It’s high time we publicly honour our peacekeepers
Australia has always had a special place in our memory for our peacekeepers: an unmarked, shadowy alcove – near a storage area – in an obscure section of the Australian War Memorial.
The book where Australia honours those who have died while trying to prevent war has only recently been made available to the public. For years it was locked away in a cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps.
Those who die in battle absolutely deserve the high recognition they receive. But it’s a strange aspect of our culture that we almost ignore those who work in our name to promote international peace and security; to prevent more Australians being sent into battle.
Peacekeepers are men and women deployed overseas by the Australian Defence Force. They serve in Australia’s name, in situations that are unpredictable and can rapidly become hostile. There is continual danger and risk. Sometimes they die in this service.
Failing to recognise their sacrifice equally is more than just unfair. For some, it’s heartbreaking.
For years, two very brave women and a dedicated group of former peacekeepers have been working to address this inequality. I have been privileged to work with them on this campaign.
Avril Clarke and Sarah McCarthy united to start a petition to recognise loved ones lost on peacekeeping missions. This petition now has over 35,000 signatures.
Paul Copeland at the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association has worked tirelessly on this issue and through him I was introduced to Peter Pridue, who lost his son Beau almost in Timor Leste 18 months ago.
Peter Pridue says Beau and other peacekeepers wear the Australian armed forces badge on their shoulder, and the Australian uniform. “If they are killed overseas or at home, they should be recognised. Otherwise it feels as if his life doesn’t mean anything.”
The Australian War Memorial’s failure to list peacekeepers alongside their fellow soldiers sends a message to the Veterans, their families and the wider community that their service is less important, even though peacekeepers have a difficult and often dangerous role.
The Australian War Memorial Council has previously rejected all requests to add the names of 48 peacekeepers to the Roll of Honour, despite widespread public support.
This week, they are reconsidering that decision under new director and former Opposition leader Dr Brendan Nelson.
Peacekeepers do us proud and their sacrifices for Australia need to be recognised as soon as possible.
Late last year, I read into Hansard the name of each Australian peacekeeper who has died while serving their country. Their names will now be listed forever in Parliamentary records. But only the Australian War Memorial Council can provide the honour they truly deserve.
When our peacekeepers are properly recognised on the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour, we can truly take these brave men and women out of the shadows and into our hearts.
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