Speech representing Prime Minister the Hon Malcolm Turnbull at the Parade Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Lavarack Barracks – Friday 29th July 2

Soldiers of Lavarack,

Thank you for all that you do for this city, for the North and for your country.

Thank you also for this most impressive parade that we have just witnessed here today. You are a credit to your brigade and to your country.

Can I just say that I have been to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and I believe that they could learn a thing or two from you.

Everywhere I go in the world the people comment to me on the reputation of Australia’s defence Force personnel, a reputation that is equalled by no one.

The Honourable Tanya Plibersek, representing the leader of the opposition;

Ms Gai Brodtmann MP, representing the Shadow Minister for Defence;

Commander Forces Command Major General Peter Gilmore;

Commander 3 Brigade Brigadier Chris Field;

Councillor Mrs Jenny Hill and Mr Shane Hill; 

Officers and soldiers;

Ladies and Gentlemen -

On this important occasion mark the 50th Anniversary of the official opening of Lavarack Barracks by the then Prime Minister Harold Holt, I bring to you all the very best wishes from Australia’s current Prime Minister the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, and Defence Minister Senator the Hon Marise Payne.

Some of you met and spoke with the Prime Minister on Tuesday when he made a special trip to Townsville to share in the week of the celebrations of the anniversary, and he confided to me afterwards how much he enjoyed talking with you and hearing some of the stories of, todays soldiers.

I want to also tender an apology from Ewen Jones, the federal member for this area for the past six years, who is technically still the Member for Herbert until the very close count is shortly finalised who would have been here today except he and his wife have both been effected badly from a bug going around and have been confined to bed.

And having mentioned Ewen, I should also acknowledge Cathy O’Toole who is also here.

The absence of the Prime Minister and the Minister is certainly a disappointment to both of them, and perhaps to you, but it is I must confess, welcomed by me, as it gives me a chance to re-live those events of 50 years ago that I remember so well.  

In the second half of 1964 military conflict in Southeast Asia had required the Australian Government to give further consideration to Australia’s Defence posture.

And although Military Chiefs of the day had recommended Mornington Peninsular in Victoria as the site for the new base, Townsville, with a fine strategic history from WWII, was eventually chosen by Prime Minister Holt’s government as a proper location for the consolidation of our military capability.

Military elements were not the only consideration.  As Mr Holt said at the base opening about the decision to choose Townsville:

“the development of the North, the security of the North, the fact that the people of the North had a right to feel that in their area big things were moving which were contributing to the growth of Australia.  These were the considerations which came to our minds when we considered the technical problems. And so the decision was taken, and I am sure it was a decision we in Australia will never regret.”

How correct he was.

So On 26 November 1964, the Minister for the Army, HON AJ Forbes, announced to Townsville’s civilian community that construction on a new base among the northern slopes of Mount Stuart would begin.

The name Lavarack Barracks was chosen by Prime Minister Harold Holt, in honour of Lieutenant General Sir John Lavarack, former chief of General Staff, and Governor of Queensland from 1946 to 1957, who had served with distinction in both WWI and WWII.

Nearly two years later, on this very day in 1966, Lavarack Barracks was officially opened, at which occasion Prime  Minister Holt acknowledged not only the support that the North Queensland Community would receive from the establishment of the Barracks, but also how much support the Community would provide to the men and women of Lavarack Barracks.  Again, how correct he was!

And that mutual support has been a feature of the presence of Lavarack Barracks at all times since those days, and continues unabated to this day 50 years on.

As a young man growing up in the Burdekin town of Ayr, I remember the opening of the base very well.

I also recall the pride we all felt that this part of northern Australia would be host to such an important strategic military facility.

But on the negative side, I can also remember the concerns of my male friends of the time at the competition to their romantic aspirations that would result from having  so many hundreds, if not thousands, of young unattached single soldiers stationed in the area.  And I remind you that in those days there were very few female soldiers to counter-balance that concern.

But the reasons for creating Lavarack Barracks were very serious.

Under the ever-present shadow of the Cold War, tension mounted in Asia and between Indonesia and Malaya, and the position in Vietnam worsened.

I personally remember well how in the mid 60s we were worried about the “red peril” taking over the world from the recently communised Chinese government.  Vietnam was just part of the perceived push and was where western nations had then decided to take a stand.

Australia’s allies – in particular the United States - planned to deploy combat troops into Asia and had requested the assistance of Australia which was quick to invest in new military infrastructure and, of course, Australia’s north had strategic appeal and the opportunity to train in terrain similar to that found in Southeast Asia.

On the 23rd of October 1966 the then US President Lyndon Johnson – or LBJ as he was known – came to Townsville with Prime Minister Holt in a display of the firm and enduring alliance that continues today between our two countries in the fight for freedom and democracy. While here the President reminisced about the time he had spent in Townsville as a young naval officer in 1942.

Remember that in 1966 most people in Townsville still recalled the Garrison city that Townsvillle became during the Second World War.

From the early beginning the base has grown from the initial taskforce posting of four thousand (4000) in 1966/67 to the six-thousand four hundred and seventy-seven personnel based here today.

Back in those days when this base started conscription had just been introduced into Australia.

Conscription was a bit like a lottery and I actually participated in it. My birthday went into the barrel as did the birth days of every other 20 year old Australian male, but my number did not come up.  

Some of my friends’ did however and I remember after initial training some returned to Lavarack when I had the opportunity to visit them in their quarters.  Compared to the tents of WWII the barrack accommodation was spectacular - as I recall from several visits - I was never quite sure if I supposed to be there - it consisted of 2 or 4 bunks in a small room in a building of about 20 such rooms with an abolition facility on each floor.

I am pleased to see that the accommodations these days is a little more civilised at the base.

The facilities continue to expand and improve and this is set to continue with hundreds of millions being spent in recent years and that will increase again with the $600 million being committed in this years’ Defence White Paper to improvements at Lavarack Barracks, and the improvements that will come from the Singapore decision to call Townsville their second military home.

Back in 1966 when Lavarack Barracks opened, the population of Townsville was 62,000. Today this number has grown to 180,000 and the Australian Defence Forces have become part of the fabric of this thriving city and perhaps the single most significant factor in the economy of the region.

And I can’t begin to imagine the economic worth that the soldiers of Lavarack bring to every hotel and nightclub in this town.

In fact, figures compiled by Townsville Enterprise Limited indicate that the Defence Forces  annual value to the Townsville economy was $986.4 million as at April 2016.

The presence of Lavarack has changed the culture of Townsville for the better and life in this city is enriched by the presence of so many young people from all over Australia and indeed the world.

During the time 3 Brigade has been located in Townsville, their operations have included:

  • The Vietnam War;
  • International Forces East Timor;
  • UN Missions to support peacekeeping in Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia and the Solomon Islands;
  • Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at home and abroad; and,
  • Iraq, Afghanistan and other enduring operations in the Middle East.

And even only 6 months ago, soldiers from 3 Brigade were providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the people of Fiji in such a timely and professional manner.

And in recalling all of the good works that have been performed by so many from Lavarack we must never forget those who left Lavarack but never returned but made the ultimate sacrifice. Their courage and commitment must never be forgotten.

Lavarack Barracks has also seen significant growth within the Army with the move of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to Lavarack Barracks in recent years.

The relationship that is enjoyed between the Defence Community and the Townsville Civilian population is as good as any around Australia and is a big part of why we see so many ex-serving members and veterans of the Defence Community deciding to call North Queensland their home permanently.

This facility is without a doubt the pre-eminent ADF facility in this nation and I am proud and humbled to be here today to help you all commemorate its 50th anniversary.

As we celebrate this milestone in the history of Lavarack we recognise that Townsville itself is also experiencing its own milestone of 150 years this year.

For that I know the Defence community would congratulate Townsville for all it has achieved over the past century and a half and for the way that Townsville is truly central to the development and defence of Northern Australia.

And before concluding I would mention that with us here today we have three former commanders of Lavarack barracks.

I thank you again for the privilege of reviewing this most impressive parade to mark such a significant event, and wish the 3rd Brigade another successful 50 years in Townsville and in the greater North Queensland region. 

Thank you.

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