Press conference, Saluting Their Service grants and Australia’s close connection with Greece

Friday, 13 January 2023

The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

E&OE transcript
Press conference
Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial, Melbourne

Josh Burns MP, Member for MacNamara: Thank you so much, everyone, for coming here to the magnificent Lemnos Square here in the heart of Albert Park in my electorate in McNamara. Behind us we have the Lemnos Memorial. It’s a really amazing memorial of a nurse and a soldier resting behind us, and it memorialises the contribution, not only of the soldiers, but also of the nurses and all who served in World War I, especially in Lemnos.

Behind me we have members of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, and I thank them all so much for being here, and for being a part of this exciting project which the Minister, my good friend Matt Keogh, will speak about shortly.

But from my perspective, I am really thrilled that everyone has come here in this special part of Albert Park to join us as part of our ongoing work to commemorate those who served and the lessons of war and our close connection between Australia and the Greeks; the Greek community. Of course I want to welcome my good friend, Peter Khalil for also joining us, and I’ll hand over to my friend Matt Keogh to say a few words.

Matt Keogh, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs: A lot of friends. Lots of friends. Josh is a very friendly character.

Thank you, Josh, it’s great to be here with you at the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial here in Melbourne, and today I’m very happy to be announcing as part of the latest round of Saluting Their Service grants from the Australian Government we will be funding more than 80 organisations across Australia in their commemoration activities, some very local, some regional and across the country, and they’ll be receiving over a million dollars of funding to support those activities, making sure that we are probably commemorating and recognising the service of the men and women that have served our nation.

One of the great organisations that’s being supported through this latest round of Saluting Their Service grants is the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. I’m going to say that again. One of the great organisations that’s receiving funding through the Saluting Their Service grant round that we’ve just announced is the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, with their project for a documentary that will be highlighting Australia’s involvement with Greece during the First World War, and Greece has supported Australia during the First and Second World War.

One of the things that people don’t appreciate is this long connection that Australia has had with Greece. Whether it’s what’s commemorated here with the memorial, through Lemnos where Australians came through Lemnos to go to Gallipoli in the First World War, the involvement in the Second World War, which will be the subject of the documentary.

These are things that some people know a lot about, but unfortunately not many Australians know about, and having documentaries like this provide an opportunity for Australians to know more and to learn more about our deep connection and history.

I’ve been very happy in the short time that I’ve been the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to have some involvement with the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and to learn about those connections. They’re very important. In my time I’ve also met with one of the Deputy Ministers for Defence from Greece to talk about our ongoing relationship, as well as the importance of highlighting our historical connections as well. And this is but one example, as I say, of the grants that we are providing and announcing to support the commemoration of all sorts of service by our Australian Defence men and women.

We have a further round that will be closing on 7th of February, and in this year, which is the 50th Anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, we are encouraging ex-service organisations and community organisations to apply for grants to enable them to do local commemoration activities in support of this 50th Anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War through the Saluting Their Service Grant program through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Now, I’m going to hand over to Peter Khalil, the Member for Wills, also here in Melbourne, because it’s one of his constituents who’s been leading the charge with the committee here to put together this documentary, to say a bit more about the work that’s happening here that we’re so happy to support as an Australian government. Over to you, Peter.

Peter Khalil MP, Member for Wills: Thank you very much, Minister, that’s great, and it’s a wonderful announcement that’s been made here today. I just want to quickly acknowledge the veterans that are here with us today, all the members of the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial Committee, I got that right, didn’t I? Just, almost, not quite, all the members of the Committee that are here with us today, the wonderful work that they’ve done over the years. Lee Tarlamis is the member for the upper house – upper house member in the Victorian State Parliament, but more important than that, he’s still the President of the Committee, and he’s still doing a fine amount of work in support of its efforts.

So congratulations to all of you on this announcement today; $139,000 towards this amazing documentary which is going to capture the stories of the Greek Campaign in World War II, and it’s to be called “ANZACS: The Greek chapter” and I think really it’s going to open up these stories for a whole new generation of Australians, in what is a lesser known chapter of the ANZAC story, but no less important chapter of the ANZAC story.

It’s going to feature, and I’ve been told earlier, a number of video interviews and audio recording that have been conducted over many years with actual veterans that have been recorded who served in that Greek Campaign in 1941, which is so significant that we have that content and that footage.

It was a controversial Campaign. The invading German Armies, two German Armies invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, completely overwhelming, out gunning and out numbering the allied forces, which were made up largely of the Australian 6th Division, the New Zealand 2nd Division, and the Greek Army, but they were completely out numbered, out gunned. They fought very, very bravely, but they fought a withdrawal, a fighting withdrawal or a retreat in that.

And I’ve just got a quote here, it was from Lieutenant General John Coates who summed up the Campaign thus: yet, as in almost every allied Campaign, in the early part of the war the worst mistakes of the politicians – that’s us – and the strategists were moderated by the bravery, fighting qualities and sheer dogged determination of the troops. Greece was no exception to that.

There are a lot of stories to tell from that Campaign. The bravery and the sacrifice of Australian troops, of Greek troops, of allied troops, in the face of overwhelming, an overwhelming German invasion force.

There was the occupation, the famous and historic occupation of the historic Thermopylae Pass, by the 19th Brigade, which assisted the retreat down to Athens, the evacuation of almost, or just over 50,000 troops; this is why it was called the Second Gallipoli, and it was a successful evacuation of 50,000 allied, mainly Australian and New Zealand troops; the bravery of the Greek people, who assisted a small, isolated number of allied Australian and New Zealand troops and other troops who were cut off from the retreat, and they’re amazing stories to be told in that bravery.

And of course, I just want to conclude by saying, for our Australian identity, our national identity, telling these stories of history, and being able to commemorate and remember the Australians who fought in the Greek Campaign and the Greeks who fought in the Greek Campaign, and the Greek people who saved so many Australians, is part of our national story, and it’s an important story to tell of Greeks and Australians serving together in World War II.

So this project is very important to my local community, because I have a very high percentage of Greek Australians, almost 10 per cent, and I know Josh Burns has many Greek Australians that live here in his electorate as well. It’s part of their history, and their story; its part of our joint story, and it’s so important to tell that story.

So thank you very, very much, Minister for this announcement. It’s a fantastic announcement in support of this documentary.

I do want to just acknowledge finally, Dr Peter Ewer, the historian author of Forgotten Anzacs: The Campaign in Greece, 1941, who will be scripting and producing and making this movie, this doco, and of course, Jim Claven, the Historian author of Grecian Adventure, Greece 1941, Anzac Trail Stories and Photographs. He’s the Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and will be overseeing the delivery of the project.

I hope Peter, and Jim, and everyone on the Committee that you are able to tell these wonderful important stories that are so much part of who we are as Australians.

So thank you very much, and congratulations. And over to you, Jim.

Jim Claven, Historian: I just want to say a few words. Firstly, on behalf of Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, I’d like to thank Minister Keogh for coming all the way down to see us in Melbourne, and the Australian Government for this significant grant of financial support for this project.

The story of the ANZAC involvement in the Greek Campaign of 1941 is one of heroism and bravery in the face of adversity, of young men and women being called upon to face an overwhelming superior enemy. Those that served in the Campaign were taking part in an important milestone in the global fight against fascism and militarism.

For the tens of thousands of ANZACs who took part in the Campaign, it was also an important part of their overall war service. But it was a Campaign they would never forget. Despite lasting barely three months, from March to May of 1941, it was a Campaign which would be etched on their memories for the rest of their lives.

They would remember their service alongside their Greek allies in battle, and they would remember the support of the Greek civilian population who helped them, especially as many attempted to evade or escape capture by the enemy.

The project will honour the service of these veterans, the Greeks that served alongside them, and those civilians who helped them. In doing so it will recognise the bond forged between Greece and Australia, as well as New Zealand, through the shared experience of the Campaign, a bond of friendship that would continue with the waves of post war migration to Australia. This is why we, in the Committee, feel this is an important story to tell and to tell it in the way that we plan; through unique video and audio recordings of the veterans that took part in the Campaign, as well as photographs taken during the Campaign by veterans themselves.

By bringing this story together in such a vivid way, through this broadcast quality, 90 minute documentary, and its planned community showings and public access, the project will go a long way to raising awareness of the Greek campaign’s Anzac story.

We particularly want to thank the veterans and families who have offered their support for the project, and I would like to acknowledge the support of veterans’ organisations, such as the nurses RSL Sub Branch, and Oakleigh RSL Sub Branch, who are represented today by Colonel Jan McCarthy, and Doug Prendergast.

We would also like to thank those Greek community organisations who have come together to express their support for the project. As the President of the Greek community of Melbourne, Mr Bill Papastergiadis, who is unable to be with us today, has said, “This project will vividly document this important part of our common history.”

I would also like to thank historian Dr Peter Ewer and documentary film maker John Irwin, for proposing the project and who will bring their extensive expertise to its realisation.

Finally, the project will join our Committee’s other significant ANZAC commemorative projects which we have already completed, including Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial before which we are gathered today.

Thanks again, Minister Keogh, and the Australian Government, for the support for this important project.

Matt Keogh: Okay. Do we have any questions, firstly on the project or the Saluting Their Service grants?

Journalist: When will we be able to see the documentary?

Matt Keogh: So as I understand it, we’re looking at trying to wrap it up by August this year.

Journalist: And obviously you’ve spoken about the beautiful, rich Greek community that we have here in Melbourne. Do you think that this grant will get the ball rolling for other communities to apply for grants?

Matt Keogh: I think it’s really important that in announcing this great grant to support this documentary today is part of promoting, the Saluting Their Service grants more broadly to the Australian community, and making people aware that there is a great diversity of the sorts of projects that can be supported, and certainly documentary films that bring to light something that the broader Australian community are not aware about our active Defence service in so many different ways over our nation’s history is a great way for that to occur.

Journalist: You said that this documentary will promote a lesson and chapter of history. How do you use it to promote this chapter to the younger generation?

Matt Keogh: Yeah. So these documentaries are incredibly important in bringing to light to the broader Australian population involvement in war that may not be as broadly understood, and documentaries like this can be made available online through community organisations, community viewings and showings, but also making them available because of that online publication to schools, and making sure schools become aware of them is incredibly important. I have no doubt that the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee will be working with lots of local schools in Melbourne, as can MPs around the country in promoting the existence of these documentaries to be part of use in supporting curricular and understanding Australia’s war time involvement.

So having this documentary joining others, I recall when I was in school watching documentaries as part of our education curriculum around war, these are incredibly important resources to support our schools and the broader community.

Journalist: Why has it taken so long to be out in the spotlight?

Matt Keogh: So, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve got the activity here of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee in bringing forward a project like this, and we are, through these grants programs really reliant on communities coming forward, applying for funding, and saying “We have a story to tell about our community, or about this particular aspect of our history of service”, and I do encourage other organisations that may be focused on other areas of our service history or with other communities to look into how they can also bring forward stories like this as well.

But we are reliant on the people like the historians we’ve just heard from, who have done that work already, and have gathered that information, the archival footage, the photos, have engaged in those interviews, to then be able to bring that together.


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