Anzac Day commemorative service at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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20 April 2024

Anzac Day is of the deepest significance for our nation. 

It is the day when we pause to remember the more than 2 million Australians who have served our nation at home and abroad, during times of war and peace. 

An estimated 625 of those Australians were killed and some 1,600 were wounded along the Kokoda Track in the Second World War.

The fighting along the Track was some of the most challenging in the Second World War.

Last November, I had the privilege of visiting Papua New Guinea and saw the terrain faced by our soldiers on the Kokoda Track. 

It brought home for me not only the staggering adversity our servicemen faced, but the strength of the Australian spirit to endure.

In Port Moresby I represented Australia at the official opening of the Kokoda Gallery and World War II Exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery.

The Australian Government is proud to have jointly funded this project with the Papua New Guinean Government as a gift to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

The deeds of the Australian troops in Papua and New Guinea are the stuff the Anzac legend is made of. 

And we gather today on the grounds of an inspirational community project, supported by the Albanese Government, dedicated to their memory. 

Combining the best traditions of Australian commemoration, the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway is a living, growing memorial, and an educational resource that forms a link with the past for today's and future generations.

It is a place where – just as we do today – those generations will come to learn and to pay their respects.

The respect due to those who served our nation during our darkest hour – later recognised as the Battle for Australia.

One of them was a young farmhand professing to be named Stephen Henry O’Neill, who arrived at the AIF enlistment office in Paddington in May 1940, claiming to be 21 years of age.

About a month later – in circumstances that suggest he had not had the permission of his parents to enlist – he amended his records. 

He was born in St Peter’s, his father was based in Kogarah, and his real name was Stephen Henry FitzHenry.

Stephen was only 17 years old.

Stephen served with the Second 17th Battalion in such storied places as Tobruk and El Alamein, where he was briefly appointed an acting Corporal.

In 1943, the 17th Battalion was sent to Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

Volunteering to man a forward foxhole during fighting at Finschhafen, Stephen Henry FitzHenry was mortally wounded by shellfire and died before medical attention could be given, on October 10th, 1943.

Stephen’s headstone at Lae War Cemetery reads clear and true: ‘His duty nobly done.’

The beautiful Memorial Rose Garden here contains more than 500 plaques, many dedicated to individuals, units and groups who served in the Second World War.

These are our small ways of never forgetting and they serve as a reminder of the suffering of families in times of war, and long thereafter.

109 years on since the Allied landings on the Gallipoli peninsula, Anzac Day remains core to our national identity.

On Anzac Day, in towns and cities, and at distant memorials the world over, we gather to renew our nation’s pledge to never forget.

And as we remember the Kokoda Track and PNG campaigns, we acknowledge every Australian, past and present, who has served our nation in war and peace, and fought to uphold those values. 

Here at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, we remember the men who fought and died, the locals who supported them and the families who mourn them.

And we declare that they will never be forgotten.

Lest we forget.

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