Veterans, members of the Rooty Hill RSL Sub Branch, representatives of our defence personnel, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The darkness of the pre-dawn is eerily unfamiliar.
For many, these still moments are a time for quiet thought.
For others, expectations stir at the promise of events anticipated.
And for some there is the futile wish that the darkness might continue, holding back time and tide.
At this moment, 98 years ago, these thoughts probably joined in a confused combination for the scores of young men crammed in long boats, preparing to come ashore on a foreign beach on the other side of the world.
But in a flash of time, a pre-dawn silence was torn by blasts in first light – replaced by the darkness of a final, lasting silence.
These men predated the term ‘professional soldier’.
They were young, not in the least bit worldly, but full of a spirit of adventure.
The willing amateur: not harrowed or scarred by experience, seeking to demonstrate the capabilities and promise of a young nation.
Most knew nothing of war – yet they soon found themselves in the middle of what would become one of the First World War’s bloodiest campaigns.
And the mud of a battlefield, which swallowed up bone and soul alike, robbed many of their chance to tell the stories that only old men can tell.
Before they left our shores, we knew them as the Australian Imperial Force.
But before this disastrous 240 day campaign was over, they became known by a new name, reserved for the honour of a few: ANZAC.
More than 2,000 Australians were killed or wounded on the first day alone.
Over the course of the eight-month-long campaign more than 8,700 were killed.
After Gallipoli, many of those who remained were sent to fight in some of the bloodiest Western
Front battles where some 46,000 Australians were killed.
But in their sacrifice a national identity emerged, brothers from different parts of a great land joined – recognising themselves and each other as: Australians.
It was a realisation prompting Charles Bean to say: “it was on the 25th of April, 1915, that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.”
Not only was our national identity born out of this conflict, but so too the spirit that flows right throughout our nation to this very day.
It lives on among us whenever put aside our own comfort and self-interest to aid those in desperate plight.
What made our forces unique in the Great War, was that each and every man and woman – soldier, officer and nurse – were volunteers.
And it is the spirit that sprang from the ANZACs that lives on in the current Australian Defence Force.
It is that very same spirit we respect each year, as we are massed together after pilgrimage to this place.
And the silence of this place hosts thoughts for those from another time.
We imagine ourselves in their place, tested in horrific ways.
And it is at this point we are humbled by the enormity of our gratitude, for a debt we feel we cannot repay.
We come here together in a way that reminds us of what we love of this nation: we here, free of station, dismissive of rank – each as important as the other.
But bound by respect to remember those who gave their lives freely and willingly, in the service of this country and of our friends and allies.
Some remember those close to them but more often than not, we honour people we never knew.
And that is why this moment is one of our nation’s greatest annual expressions of respect.
It’s why we proudly reflect on the growing size of the crowds that gather at these dawn services.
On this morning my mind turns to someone I didn’t know but feel compelled to remember: the youngest fatality from the Gallipoli campaign, James Martin. Aged just 14 — probably the same age as some of the cadets forming the guard this morning.
He died in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers, waiting for a letter from his mother, which never arrived.
A young soul eager to make a young nation proud. Remembered decades on.
We pause to remember our current serving personnel, particularly those on duty in far-away lands, separated from loved ones, upholding the tradition of the Digger. We pray they remain safe and return soon.
And, finally, I reflect on the thoughts expressed to me yesterday by those who had themselves served in World War II or whose families did what they could back home, to help those fighting on foreign soil. On me they left this deep impression:
that while today honours the fallen, we should also spare a thought for widows and their children; lives irreversibly shaped by a conflict never seen but whose impact was forever felt.
In the silence before dawn, let us pray for all those who lost their lives in the service of Australia.
In this morning that is still, may we honour this sacred day.
And well beyond this time, may we continue to remember and regard the ultimate sacrifice of those who have served.
Lest we forget.