Australian Red Cross Centenary

I thank and commend the member for Ryan for this important motion because it is an important motion. The Centenary of Red Cross provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the very significant role this organisation plays in our society. The Red Cross is part of our social fabric. It has touched the lives of most Australians in some way.

From helping someone caught up in an emergency or helping an elderly person stay in their home, to saving a life with first aid or a blood donation, the Red Cross has always been there. The centenary is a chance to thank the many thousands of volunteers who have given their time to the Red Cross over the last 100 years and to inspire a new generation of volunteers and supporters to continue the important work of this organisation for another 100 years.

For the past 22 years the Woden Valley RSL has held an Anzac and Peace Ceremony for local schools at Edison Park in Woden ahead of Anzac Day. This year students from schools across the Woden Valley attended. The ceremony is also accompanied by an essay competition and this year, to commemorate the Centenary of the Red Cross, students were asked to write about the role of the Red Cross in World War II. The winning essay was written by Ethan Theodorakis, a year six student from Sacred Heart in Pearce. He won a medallion, $250 towards his education next year, and a book on the history of the Red Cross for his school.

At the ceremony, Ethan read aloud his winning essay and the crowd was moved by his eloquent and powerful summation of the role of the Red Cross. Today I would like to share Ethan's essay with you. It is called 'Our Mission is to Serve'. It says:

These words, spoken by the President of the International Red Cross Committee during WWII, sum up what the organisation stood for and did, namely alleviating suffering, bringing hope and saving lives. During WWII, the Red Cross provided help to people on the frontlines, in prison camps, to refugees and the families of the soldiers fighting for their life.

Its fundamental principles are ‘Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality’. In short, they mean that the Red Cross will help wherever there is a need, and every human is treated equally without discrimination of race, gender, nationality, or political opinion. Given that wars are fought and people are killed in the name of nationality, ethnicity and religion, their impartial mission and sense of human solidarity is extremely important as it puts protecting and respecting lives above anything else. During WWII in Australia, the Red Cross was mainly made up of women volunteers who made clothing and linen to be delivered to the soldiers on the frontlines, or refugees of war. Besides food provision, fundraising and medical work, the Red Cross also provided services such as hospital visits, vocational training, home help, transport and ambulance services.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross coordinated a central “prisoner of war” agency, which was responsible for making sure captured soldiers were treated fairly, with enough food, appropriate shelter and without violence, to stop diseases and help the soldiers feel like humans, not animals. For example, at Christmas, Italian Red Cross volunteers sent all POW parcels of biscuits, cake and wine. A British Red Cross delegate went to French field hospitals and provided the patients with soap, toothpaste, shoelaces, and musical instruments.

Although I have no relatives who have served with the Red Cross, I read some personal stories in the book ‘Dunant’s Dream’, which tells the Red Cross’ history. I was particularly moved by those Red Cross workers who helped reunite families, and looked after displaced children in Europe during this time.

All this reflects the spirit and mission of the Red Cross, which is to be ready to help wherever and whenever there, is a need. After reading about the horrors of WWII, and seeing that wars today cause just as much suffering, I feel that the Red Cross’ role, then and now, is extremely important. It should be everyone’s mission to serve others.

That is the extraordinary award-winning essay from Ethan Theodorakis. Second prize in that competition went to Christopher Tsirbas and third place went to Annie Grove, both from Saints Peter and Paul Primary School in Garran, who each received a medallion and $125 towards next year's education costs. I am sure all of the students who participated in this essay competition will remain strong supporters of the Red Cross well into its second century. I congratulate the Australian Red Cross on this important milestone, and thank them for all they have done for this country.

Download a copy of this speech.

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