Standing up for Canberra

Terendak Cemetery

It is impossible to exaggerate what we owe to our service personnel and their families, those who are working to keep our country safe here and abroad now and those who fought to protect our nation and its interests in the past. It is impossible to exaggerate what we owe their families. That is why I stand today to support the government's offer to bring our Vietnam fallen home. It is timely, as next week Australia will commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, where we will remember the men and women who served and died in Vietnam.

As we have heard today, close to 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam and 521 made the ultimate sacrifice. Out of the 521 who died, all but 25 were returned home to Australia. Twenty-four of these bodies still lie at the Terendak cemetery in Malaysia and one lies buried in Singapore. These men were not brought home because, until Australia changed its repatriation policy on 21 January 1966, service personnel who died overseas after the Second World War were interred in the closest practical Commonwealth cemetery. That was unless the next of kin elected to have the remains returned to Australia at their own expense. Terendak Military Cemetery is not readily accessible. It is located within a large operational Malaysian armed forces base and, due to security restrictions, does not allow the ready access of cemeteries elsewhere where Australian service personnel are interred.

In May this year, the Prime Minister made the offer of repatriation to all of the families of those buried at Terendak, including those of service dependants. The offer was also extended to the family of the only other Australian who died in the Vietnam War, Warrant Officer Kevin Conway, who is buried in Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore. These families can now decide to bring their loved ones home, or they may choose to keep their loved ones at Terendak—but they now have the choice, which is vitally important. I acknowledge and thank the government for its repatriation offer, for its promise to fully finance the repatriation and for its promise to bring these soldiers home with full military honours.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, which I know has been working to achieve this outcome for many years as part of Operation Bring Them Home. I know it means a lot to the families of not only the soldiers interred at Terendak but also the wider veterans community. In acknowledging the wonderful work of the Vietnam Veterans Association and the fact that Vietnam Veterans Day is next week, I want to take this opportunity to thank the many organisations that are involved in supporting Vietnam veterans in my electorate. I want to thank the Woden Valley RSL, the Barton-Capital RSI, the Hellenic RSL, the Tuggeranong RSL, the Vietnam Veterans & Veterans Federation ACT and also the Vietnam Veterans Association. Thank you so much for the support that you provide to Vietnam veterans in the community. I know I have been to a number of your events where I have heard about the support you provide, not just in terms of helping people fill out forms and getting the appropriate benefits and care that they need but also in providing an opportunity for Vietnam vets to get together as mates, have barbecues and do a bit of carpentry work, or just in keeping people healthy and ensuring their ongoing wellbeing.

Finally, I want to bid farewell to a Vietnam veteran who is close to my heart—that is my father-in-law, Ian McLean Uhlmann, who passed away this morning. Ian carried the scars of that war not physically but emotionally. As my late mother-in-law Mary said, she got a different man back from the war. Ian passed away in his bed at home this morning. I want to pay tribute to him. It is a very common story of men of that generation who did it tough and yet stared down challenges and just got on with life and did not complain.

Ian was born in Brisbane and grew up on a farm in Nambour. His father was an unsuccessful pineapple farmer, coming off the back of the Depression. He left school at 12 to make money for the family and worked in a sugar mill, where he once declared the communists were the only people who did anything for the workers. He then worked on a forestry plantation with migrant workers, which he absolutely loved. He loved working with people from all over the world. He was a man of great intellect. Even though he was not traditionally well educated, as we say, he read widely. He loved reading. He was a Renaissance man, particularly with his reading. He had the opportunity to work in this forestry plantation with people from all over the world, with stories from all over the world—he would have absolutely revelled in it.

One day while he was eating his lunch a newspaper blew up against his feet with an ad saying to join K Force and learn a trade. He had always wanted to be a carpenter, so he joined. On the day he joined, he was told the K Force was over. He could not be a carpenter, so he joined the infantry. He served in Malaya during the emergency and was joined by his new bride, Mary Rose Uhlmann, who was much loved. He adored that woman. That woman was the centre of his universe. She passed away five years ago. Since that time, he really has not ever been the same. His health deteriorated dramatically. In fact, we all thought that he would go very shortly after Mary died, but he did not. He hung on for another five years, to the great surprise of all of us. I think what kept him alive was his strength of will but also the desire to continue to watch his many, many grandchildren grow and flourish.

He was posted to Malaya with his new bride and shortly thereafter the first of six children arrived. He had postings in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide and Canberra. While in Brisbane, he served in Vietnam. He worked his way up the ladder, after doing a number of what he called 'knives and forks' courses. He worked his way up from private soldier to major.

In 1972 the family moved to Canberra and for the first time Mary did not have a tiny army house. It was the first time that they moved into a privately built house, and she was so excited when they pulled up. She said, 'Look, Ian, it's a Jennings home.' He died in that same home they pulled up outside of that day in 1972; he died in that home in his bed this morning, and that, I think, was really wonderful for him. I know that he was really resisting having to possibly move into aged care or some other care. We could not have wished for more than that he died in his bed at home.

He came here in 1972 with this huge family—a good Catholic family of six children. Chris is the second of the six. Shortly after moving here, he left the army and became a Defence civilian working on the small arms program that produced the Steyr. Today he died in the home he loved—the first and last Jennings home that he and Mary Uhlmann lived in. He was just shy of his 86th birthday. He leaves behind a very broken-hearted family—Mark, Vicki, Caitlin, Ainslie—I have to go through them all now—Andrea and Anthony and the four kids. We have Liz and Kate and the two girls and Amanda—his beloved Amanda—and Frank and Liberty, Chris and myself, and Paul and Jules over in Perth. We will all be joined up again next week, paying tribute to this lovely man—a man who did it tough in his youth and who joined the army to see the world to have a better future for himself and his family. He had wonderful experiences in the army. He did get to travel through it, though, unfortunately, Vietnam really did affect him—not physically but emotionally, as I said. To Ian Uhlmann, vale, and to all those Vietnam Vets who bear those scars, there is support there. We thank you for the service that you gave our nation. It is wonderful that the repatriation offer is available. I congratulate and thank the minister and the government for this. Vale, Ian Uhlmann.

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