Government Whip in the Legislative Council

Liberal Member in the Parliament of South Australia




Battle of Coral-Balmoral Motion

Thursday 14 November, 2019

I rise today to contribute to the recognition of those who fought at the Battle of Coral-Balmoral in Vietnam in 1968. Sir, 12 May 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Coral-Balmoral, and the commemoration service took place that morning in front of the Vietnam War Memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground. The Premier, as Minister for Veterans' Affairs, presented a ministerial statement on 10 May 2018 in the other place before attending the commemorative service on 12 May, along with some of our parliamentary colleagues in the other place.

I would like to commend the Vietnam Veterans Federation for arranging the 50th commemorative service. Dr Brendan Nelson AO, director of the Australian War Memorial at the time, presented the keynote address and gave a moving speech towards our Vietnam veterans as well as our South Vietnamese comrades who have now settled in South Australia. More than 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam. Sadly, 520 of them died and more than 3,000 were wounded. We honour all who served in this conflict, those who did not return, those who returned wounded and those who have since died.

During the service, a moment's silence was given to reflect again on the sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans, in particular the 26 young men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Battles for Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. Three of these men are buried at Centennial Park Cemetery: Sergeant Peter Lewis from Poochera, which is near Streaky Bay; Private Allan Cooper from Rose Park; and Private William Thomas, a national serviceman from Adelaide. Their service will never be forgotten.

Circumstances at the Battles for Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral are rather significant to our history and indicate the strength and vitality of our Vietnam veterans. In May-June 1968, Australian soldiers fought their largest, most sustained and, arguably, most hazardous battles of the Vietnam War. Units of the first Australian task force confronted regimental-sized formations of the North Vietnamese regular army and fierce actions around Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral.

The first of the battles occurred at Fire Support Base Coral when mass enemy units attacked the base in the early hours of 13 May 1968. Australian units withstood heavy enemy attacks during which a mortar platoon and two gun positions were partly overrun. After almost three hours of battle, the Australians drove off the enemy after a fierce attack. Unfortunately, 11 Australians were killed and 28 wounded, with an additional three losing their life the following day.

This attack was on 13 May 1968, which was Mother's Day, and it is devastating for any mother to bury their child let alone lose that child in action on Mother's Day. My condolences are with the mothers who lost their sons during this conflict. Over the following four weeks of the battle, further attacks were undertaken at both Fire Support Bases Coral and, later that month, Balmoral. A relatable quote I would like to highlight today is from the former director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson AO, who opened his speech for the 50th anniversary commemorative address with:

"We are Australians, defined less by our constitution and the machinery of our democracy than we are by our values and our beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world.
We are shaped by our heroes and our villains; our triumphs and our failures… As individuals and as a nation, every layer of experience shapes us, and in ways that we do not fully comprehend at the time."

Our veterans are our heroes. They put their lives on hold in order to protect our country; some paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The Vietnam War changed the lives of so many and it changed us as a nation. The Vietnam War inflicted deep wounds on many of our young soldiers, who returned home bearing emotional wounds and who were denied healing by so many who shunned them as a reminder of a war that some in the community opposed.

Australia emerged from the Vietnam War divided and, with that, we failed our soldiers, our heroes, who fought for our country and our values. It is with this experience that we learned how to respond to those who fought in our name and for our country. I would like to take this moment to pay my respect and gratitude to those who served.

On 13 May 2018, federal Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon. Darren Chester MP, stated the Battles for Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral were among the largest and most protracted battles fought by Australians in the Vietnam War and that those who fought 'displayed collective gallantry which is worthy of the Unit Citation for Gallantry'. The Unit Citation for Gallantry is awarded to a unit for extraordinary courage in action and it is a great honour that this recognition was finalised on the 50th anniversary of this battle.
Again, this chamber pays tribute and respect to those who have served and those who have sacrificed. We will remember them.

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