Jeremy Rockliff

Premier of Tasmania

2018 Tasmanian Liberals State Council Speech

Will Hodgman - Premier

7 October, 2018

I acknowledge and pay respect to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as the traditional and original owners, and continuing custodians of this land on which we gather today and acknowledge elders, past and present.

I acknowledge members of Federal and State Parliaments, and of local government.

I recognise the State President of the RSL Tasmania Branch, and honour the distinguished members of the Australian Defence Force, ex-service men and women, and your families.

And all Tasmanians, so fortunate to live in a place that was, a century ago, home to about just 200,000 people, but growing into the place we know today.

Apples, minerals, fisheries and forest products were blossoming industries. Our first government high schools were opening.

The State took ownership of a hydro-electric company, and the Great Lakes power scheme commenced an investment that would make us Australia’s renewable energy state.

The first man to reach the South Pole, Amundsen, arrived in the Antarctic gateway of Hobart, following his historic expedition

At this time Tasmania also suffered natural disaster with serious bushfires, and fires trapping miners underground at the Mount Lyell Mine, killing forty two.

And then, in 1914, the first Tasmanian troops left to fight in World War I. When Britain declared war against Germany in August 1914, Australia, as a dominion of the British Empire, was also automatically at war.

Almost 420,000 Australians enlisted for service, from a population of fewer than five million. Well over a third of our nation’s young men went to war. More than 15,000 of them from Tasmania.

Tasmanians responded to a sense of duty, and often a misplaced promise of adventure, to serve country and King.

Mothers kissed their sons goodbye, wives and sweethearts embraced, and families proudly waved farewell, believing they’d be back by Christmas.

They were gone for four long years. Many never returned.

World War I was “great” only for the scale of its ferocity and destruction.

More than 16 million people killed, 60,000 Australians and more than 3000 of them Tasmanian.

And hundreds of thousands suffered from wounds and illness, both physical and mental, that would inflict them and their loved ones for many more years. For in so many cases, after the war came the battles.

Our soldiers, wearied from war, returning home to begin the long battle to repatriate.

Others never to return, buried in unmarked graves in foreign lands.

For many, the Armistice was bittersweet. A paradox of the joy and relief of peace, tempered with the grief and despair that so many who had fought so hard for it would not share in it.

From the families who joyously welcomed their returning heroes, to the thousands whose loved ones were never coming home.

Australia was, at once, a nation celebrating in the streets, yet a nation in mourning. We will surely never, ever, forget this sacrifice. And nor should we ever forget the impact of war.

For though we were far away from the terror on those battlefields, they sent devastating shockwaves all the way to our shores.

Major General Sir John Gellibrand described a community welded together ‘due to the universal devotion to a common cause’. And the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914 was certainly greeted in Tasmania with enthusiastic expressions of loyalty to the British Empire.

Before long though, Tasmanians were dying and wounded, and families would never be the same again. But the sinister, surreptitious impact of a war half a world away also caused great injury here.

It’s recorded that we were a small community bitterly divided during the war years, and for many years to come. While warfare did sprout some new industries, it disrupted our economy, closing many markets for our products. Unemployment doubled in the first six months of war, accompanied by inflation, wage freezes, industrial unrest and strikes.

After the initial rush of volunteers to the cause, which far exceeded Tasmania’s quota, recruitment numbers declined. And as the number of Australian casualties increased, so too did the aggressiveness of recruitment methods.

What had been more often a sense of duty, had often became a source of shame and guilt, as conscription debates divided a nation, communities, and families.

Harassment of so-called “shirkers” was common place, and those labelled “enemy aliens” were persecuted in our towns, particularly Tasmanians of German descent.

An internment camp was even established at Claremont, and then moved to Bruny Island, and held nearly fifty prisoners by early 1915.

The northern suburb once known as Bismark, just 10 kilometres north of here, had its name changed to Collinsvale.

And environmental tourism pioneer, Gustav Weindorfer, was wrongly accused of being a German spy and of using his chalet at Cradle Mountain as a radio station to contact German ships.

This was all happening in our small island state while the war was raging all the way across on the other side of the globe.

Tasmanian history records of communities shattered and families broken; of bitter divisions, sectarianism, xenophobia, class antagonisms, and an unhappy divide between the soldier and the civilian.

The “great war”, from 10,000 miles away, had wreaked its own form destruction down here in our tiny, southern state.

So today we remember the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, when the battlefields fell silent. We remember that, one hundred years on, it was not the war to end all wars.

Barely a generation had passed before the killing began again.

As French Prime Minister George Clemenacau rightly predicted back then: “We have won the war, now we must win the peace, and that will be perhaps more difficult”.

Less than a generation after World War I, another world war engulfed civilisation and since 1941, hardly a day has passed when Australians have not been deployed abroad on active service.

So each year, and on this historic occasion, we do remember when the the battlefields fell silent one hundred years ago, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of November 1918.

But we remember all those who have died at war, in all conflicts since.

We honour all those who have served, and who are serving now, including in peace keeping operations. There are over 11,000 war veterans and ex-service personnel living in Tasmania.

And we also feel for those whose loved ones are away from home, serving our nation.

But we know that the price of peace is eternal vigilance, and that is why men and women are still serving today.

Today is for all of them.

And today, we also pray that our children will never know war as witnessed by their forebears.

And we reflect on the fact, that while we may be so fortunate to live here, so far from those theatres of war a world away, regardless; somehow, someway those wars will always damage our community.

So we should firmly resolve that the next century is one that is not so marked by wars, but a hundred years of peace.

Lest we forget.