Today our community pauses and we put aside every distraction.We mark the  Gallipoli landings in 1915 over a century ago, as well as commemorating and honouring every Australian who served and died in military operations.

This granite cenotaph stands as a permanent monument. It’s a meeting place that calls us together every year. It calls us to remember the service personnel who gave their all, and to be thankful.

What it stands for, unites us today.

Each Anzac Day it helps focus our attention as a community on the gift of service and sacrifice made by over one hundred and three thousand Australians. And if we are thoughtful and not in too much of a rush, it can draw us into a moment of focus when we are walking or driving by on any other day of the year.

The cenotaph links us both to earlier generations and future generations, even those not yet born. That’s because it is older than nearly every one of us and no doubt it will continue to stand here long after we’ve gone.

In fact our cenotaph here in Launceston was unveiled and consecrated by our ancestors on this very day, exactly 100 years ago on April 25, 1924.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in that day’s edition:

In Royal Park and fronting on Patterson-street, is the handsome memorial which is to be Launceston’s tribute to the memory of fallen soldiers who enlisted in this city. This is not complete, but only a few more days remain before it is finished. The main delay has been in getting the brass tablets bearing the names of the fallen prepared. This has been occasioned by the difficulty experienced in obtaining a full list of names.

Though the committee would have desired to have seen the monument completed by today, it was decided that the unveiling would be more appropriate on Anzac Day, so the decision was unanimous in favour of the unveiling to take place today.

The following day, the Examiner newspaper reported on the ceremony:

The monument raised in Royal Park and unveiled yesterday is Launceston’s permanent and outward tribute to the memory of those of its gallant sons who paid the price in human life of victory in the four years of the Great War.

The memorial is the city’s cenotaph to those gallant men who died as the simple but expressive legend on the beautiful granite plinth sets out, “For God and Country.” They proved themselves worthy. May the monument ever be regarded as an incentive to those who survived, to those for whom they died, and to all who will follow and share the blessings their sacrifice has assisted to preserve, to also prove themselves worthy.

The cenotaph looms large as a focal point of our city. It invokes both grief and gratitude, yet it is a place of honour.

Grief and gratitude are felt wherever we live, not just in the city.

We have places of honour all around us. Memorial avenues of trees, stone monuments, special gardens, fountains, paintings, even buildings that double as community swimming pools, hospitals and halls.

In hundreds, perhaps thousands of such halls, sporting club rooms, schools and churches around our nation, the walls are adorned with these unique local tributes, an honour board or roll of honour, bearing the names of those etched into our nation’s history.

Some of those honour rolls are very simple, others are huge and ornate. From a simple rectangle board of Tasmanian hardwood, darkened by the aging of a century, small enough to be lifted by a single pair of hands onto the wall; through to large sets of panels or frames, heavily adorned by an artist’s skill with patriotic motifs like the Australian flag, the Union Jack, flags of our allies, the flag of the place in which our service men and women were fighting in our name.

The painted flowers on the boards are like a wreath laid down at a cenotaph or a posie at a headstone. The Golden Wattle and any number of other floral emblems bring sweetness and an expression of love to those who are greatly missed.

And always a list of names.

During the wars, the rolls of honour were printed stylised in the newspapers. The roll of honour grew in size, with each edition, with the names of more recruits. Before long, the roll of honour was separated into groups: those serving, those wounded, those missing and those killed in action.

This distinction found its way into the physical rolls of honour after the wars, in those town halls, clubs and schools. Such as the roll of honour mounted at the Tamar Rowing Club which carries many names. Gruesomely, next to names with one star, that person was wounded; two stars, missing; three stars, killed.

And then there are living memorials in most of our towns, whether organised garden beds, rows of trees, or trees too old to stand that have been saved by creating carved sculptures like the poignant avenue at Legerwood.

On Rosevears Drive, there is a tall, healthy Norfolk pine planted on the banks of West Tamar. It stands alone but majestic. It too is a place of honour and tells a story.

That tree honours Austin Plummer, nicknamed Badger. Born at Rosevears in 1897 to George and Christina who were orchardists. Austin was just 18 years of age when he enlisted – a very young man at the start of life.

The tree was planted by Austin’s uncle. Many years later, the local Apex club tidied up the little roadside area and produced a plaque which contains the tribute, including the chilling statement that young Austin had received the ominous white feather.

In case any of our young people here might not know, to receive a white feather in the mail was a very bad thing. During a war, this meant that someone thought you were a coward and that you shouldn’t be here at home, you should be off fighting in the war for your country, like other brave men.

The plaque goes on to say that two days after he went into battle, his young life ended.

Austin is buried in the Aeroplane Cemetery in Belgium. And his headstone carries the loving message from his family so far away:

On the banks of West Tamar we parted
in Heaven we hope to meet again

The death notice placed by his family in the Examiner states:

PLUMMER — Killed in action in Flanders, at the battle of Passchendaele, on the 14th October (after 18 months’ service), Austin S. (“Badger”), youngest son of G. F. and Mrs. Plummer, Rosevears, aged 20 years. A willing volunteer. “Pro patria.”

The emphasis on willingness and patriotism is not lost on any of us, a century later.

I really think that the Norfolk Pine on West Tamar is extra special. It speaks to the love of his family, loving through the terrible pain of grief few of us could understand. And the fact that like that tree, the love of family lives on long after the passing of the child.

Indeed, there are countless stories across our country just like Austin Plummer’s. And for every man and woman who has served, the home front so often bares the pain.

The grief was heaviest to the Australians of my grandparents and great-grandparents generations because of the sheer scale of the losses in the two world wars.

But we cannot downplay the impact of more recent conflicts. Conflict has always been with us, and the weight of grief is no less heavy to today’s families and communities who mourn their loved ones from 523 lost in the Vietnam War, the 81 lost in conflicts since and the thousands who return home bearing the pain of trauma and memories of strife.

The person with the task to perform that official unveiling of this cenotaph one hundred years ago today, was the President of what is today’s RSL. The Examiner’s concludes its report as follows:

In unveiling the monument, Major Sampson drew a telling and appropriate inspiration from its incompleteness. It was that the task in which so many brave men laid down their lives is yet far from complete.

They fought and fell for ideals that make life worth while. It remains for those who have benefited by their sacrifice to see that those ideals are cherished and preserved. On them alone can any worthy citizenship be based. In no other way than by faithful observance of these high principles in our daily lives can a full share in our priceless heritage be deserved.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, one hundred years ago, our forebears created this lasting monument. It was their best effort in those times to capture the public feeling to honour those who gave their all for God and Country, and to use granite and bronze to lock in for us a place of meeting where grief and gratitude becomes part of the fabric of our city for all time.

The stories of sacrifice have been told over and over, and the ceremonies honoured year after year, to force us to remember, lest we forget.

The challenge to us as free men and women is laid out clearly. We know what it is to act justly, to love our neighbour and to live grateful, generous lives.

Today a grateful community says with all our heart that we are grateful. That we honour every one of those 103,000 Australians who served and fell. That we deeply appreciate our servicemen and women who have returned to us.

And that we rededicate ourselves to both cherish and preserve their incomplete task with our own efforts and by living lives worthy of their priceless heritage.

Lest we forget.

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