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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE
GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
AUSTRALIAN BRAVERY DECORATIONS
MONDAY, 14th FEBRUARY 2000.
First of all, on behalf of Helen, myself and all the staff here at Government House, let me say how very welcome you all are to Yarralumla. I invite you all, after the ceremony, to join us for some refreshments and to feel absolutely free to wander through the ground floor rooms of the House which is such an important part of our national life and heritage.We are very fortunate today to have the RMC Quartet and Mr. Colin Slater and the members of the Sing Australia Choir to provide us with music. I sincerely thank them all.
Today is the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the Australian honours system in general and the Australian Bravery Awards in particular. It is a day for celebration, reflection and remembrance.
It is wonderful that so many recipients of Bravery Awards have come to Canberra for this weekend, many from distant parts of the Commonwealth. Yesterday you had a function at Parliament House and it is particularly pleasing that we are joined this morning by the Honourable Neil Andrew, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I also particularly welcome members of the Australian Bravery Decorations Council, including Mr John Johnson who is representing Professor Valerie Pratt, the Chair of the Council, who is prevented from being with us by unavoidable family reasons.
The Order of Australia is also celebrating its 25th Anniversary and the National Secretary of the Order of Australia Association, Brigadier David Buring, is with us this morning. Admiral Peter Sinclair, the Chairman of the Council of the Order, has specifically asked to be associated with this occasion.
The Australian Bravery Decorations were established by The Queen, acting on the advice of the Australian Government, on this day 25 years ago. Until that time, Australia did not have its own identifiable system of awards for the recognition of its citizens and others for acts of bravery in other than warlike situations: awards were only able to be made within the British system.
The importance of the Bravery Awards can scarcely be overstated. The Cross of Valour is the highest Award that can be bestowed by Australia in peacetime.Altho ugh listed after the Victoria Cross in the Order of Wearing, the clear intention when it was established was that it should be seen as equal in worth to the Victoria Cross. The truly exceptional nature of the conduct recognised by this award is shown by the fact that, throughout the Awards’ 25 year history, there have been only three recipients. We are honoured that one of them, Mr Alan Sparkes, is with us today.
The next Award is the Star of Courage for “acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril”. It has been awarded only 104 times (including 4 announced today). But comparative rarity of those two awards, as compared to both the Bravery Medal, of which there have been 583 (including 27 announced today), and the Commendation for Brave Conduct, of which there have been 858 (including 30 announced today), could not be said by anyone who has read the relevant citations to indicate that conduct recognised by the latter is ever in any way “ordinary”. At all levels, the display of selflessness and courage of the individuals honoured by our Bravery Awards has invariably been quite exceptional and remarkable.
The only addition to the Awards occurred around ten years ago, when in March 1990, the Group Citation for Bravery was promulgated. There have since been 29 such awards made, including one announced today for those employees involved in containing the fire, and assisting to safety their injured colleagues, at Esso’s Longford Gas Plant.
Over the past 25 years Australian Bravery Awards have been made to persons performing acts of great courage in situations involving almost every conceivable hazard, from armed offenders, to sharks, to fires, to road accidents, to toxic fumes, to electrical hazards, and drowning. They have been awarded to private citizens and to members of the police, fire, ambulance and armed services.Some of these awards have been made posthumously to persons who have themselves died in their attempt to help others. In all cases, they have been awarded to people of whom Australia is justly proud.
It is right for us to take this 25th Anniversary occasion to celebrate and reflect on the bravery recorded by the awards granted year by year since 1975. I commend John Thurgar, himself a distinguished recipient of the Star of Courage, for bringing together so many recipients of bravery awards, together with families and loved ones, many of whom have also had their lives profoundly affected. I refer, in particular, to the members of the families of recipients of posthumous awards.
To mark this occasion Bishop Mayne will shortly lead us in a service of remembrance with the theme of the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd. During the service he will bless the two garden seats that you, the holders of bravery awards, are presenting to our nation. As their plaques say, the seats are:
They are a wonderful gift. Made of Australian Jarrah, they will be here at Government House for a very long time. Certainly, they will outlast all of us. They will be a continuing memorial of this occasion and of the bravery of our fellow Australians over the past 25 years.
You will see over to your right that work is progressing on a special garden in an area that once was a croquet court - a croquet lawn that was so poorly drained it seemed to be always muddy. A feature of the design for the garden in the Southern Cross. While details are not yet settled, a basic theme of the garden will be the courage and bravery and the sacrifice made by Australians since Federation in both war and peacetime.It will be a garden for contemplation and reflection. It will also be a garden to be visited by new recipients of Bravery Awards following their investitures. The seats you have given will be a wonderful contribution to it. And, on behalf of the people of Australia, to whom the seats have been given, I thank you for your generosity.
Towards the end of the service, Helen and I will place posies of flowers on the seats in memory of those who lost their lives through their brave deeds. I invite any of you who wish to do so, at the end of the service, also to place flowers on the seats as an act of private remembrance. May they all rest with God.
Australian Bravery Association members pictured with Garden Furniture donated by fellow Bravery Medal recipients.