Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Trooper Mark Donaldson VC
On indulgence, to mark an occasion of national significance in the awarding of the Victoria Cross to Trooper Mark Donaldson VC on 16 January 2009: the Victoria Cross is a military award unlike any other. Inscribed across the medal are simply the words ‘For valour’, but in those two words, this highest of Australian military honours tells the stories of many heroes. In January of this year, Trooper Mark Donaldson joined the ranks of these heroes. Not only is Trooper Donaldson the first to receive this highest military honour in 40 years but he is also the very first to receive the Victoria Cross of Australia, which is the national form of this historic award that was established nearly 20 years ago. It is awarded to those who ‘in the presence of the enemy display the most conspicuous gallantry, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty’. I can think of no better way to honour Trooper Donaldson than by quoting from the unadorned military prose of his citation. It refers to what happened when the patrol, finally having extracted itself from the ambush in Afghanistan after two hours of fierce fighting, realised that a wounded coalition force interpreter had been left behind. The citation says:
Of his own volition and displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Trooper Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter. His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine gun fire from entrenched positions. Upon reaching the wounded coalition force interpreter, Trooper Donaldson picked him up and carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles, then provided immediate first aid before returning to the fight.
For honourable members and anyone listening to this debate, I would draw their attention to the full rendition of Trooper Donaldson’s citation. What I have simply referred to the House is a small part of it. It is the stuff of heroes; it is quite extraordinary to read. As I said on the day, which both the Leader of the Opposition and I attended, when the Victoria Cross was awarded to Trooper Donaldson, when I first read the citation I had to read it again and again. The courage that this bloke displayed in full engagement with the enemy simply takes your breath away. It is something of which every member of the Australian Defence Force should be proud and every Australian should be proud as well.
His act of valour is courage writ large. Through his deeds, Trooper Donaldson has brought a great honour upon himself, his family, the Australian Defence Force and our nation. Today I ask the House to join me in expressing our sincere admiration and deep pride in our newest national hero—Trooper Mark Donaldson VC—and, in doing so, we again express our gratitude and appreciation to Trooper Donaldson’s fellow service men and women and their families who today make sacrifices at home and in foreign lands so that we and our families can live safely and securely.
Honourable members—Hear, hear!
On behalf of the opposition, I join with the Prime Minister in this motion of appreciation and praise for Trooper Mark Donaldson, a brave and great Australian who put his own life at enormous risk to save the life of another. It was an extraordinary moment of bravery on 2 September 2008, during the conduct of a fighting patrol in southern Afghanistan. Trooper Donaldson was part of a combined Afghan, United States and Australian convoy that came under an ambush by the Taliban. Their patrol was heavily outnumbered. They were under heavy machine-gun fire and fire from rocket propelled grenades, and for more than two hours they were pinned down by this assault. All the while, Trooper Donaldson provided cover for wounded comrades. He bought time so that his wounded comrades could be moved to safer ground. He covered all that ground by foot, and then he noticed that an Afghan interpreter, badly wounded, had been left behind. Displaying a complete disregard for his own survival and safety, Trooper Donaldson ran across 80 metres of exposed ground to recover and carry back the wounded interpreter. He did not flinch. He brought the man back to the convoy, administered first aid and kept on fighting.
Trooper Donaldson showed remarkable valour in a land where armies have marched and battled ever since the army of Alexander the Great fought its way through those hard hills and rocky valleys 2½ thousand years ago. He fought for freedom, as our soldiers are fighting for freedom today. He was in the front line of the battle for freedom; a battle against terrorism. It is a battle we cannot and must not lose, and we will not lose that battle because of brave men like Trooper Donaldson and because of the sacrifices of brave men like Private Sher. Another great Greek soldier, Pericles, wrote that, ‘Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.’ So we can take our freedoms for granted, but we are very unwise to do so because our freedom depends on the valour of men and women of courage—men like Trooper Donaldson and Greg Sher—who are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Trooper Donaldson was there at Government House in the company of all the top brass from the armed forces, his family and his comrades from the SAS. But there was another old soldier there, Keith Payne, who nearly 40 years ago in Vietnam risked his life for others who, like Trooper Donaldson, wear Australia’s uniform and serve under Australia’s flag. He, too, stood up for the freedoms that we enjoy and it is courage like his that has made those freedoms possible. It was a beautiful moment to see those two VCs together there at the day of the investiture. When I spoke at the investiture, I recalled a poem written by another soldier, Tony Blake, who served in Vietnam in the 7th Royal Australian Regiment. He wrote, ‘Here comes the rising sun, another night of duty loyally done. I am awake, so others can sleep.’ Trooper Donaldson risked his life so that others could live. He risked his life so that all of us can live in freedom.