved their country, with all its strengths and weaknesses. Having said that we shouldn’t attempt to hang too much meaning onto their actions that even the participants would not have subscribed to, such as they fought, amongst other things, for the freedom of speech. One hears that claim occasionally from publicity-seeking people attempting to justify their controversial views and actions. I cannot say I’ve ever heard a soldier say he was risking himself other than for family, home, his mates, and his way of life, and I’d never expect to.

I will conclude by returning to the essence of what I believe we are commemorating and remembering. It’s the ordinary decent individual Australian man and woman, whom we all can recognise, and the values they displayed when serving the nation in its time of need. These values have endured, are easily related to, and are uplifting. And that’s probably why they find wide appeal with many Australians.

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