Chester speech – Opening of the Refurbished Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre


Ladies and gentlemen.

Of the 60,000 Allied Prisoners of War who worked on the Burma–Thailand Railway, more than 12,500 died.

2,800 Australians never made it home to the country they loved, and the country that loved them in return.

90,000 South-East Asian civilian labourers also lost their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we tell their stories and we remember them.

I was thinking this morning, that ‘why do we build facilities like this?’ and ‘why do tens of thousands of us visit every year?’

I thought definitely it’s about respect, recognition and I guess we hope to try to gain some form of understanding, but it’s probably impossible for us to fully comprehend the atrocities that they experienced —man’s inhumanity to man on a scale that most of us could never imagine.

But I think it’s also that we want to keep our promise — it’s our promise to the fallen to always remember them.

In Australia when we say the Ode of Remembrance, and we say together ‘lest we forget’ it mustn’t be an idle promise.

It mustn’t be something we forget the moment we rush back to our work lives, or our families, or our own busy lives.

I can’t also help but wonder what kept those men going in the face of such adversity here at Hellfire Pass.

Amidst the beatings, the lack of sleep, the illness, the starvation.

How did they maintain their will to live?

They were desperate times.

And when all seemed lost, how did they keep going?

And it must have been hope, and I note some of our United State friends are here. Your former President, Barack Obama, referred to the audacity of hope.

It must have been hope.

Hope that things could get better.

Hope that they would see their loved ones again.

And hope that they did not suffer in vain.

But ladies and gentleman they could not have ever hoped that more than 70 years later we would be here together — I wonder what they would have thought of that? Us in our suits and our fancy white chairs, reflecting on their service.

They could never have hoped that more than 70 years later we would be here remembering them as we do today.

But it must be more than just remembering them.

I think we honour the fallen, and the survivors of the Burma-Thailand Railway, by the way we choose to live our lives today.

Their characteristics and values of mateship, resilience, loyalty, courage in adversity, their humanity towards each other and even to their captors, and their hope for the future.

I think we need to learn and be inspired by this place, and this is a very special place.

All credit must go to the Australian Government and the Kingdom of Thailand for working together, for bringing our countries together.

But it would be nothing without the people that come here to work — and I thank you personally for the work you do on behalf of your nation and our nation.

It would be nothing without the people who work here, but also the people who come to visit and pay their respects.

So I ask you ladies and gentleman to learn from their stories, to tell their stories, but most importantly, to live their stories.

Lest we forget.

/Public Release.