PETER DUTTON: Just as the Anzac spirit shaped our national soul, our national soul sustained the Anzac spirit

Peter Dutton
The Nightly
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: War veterans, defence personnel and their families take part in the ANZAC Day parade on April 25, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Anzac Day is a national holiday in Australia, traditionally marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. Anzac Day commemorates the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War I. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images) Brendon Thorne
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: War veterans, defence personnel and their families take part in the ANZAC Day parade on April 25, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Anzac Day is a national holiday in Australia, traditionally marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. Anzac Day commemorates the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War I. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images) Brendon Thorne Credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Only 13 years and seven months after Australia’s Federation, our young country went to war.

A Commonwealth we were, but a people still primarily defined by the States to which we belonged, and by our ties to Britain.

With the Empire of Britain at war, so too was Australia as part of the British Empire.

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Yet in that moment of August 1914, Australia began her first steps out of the shadow of the Empire and into the light of nationhood.

The Official Histories note that when the call to arms came, the response of Australians was “immediate”, “jubilant”, “unanimous”, ‘firm’ and “unequivocal”.

Historian Ernest Scott wrote that “thousands of young men offered themselves for training in the earliest contingents”.

He noted these Australians came from “every social strata”. And that there had never been “a more thoroughly democratic army”.

During the next four catastrophic years of the First World War, Australians and New Zealanders exemplified bravery in battle, mateship in mayhem, and endurance in extremism.

Young diggers around a brazier. Gunner Edward Whitfield of the 53rd Battery is telling a story to the group, who were about 15 years of age.
Young diggers around a brazier. Gunner Edward Whitfield of the 53rd Battery is telling a story to the group, who were about 15 years of age. Credit: Unknown/WAN Historical Archive

This spirit — the Anzac spirit — emerged in the tragedy of Gallipoli.

It permeated the trenches of the Western Front.

It was alive in the light horsemen who charged at Beersheba.

In war’s conflagration, Australians carved out a national character.

In the war’s devastation, Australians discovered a national identity.

In war’s defeats and victories, Australians awakened a national consciousness.

Historian Charles Bean made the following observation:

“During four years in which nearly the whole world was so tested, the people in Australia looked on from afar…

They saw their own men — those who had dwelt in the same street or been daily travellers in the same railway trains — flash across the world’s consciousness like a shooting star…

“Australians watched the name of their country rise high in the esteem of the world’s oldest and greatest nations.”

Bean wrote profoundly that “the Australian nation came to know itself”.

Just as the Anzac spirit shaped our national soul, our national soul sustained the Anzac spirit.

And since the First World War, it is a spirit that has characterised Australians whenever and wherever they have served and sacrificed.

Kokoda. Tobruk. The Coral Sea.

Kapyong. Long Tan. Dili.

Uruzgan. Al Muthanna. The Indo-Pacific.

War veterans and defence personnel take part in the ANZAC Day parade on April 25, 2023, in Sydney, Australia.
War veterans and defence personnel take part in the ANZAC Day parade on April 25, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. Credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

On Anzac Day, we acknowledge the deeds of all Australians who have served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations throughout our history.

On this sacred day, we honour the memories of the more than 103,000 Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We remember them so we don’t forget who we are.

A people who chose courage over cowardice, camaraderie over tribalism, endeavour over indolence, gratitude over resentment, and national pride over national aversion.

The Anzac spirit helped us to prevail in war and prosper in peace.

In these difficult times, let us know ourselves again.

Lest we forget.

Peter Dutton is the Federal Opposition Leader.

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