Parliamentary Speech: Commemoration of SS Montevideo Maru



House of Representatives on Tuesday 28 November 2023.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I was very glad to represent the Leader of the Opposition last night at the Silentworld Foundation dinner at the Australian War Memorial.

Prime Minister, thank you, for the opportunity to speak today because this is special to my family.

It was a special night for all the families of the more than 1,000 Australian prisoner of war lost in Philippine waters, aboard the SS Montevideo Maru, on the 1st of July 1942 – the worst maritime loss of life in Australian history.

Many families which were shattered by the loss of loved ones, the grief passing through the generations.

Yet after more than 80 years, the final resting place of the Montevideo was found this year on the 18th of April, at a depth of over 4,000 metres – deeper than that of the Titanic.

The final resting place of so many Australians—thought to be known only to God—was revealed at last, to the relief of many families.

Last night, while sombre, was also a time for celebration, as the Prime Minister has noted. A time to celebrate that those once lost, are now found.

And, on behalf of the Montevideo families, I thank the Silentworld Foundation team, led very ably by John and Jacqui Mullen, explorers of the deep who made it their mission to find our lost family and friends.

We honour the team who went to sea, partnering with Fugro and the Australian Department of Defence.

What seemed impossible, locating a lost ship at such depth, they made possible, and we thank them for it.

We also thank Andrea Williams, Chair of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Group, for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the families.

Speaker, I'd like to make two final points.

The tragedy of the Montevideo Maru reminds us how costly war can be.

The sinking of the ship was shrouded in the fog of war, as the Japanese-flagged Montevideo was sunk by the USS Sturgeon with its final war shot.

After embarking on patrol from Fremantle in Western Australia, the USS Sturgeon was defending Australia during its darkest hour in 1942.

Our loss reminds us that peace is something to be protected, which is why we welcome, once again, the presence of US submarines in Western Australia from 2027.

Peace through strength is how we avoid a repeat of the Montevideo tragedy.

Finally, the Montevideo has touched members of this House.

Former Prime Minister, Earle Page, lost his brother, Harold Page, the Deputy Administrator of Papua New Guinea.

Kim Beazley lost his uncle, the Reverend Syd Beazley of the Methodist Mission.

Peter Garrett lost his grandfather, Tom Garrett.

And I lost my great uncle, Private Neil Ross Callaghan, who perished with his brother-in-law, James Walker, leaving behind his young, beautiful wife, Nell.

She felt that hammer blow of double bereavement, left to mourn the loss of her husband and brother.

I grew up sensing the sadness in my grandparents whenever Uncle Neil's name was mentioned.

For this reason, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the House and honour our fallen, as well as the great team at Silentworld who, in a sense, have returned them to us.

Lest we forget.

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