Good morning all and thank you, Brian, for that welcome.
I see the serving members and veterans gathered with us today, welcome and thank you for your service.
I would also like to acknowledge some very special guests – serving dog instructors, handlers and students, and of course, their canines.
Anyone who knows me, or follows me on Twitter for that matter, will see frequent picture of my own dog, Marlo, who is a fourteen-month old Lab-cross.
So today’s unveiling is something close to my heart.
Today, we are here to remember the service and sacrifice of our four-legged heroes.
For more than a century, Australians have gone to war with dogs by their side.
They have endured the same hardships;
Faced the same danger;
And made the same sacrifices… sometimes the ultimate sacrifice.
They became more than capabilities… more than companions.
They became mates.
And in the Australian Defence Force, you’d do anything for your mates.
This special day is not only for our dogs of war.
The National Day for War Animals also remembers the service of horses, donkeys, cats and pigeons, to name a few.
We wear our purple poppies with pride to recognise that as long as Australian troops have served on operations, they’ve had animals by their side.
As I look at this special memorial, I’m reminded of the unique place dogs hold in our military history.
The first official Australian war dog was Bushie.
Described as a “rough bush collie”, the black and white canine was the mascot of the New South Wales Bushmen’s contingent.
He travelled alongside those men to the Boer War and, after his war service, was gifted to Queen Victoria, and lived out the rest of his life in English luxury.
Not bad for a dog bred in the Blue Mountains
Bushie is proof that even before Australia had a national military, our men of arms knew the value of dogs.
In the late stages of the First World War, the Australian Imperial Force used dogs extensively as messengers.
And during the Second World War, we used German Shepherds to guard valuable military equipment and installations.
It wasn’t until the mid-sixties that Australian soldiers began properly training tracker dogs, which were invaluable in the jungles of Vietnam.
Eleven of them served in the combat tracker teams.
And we have continued to see military working dogs alongside Australian troops in places such as East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Explosive detection dogs… combat assault dogs… military police dogs.
Time and again, they have shown they are not normal animals.
Their senses of sight, sound and smell are more attuned.
And, when required, they go beyond the call of duty.
No dog serves alone. Their service is only matched by their handler’s.
The bond between them must be unbreakable.
As a dog owner myself, I know I’d do almost anything for my girl Marlo.
I imagine that love and trust must be a thousand times stronger in the military.
I could spend hours telling you the stories of these dogs in action.
But I want to pay a special tribute to Military Working Dog 426.
Or – as his mates called him – ‘Aussie’.
Aussie was an Explosive Detection Dog and, in his own way, he’s a four-legged record of Australia’s recent military history.
His first deployment was to the Solomon Islands in 2004.
He and his handler mostly supported cordon-and-search operations, as well as clearing buildings used for important meetings.
When Aussie returned to Australia, he took part in Operation Acolyte, the military contribution to security at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
That same year, Aussie began the first of several deployments to Afghanistan.
He joined infantry patrols for days at a time beyond the wire as the ADF sought to bring security and stability to Tarin Kowt.
During one operation in 2009, he undoubtedly saved lives.
His handler recalled Aussie making three finds: a rifle, boxes of ammunition… and a mortar bomb wired up for use as an improvised explosive device.
Who knows who could’ve been injured or killed if Aussie hadn’t been there. A true hero.
Aussie retired when he was 12 years old after serving his country for more than a decade.
Like so many of his fellow dogs, he served unconditionally… faithfully… and without complaint.
When he retired, he was adopted by another former handler – Sergeant Alistair Le Lievre
I’m told he spent the rest of his days playing in mud, chewing tennis balls and jumping into pools of water!
Aussie passed away peacefully in 2017.
I know he is remembered fondly – especially by his former handlers who join us today.
Aussie is with us now.
His ashes have been interred under this memorial.
Like the remains of an unknown Australian soldier forever entombed in the Hall of Memory just behind you, this memorial stands as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices military working dogs have made.
It honours the dogs that served and the ones still serving today.
It reminds us of names like Aussie…
Just some of the dogs that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Because – most importantly – it is a tribute to all the dogs that didn’t come home.
You’ll see the paw prints are inset into the granite very deliberately.
They symbolise a dog coming to rest… the final lap of its surroundings before going to sleep.
Steven, you’ve done a fantastic job creating this memorial and I say a heartfelt thank you on behalf of the Australian Government.
To the dog handlers of the ADF, we say thank you for your service.
To the dogs we’ve come to remember, we say good job… you’ve looked after your mates… now you can rest.
Lest we forget.