BRENDAN Nelson wouldn’t talk party politics yesterday but spoke instead of the key values many Australians wanted to embrace.
The former Liberal Party leader holds a strictly impartial, non-political role as director of the Australian War Memorial, though says he will always be a Liberal Party member.
After being head of the Australian Medical Association, an MP, education minister, defence minister, party leader, ambassador and diplomat, he is now focused on war history and teaching it to young Australians.
He encourages the war memorial to reach out from Canberra by using virtual images and “live” coverage of events such as the daily sounding of the Last Post.
He said the 2/23rd Battalion’s history was a microcosm of the Australian war experience, sharing the factors identified by historians at Gallipoli in determining the Aussie character in battle and in life.
Without holding his breath, he listed: “ Resources, candour, devotion, curiosity, dependence, ancestry, comradeship, patriotism, chivalry, loyalty, coolness, control, audacity, endurance and decision.”
“The 2/23rd men (in Albury) in 1940 were young men and boys most of them had no idea what would lie ahead, though they would have realised it would be difficult and certainly very dangerous,” he said.
Dr Nelson said he didn’t want to see students simply learn war history’s bare statistics.
“It’s very easy to allow the past to become a distant stranger,” he said.
“What is extremely important is that we don’t ever allow though neglectful indifference that we lose sight of the individual sacrifices that have been made in our name.”
Dr Nelson, 55, said his generation was the last given “a pre-packaged set of values based on God, King and Country”.
Since then, various factors had broken down the old set of values, including the marginalisation of ethics-based organisations and the diminishing role of parenting as a full-time occupation.
However, youngsters still looked for purpose and what it meant to be an Australian — and found them in the men and women of the three services, including today’s veterans of Afghanistan.
“And the young today are able to differentiate what they regard as the absurdity of some of the wars — certainly not World War II — but some of the wars that Australia decided at the time to be engaged,” he said.