Address at Catalina A24-50 commemorative ceremony, Cairns

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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18 July 2021

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honour to be here with you today. I'd like to firstly acknowledge the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Hupfeld as well as Lou. Thank you very much both for being here today.

Your Excellency, Ambassador Legowo, thank you so much for being here and to your wife as well. It's a great pleasure to have you here, to see you again and to thank you very much for your hospitality and facilitation of the outcome that we're here to commemorate today.

To Colonel Ariyanto and to all of the effort that you put into the relationship, thank you very much Sir for being here today as well.

To Air Commodore Myatt, the Air Force Director-General History and Heritage Branch and all of the work that goes on by your members, we pay tribute to that today as well because you work in our country's name, you work on behalf of those who have been lost in different parts of the world, and for that we're incredibly grateful.

To Wing Commander Sleeman, the Commanding Officer of No. 11 Squadron, and to Commander Mark Matthews, the Commanding Officer of HMAS Cairns.

To our distinguished ladies and gentlemen and guests here today, most importantly to the family members, but also to the cadets, those that are in uniform and those who have served our country, we acknowledge your presence here today as well.

We gather to commemorate those forever lost 78 years ago when Catalina A24-50 went missing. As Minister for Defence, I pay my deepest respects to our fallen.

Importantly today to our family and to the descendants who represent those brave men.

The 10 air crew members with an average age of just 25 departed Cairns in September of 1943 to mine Sorong Harbour in what is today Indonesia. It was to be an endurance testing 25-hour mission, one of the longest of the war; but after leaving the Gulf of Carpentaria the Catalina was never heard from again. The flying boat, along with all crew, was lost. Searchers could not find any evidence of the fate of the aircraft or the air crew.

The crew members were among the 173 airmen who perished in Catalina operations, and they are among the more than 11,000 members of the Royal Australian Air Force who have given their lives in service of our nation, many of whom, like the crew of the Catalina A24-50, have no known grave.

For three quarters of a century the final resting place of the aircraft and air crew remained unknown. Then, as we know, in 2018 the wreckage of the flying boat was discovered by forestry workers in mountainous terrain in Fakfak in Papua.

Imagery of the site confirmed it to be the wreckage of the aircraft and in July of 2019 a recovery mission was launched to examine the site in a joint operation between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian National Armed Forces. Sadly, as we know, no remains were recovered; but the families and descendants of the crew may take some small solace in the fact that they now know where the crew perished; that Australians now know where these 10 young men lost their lives, and we know that a number of artefacts recovered from the site will be gifted to the Australian War Memorial, where they will be forever preserved and become part of a future display. A display which will ensure that future generations remember these 10 men as we remember them now.

We are grateful for the approval and for the support of the Indonesian Government and armed forces in this recovery operation. Without Indonesian support the mission could never have taken place. It's a sign of the partnership between our two nations, a partnership that is growing in depth and importance.

Ladies and gentlemen, as Australians we owe a great debt to those who have put their lives on the line and do so this very day in the service of our nation. We revere their service, their sacrifice and the struggle of our Defence personnel in all theatres of war and conflict, and in all their duties in peace keeping, humanitarian and disaster response. That is why we are committed to searching for, identifying and recovering those who have gone missing, no matter how long ago. It's our obligation to those who serve our country. We owe them that and so much more.

So we must never forget who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. It's a spirit in which we remember, and we commemorate the crew of the Catalina A24-50 today. We pay tribute and homage to all of those who wear the uniform represented here today in the Royal Australian Air Force in many theatres over many years. They've served our country with great pride and distinction.

The plaque we unveil this morning will stand as an enduring and solemn reminder of the sacrifice of those 10 and the others who have lost their lives for generations to come.

Thank you for being here today, thank you for paying homage to 10 great Australians, and I thank the family members for your time and sacrifice in being here today, and to all of those who have been involved in this recovery mission, you do our country a great service. Thank you very much.


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