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3 Jun 2015

Boer War

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:37 :25 ): Members on their way to the council this week may have noticed at the foot of the striking equestrian memorial to our immediate east some wreaths and bales of hay beautifully bound by ribbon in patriotic colours. The Sunday immediately past, 31 May, was an important anniversary that has great relevance for this nation state. On that day in 1902, the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was agreed and signed. This concluded the hostilities that are better known as the Second Boer War.

The Second Boer War was fought between Britain and the self-proclaimed republics, the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State. The peace treaty was a formative and important moment in the journey that created the modern state of South Africa. On Sunday past, a beautiful crisp winter’s morning, a small gathering assembled at the foot of the South Australian War Memorial on North Terrace.

We gathered to remember the sacrifice of the men who lost their lives, to remember the men who served and to remember the horses that served and died. On 3 October 1899, South Australia was able to offer Britain a contingent of soldiers to fight in the South African war. The first contingent comprised six officers and 121 other ranks of South Australian infantry. They embarked on 2 November 1899 and departed from the Torrens Training Depot.

During the course of the war, there was a total of nine contingents raised by our state, all of which departed from the barracks just north of this chamber. Of great significance to all of us who claim to be South Australian is that the Boer War the first in which South Australians fought as a nation state under our own flag. It was still two years before we shackled ourselves with the bonds of Federation. For this reason, it is a very significant event in the history of our state. It is my view that it should receive greater recognition by community leaders and the community in general, and be a key component in the curriculum of our schools.

It is difficult to determine precisely how many South Australians served in the war, but there are estimates of around 1,531. It was a hard-fought guerrilla war and an early indicator of the battles that would be fought by Australians in years to come, and even to this day in Iraq. Britain was supported by Canada, New Zealand and the states of mainland Australia. The South Australians quickly developed a reputation for toughness and bravery which laid the foundation for attributes we instinctively associate with the ANZAC legend to this day.

Six Victoria Crosses were awarded and 161 bravery awards. Over 59 South Australian patriots died in the war. While their sacrifice preceded the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, their battles were no less important in forging the character of our state, as well as the national character. All 59 South Australians who sacrificed themselves for our state are named on the memorial. One was excluded as he was executed for war crimes, and it was a famous case that I am sure is known to all members.

I ask all members when they walk past to stop and read the names. Those listed died for their queen and country, and we should reflect that their country at that time was not Australia but South Australia. The only Boer War memorials are located in the states. Our fine South Australian memorial was built from public donations and designed by Adrian Jones. It was unveiled on 6 June 1904 by the governor of South Australia, George Le Hunte, on the third anniversary of the Battle of Graspan.

It was considered at the time of its unveiling to be a significant commemorative work and it remains to this day one of the most significant war memorials in the country. There are now plans to build in 2018 a memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra. The design is of four horsemen breaking through the trees in patrolling formation. This is to reflect their battle procedure which was such that three men would engage the enemy and the fourth would lead the horses to cover.

I support this endeavour, even its location in Canberra. While I acknowledge that the soldiers who served in the war from this continent fought for their respective states, for at that time the Australian nation was a figment of the imagination of a very few, it seems a reasonable compromise to locate the new memorial in Canberra as it is the home of the parliament of the federation.

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