Thursday, 18 August 2022
Rod and I are honoured to join you today to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and, of course, Vietnam Veterans Day.
Long Tan has become the emblematic battle of the Vietnam War, and it is fitting that we honour it as the single action of that war which was most costly in terms of Australian lives: 17 soldiers killed in action, and 25 wounded, of whom one subsequently died.
Their average age was 21.
But on this, Vietnam Veterans Day, we also remember the other engagements: fire‑bases Coral and Balmoral; Binh ba; Long Khanh among them.
We remember the nearly 60,000 who served; the over 3000 wounded; and the 521 dead.
We remember the lives and hearts that were broken, the families bereaved, the children orphaned.
It is a matter of historical record that the Vietnam War saw the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War.
Such dissent was in part of product of the times and in part of product of the war itself. The right to dissent is part of a free society, and, as such, a part of what the war was about.
But it is also the case that the cost of that dissent fell heavily on the veterans themselves, sometimes shunned or worse on their return, denied the thanks that was their due for doing their duty.
The mental health costs of service were also then less understood or accepted than now. This lack of understanding fell heavily on many returnees.
While much remains to be done, and the work is ongoing including through the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, we can be thankful that the duty that society owes to those who serve is today better recognised, and that, however imperfectly, we are trying to do better.
The Montague Farm Estate is a tangible and remarkable example of recognition, of thanks, and of honour. Here, the 58 South Australians who lost their lives in the war, are commemorated through the names of its streets and reserves.
And in honouring these men, we honour all those who served.
I look forward to hearing from our guest speaker this morning, Fred Pritchard, a Vietnam veteran who initiated the estate’s street and reserve naming concept, the first of its kind in Australia.
In my career as a diplomat I observed, over the decades, Australia’s post-war relationship with Vietnam slowly transform.
I visited Vietnam as a special envoy of Prime Minister Turnbull, and also with Prime Minister Morrison, who was the first Prime Minister to visit Vietnam since Paul Keating, 25 years earlier.
Although our nations have our differences, including our time as foes, we have also in times of peace worked closely together, and Australia has a proud history of supporting Vietnam’s reconstruction and modernisation through the aid program.
The relationship between our nations is now captured in both a Strategic Partnership and an Economic Engagement Strategy, for the mutual benefit of both nations and for the region as a whole.
As our relationship with Vietnam continues to evolve, our nation will should never lose sight of our veterans, their service and their sacrifice for our country.
To the veterans here this morning, I commend and thank you all for your service.
The street names around us keep the memory of your fallen comrades alive, as does your presence in our community.
Lest we forget.