Address, Dedication Service at the Hellfire Pass Memorial

Transcript
04 Nov 2019
Bangkok, Thailand
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, particularly to any veterans who are here today, serving men and women of our Defence Forces, can I acknowledge you especially and simply say thank you for your service from a grateful nation. 

I feel very humbled to be here today for this resealing of this time capsule. This time capsule is a promise - a promise to remember and a promise to honour. We remember and honour the 300,000 slave labourers from across Asia, deprived of liberty and who suffered so much, and the 90,000 of them who perished. We honour the 61,000 Allied prisoners of war, whose war required them to face more than they could ever have imagined and we today could never conceive. 

And we hold dear to our heart the 13,000 Australians who were prisoners, and one in five of whom never returned home. There is much in life that fades and dims with time, but the enormity of the Thai-Burma Railway, the scale, the ferociousness of the cruelties and the inhumanities, as well as the corresponding fortitude and courage and comradeship that can never dim, and it must never dim. We remember the whippings, the beatings, the stonings, the bare feet, the ragged clothes, the filthy rations, the physical devastation, the mental torture, the deprivations, the humiliations. 

The author Cameron Forbes called the unrelenting work, hunger and fatigue ‘a journey towards disease and death’. Yet it was the inhumanity of it all that made the humanity of others who suffered under this shine so clear. A Thai shopkeeper, Boonpong, and his wife Boopa - despite the threat of death - smuggled medicines, medical supplies and goods to prisoners along the railway. Unknown and brave Thai people who took on the work of angels by leaving hard-boiled eggs on the riverbank, risking their lives for people they did not even know. And then there were the slave labourers and prisoners of war who stood with mates and strangers and supported each other throughout the crimes and cruelties of their oppressors. 

The late Tom Uren described the defining ethos - a member of our Parliament, Tom – as, ‘The fit looking after the sick, the young looking after the old, and the rich looking after the poor’. Tom was a close friend and mentor of the Leader of the Opposition today, Anthony Albanese, and travelled here, Anthony, with both Tom and another amazing gentleman I'll refer to shortly. 

‘Even the humblest of men had quite a lot of God in them’, said Weary Dunlop, and despite it all, there was hope and the goodness that defied the cruelties lived on. I had the privilege of knowing Sir John Carrick, a survivor, just as Anthony knew Tom. John and Tom knew each other well from those days and since. We have lost them both now. I was fortunate enough to call him a strong mentor, as indeed former Prime Minister John Howard could in an even more intimate way. I would always go and sit with John in his small apartment towards the end of his life when I was a director of our Party, and I'd always leave filled with his wisdom and his kindness. He had a grateful wisdom, a generosity of spirit, which was anchored in kindness. At John's funeral recently, mourners recalled that when it came time for the POWs to finally go home, Sir John told them to put all of this behind them, what occurred to them. All the horror, all the awfulness, all the deprivations, all the pain, and he said, 'You are young men. Go back and live your lives in a positive way.’

And despite the traumas and the sicknesses and the nightmares, that's what they endeavoured to do. And they did rebuild their lives, so many of them. They took up jobs, they opened shops, they opened hardware stores, they raised families and they prevailed. A spirit that the fires of hell could not vanquish. So today, in this important ceremony, we honour them all, not just those who are part of our country and its soul, but the shared humanity that suffered along the way. The capsule we seal today will be opened in 2042 and formally presented to the Thai people. It will be a gift from our heart and our soul to yours, the Thai people. It embodies our relationship with Thailand today, a relationship based on warmth, trust and respect, and may I say how wonderful it is to have the Royal Thai Armed Forces with us today also. Your presence symbolises the deep and longstanding operational cooperation between our two nations in so many places in the world today. 

So that message that will be sent in 2042 is not just the message of the relationship today, but also a message of thanks for the kindnesses that were extended to our Australians all those years ago. So we remember, we honour all who suffered and lost so much. We give great thanks that good prevailed over evil in those times, and may we remain ever vigilant to ensure that it does today and in the future and we rededicate ourselves to live lives worthy of those who faced the cruelties of Hellfire Pass and the Thai-Burma Railway.

The best way we can say to those who sacrificed so much  - thank you for your service - is for us today and in the future to live lives worthy of their sacrifice.

Lest We Forget.