The Invictus athletes are a reminder of how much is given by those who serve in our defence forces. Picture: AAP/Craig Golding
The Invictus athletes are a reminder of how much is given by those who serve in our defence forces. Picture: AAP/Craig Golding

Why we should say ‘thanks for serving’ more often

AUSTRALIANS all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

The first line of our national anthem. We sing it often. We hear it sung often.

Less often do we pause to reflect on what it really means to be free.

Strangely, it is often those things in life most important to us that we tend to take for granted. Among these are the magic vitality of youth which we don't appreciate until it has gone; good health; families who love and support us, giving meaning and context to our lives.

Whether conferred by birth or by choice, Australian citizenship gives us political, economic and religious freedoms. We live in a country with a free press; an independent judiciary and where faith coexists with reason.

Yet how often do we give thanks for these things? Who do we thank and how do we do it?

Look no further than those who wear and who have worn, the uniform of the Royal Australian Navy, Army and Royal Australian Airforce.

While there are places, such as the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, that offer a space to commemorate service, we don’t thank those who have served often enough. Picture: Ray Strange
While there are places, such as the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, that offer a space to commemorate service, we don’t thank those who have served often enough. Picture: Ray Strange

Almost 2 million have served our nation in uniform, under our flag and in the name of the truths by which we live. More than 102,700 have given their lives for us in war and peace.

Many more have borne physical wounds and lived ongoing mental traumas.

For every one of them is a family. Their lives are lived constantly moving, uprooting kids, multiple postings, modest, makeshift living and multiple absences.

Then there is war. The daughter of one of our Special Forces soldiers said "He's not the same Dad we sent to Afghanistan".

As Wes Carr and Corporal Elizabeth Smith sing in a new tribute: "After the war, will you still know who I am? Will the dream crumble like sand?"

Yet no group of Australians has worked harder nor given more to shape our values and beliefs as these men and women.

Witness to it all from the very front during the First World War, the official correspondent Charles Bean realised he was observing an emerging Australian character.

Wherever the Australians went and fought, they were sustained by belief in their own worth and one another, "whether their own death or the end of the world would come".

While life was very dear, their greatest determination was to not let one another down - "to remain true their ideal of Australian manhood".

We call it "mateship". It is the spirit that binds us in the face of adversity and hardship.

On 11 November we will pause as free and confident heirs to this legacy, a century after the guns of the First World War fell silent.

Victorious but inconsolably mourning our 62,000 dead, we would be given a greater belief in ourselves and in time, a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Australian.

Australian Victoria Cross recipient Mark Donaldson (centre) talks to soldiers during the Invictus Games in Sydney this week. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty
Australian Victoria Cross recipient Mark Donaldson (centre) talks to soldiers during the Invictus Games in Sydney this week. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Look at our Invictus athletes. Look at these young Australians bearing their physical wounds, lost legs and arms and carrying their inner demons. Look at families and friends cheering them on as those whom they love wear the green and gold of our nation.

In them is this spirit of giving your all for one another and for Australia.

They gave their health and the best of their youth for us, our values and our freedoms in the aftermath of the murder of innocent people in terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 and then Bali.

Saying thanks for serving may not seem a lot, but it is. Say it and think it, not only for those who have served but perhaps even more so, their families. The most meaningful tributes in life cost little, if anything.

On Long Tan day in August, I stepped through the front doors of the Australian War Memorial with a mate wearing his Vietnam service medals.

Two young blokes stopped, shook his hand and said "thanks for your service mate". He became very emotional and still talks about it. "No one ever said that to me before", he whispered.

As a people, we will honour them best by the way we live our lives and shape our nation, especially to think less of ourselves and more of others.

That is what service is about.

For we are young and we are free.

Brendan Nelson is the director of the Australian War Memorial.

 

Thanks For Serving.  Picture:  Supplied
Thanks For Serving. Picture: Supplied


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