In 1914, Kurri Kurri was a community of just 4,195. When the Great War erupted, 435 men from this small town enlisted - 41 sets of brothers, five sets of fathers and sons, five sets of brothers-in-law and stepbrothers, two sets of uncles and nephews and the numerous other townspeople and immigrants who called Kurri Kurri home. By the end of the war, 80 lives were lost, 215 soldiers were wounded, 148 were medically discharged and four were imprisoned as POWs.
As a Kurri Kurri girl, I am proud of my heritage. As the Federal Member for Paterson (and the first female to hold this position) I am particularly proud of my birthplace and its rich history of mining, agriculture, artistic expression, sport, and commerce.
I was recently given the opportunity to learn more of this history, and the honour of writing the foreword for No Shirkers from Kurri, a book about the effects World War One had on my community. I first came to know authors, John Gillam and Yvonne Fletcher, when I was a radio broadcaster and learned of their efforts to recreate the sheepskin vests worn by diggers in the First World War.
I was drawn to their thorough research and innovative methods of conveying important historical stories in compelling ways, with particular emphasis on school children and their teachers.
Kurri is a town where traits of strength, determination, loyalty, grit and generosity are borne out in local identities and their stories, of which there have been many since the area was unearthed as a place of value for its coal deposits.
No Shirkers from Kurri adds an important, and in many respects forgotten, chapter in this coalfields history. There will be those who thumb the pages that recognise family legends and tales of heroism sacrifice and love of country. For others, these stories will be revelatory, but I hope the accounts contained within serve as a stark reminder to all that the actions of some truly contributed to the freedom of many.
I have no doubt that the courage displayed by those about whom this book is written is a result of the work that they did. Winning coal from the earth in those days was no mean feat, the work was hard and dangerous; camaraderie was lifesaving; loyalty bankable and a keen sense of humour along with a nickname essential. A small village in Australia that gave more than its fair share to fight oppression on a world stage is a story worth telling and reading.
Thank you to John and Yvonne, their collaborators and families. For it is with their energy, effort and enthusiasm for our history, that we are able to know the details, learn of the characters and their actions and that enable us to understand and remember, learn and teach the decision makers of tomorrow.
This Sunday, as we pause at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month to mark one hundred years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front, we remember those who gave their lives so that we can live with the freedoms we enjoy today.
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.