Standing up for Canberra

Commemoration of the Korean War

We have just heard from the member for Canning and I commend him for putting this motion forward. I had the great honour of joining the magnificent eight on that trip to Korea last month for the 65th commemorations of Kapyong and Maryang San. It was a great honour to join those extraordinary men. I spoke at length about them last week. For their years they are still incredibly resilient and still incredibly fit.

They have very healthy appetites and very healthy drinking appetites and they were wonderful company. Like the member for Canning, I do want to honour them today: Graham Connor 1RAR, Les Hall 1RAR, Gordon 'Taffy' Hughes HMAS Sydney, Jack Lang 3RAR, John Murphy 3RAR, Les Powell 3RAR from the ACT, Peter Scott DSO 3RAR and Ray Seaver 77 Squadron.

As the member has said, the Korean War is a forgotten war, in many ways, for Australians. They do not understand what actually happened there. We had 18,000 Australians serve up there and we lost, tragically, 340 Australians during that war. Four million people died through the course of that war from right round the region as well. So it is a significant war and is, tragically, forgotten here. That is why I welcome this opportunity to discuss this motion. We do need to keep the contribution that Australians made to the effort in Korea alive. We need to keep having conversations on this because they made a significant contribution. It is one that lingers to this day and is one that is greatly appreciated by the Korean people.

I will talk about that at the end of my speech. But because I did not get a chance to do so in my speech last week I do want to take this opportunity to congratulate DVA on the commemorative visit for the 65th anniversaries of those two significant battles. I want to thank Squadron Leader Chris Gilbert, who was the doctor there, and Jane Gallagher and Julie Howard, who were the nurses there who were up at 4 am and in bed at midnight. They were up tending to these vets, looking after them and making sure that they were fit and ready to take on the day. They were just tireless and incredibly dedicated and incredibly patient. Those women deserve a medal. They are extraordinary. I also want to thank our embassy in Korea for its contribution, particularly the charge, Ravi Kewalran, as well as the defence attache, Captain Vaughn Rixon CSC. I also thank the Federation Guard, who, as always, put on a sterling effort in their performances at the many commemorative events that we had at the Busan cemetery, Kapyong and Maryang San. They were outstanding, as always. I also want to thank the young men from 3RAR who were there. As I said in my speech last week, they told me that they were there for their good looks, but I do wonder how they got a gig! But they were there and they were incredibly respectful, and they had a number of little commemorative services around each of those graves at Busan. It was wonderful to travel with them.

In my speech last week on the Korean War, I mentioned two very moving stories. I want to mention just one more today. The story is about the passage of Thelma Healy to Busan to visit the grave of her son Vince Healy. Vince volunteered and, once he had signed up, his letters to the family trickled to very little contact. His sudden death in uncertain circumstances on a frozen battlefield in 1951 plunged his mother into a deep depression. But Thelma Healy was determined to say farewell to her son. She vowed that, before she died, she would find her son's grave and say goodbye. This began a 10-year odyssey that eventually took Thelma, on her own, on a 15,000-kilometre journey halfway around the world to war-torn Busan in Korea in 1961, through a variety of transport mechanisms. Being a woman of no means, and with nine other children to feed and clothe, Thelma had to scrimp and save, sew and slave, to raise the money needed for her epic voyage. But she got there in the end to bid farewell to her much-loved son. She was an extraordinary woman. There are so many stories like this around the Korean War. Lest we forget.

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