Recognising the sacrifices of two fine Australian soldiers

I rise to join other members in speaking on the condolence motion on the deaths of Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald and Private Nate John Galagher.

These two soldiers were from the 2nd Commando Regiment and were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed while attempting to land during a mission in Helmand province on Thursday, 30 August.

Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald was 30 years of age and was from Carnarvon in northern Western Australia. He was killed along with Private Nate Galagher, who was 30 years of age as well, and he was from Wee Waa in New South Wales.

I offer my condolences to Lance Corporal McDonald’s fiancee, Rachael; his mother, Myrna, and stepfather, Bernie; and his brothers, Percy, Roger and Gary and to Private Galagher’s partner, Jessie, his parents, Wayne and Sally, and his sister, Elanor.

As I said earlier, I think I am one of perhaps not many in this place as the daughter of a war widow. My two older sisters and my mother went through what these families will also go through. I understand what it means. Equally, they received a lot of support from the comrades of their husband and father, from Legacy and from the community itself.

I am confident that these families will also be able to draw on that level of support. And they will need it—there is a lot ahead of them and every day will be a tough day; every day the news does not change for them.

I also pass on my deep condolences to Lance Corporal McDonald’s unborn son. He is going to need a lot of support, and he will need to hear about his dad; he will need to hear what a fine man his father was and what he sacrificed for our country. He will need to know those things, and I am sure he is going to get that sort of encouragement. He will be inspired, as we heard, by what his father has done for this nation.

I have no doubt that that imprint of what his father has done will have an impact on this young man all his life in different ways. His father’s presence will be there in a way perhaps different from other people. The loss to him and his mother will be extreme.

Lance Corporal McDonald went to school in Australind, about 12 kilometres north of Bunbury, in my electorate of Forrest in the south-west of WA. He and his younger brother grew up in the Bunbury and Australind area. Lance Corporal McDonald had made his career in the Army.

He enlisted in 1999, had served in East Timor and was on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan. He has been described as a dedicated, enthusiastic and professional soldier. Merv’s older brother, Gary, spoke on ABC Radio a couple of weeks ago on behalf of the family.

He said his brother’s death had been a terrible shock for the family, but they would always be very proud of him and remember him as a top bloke with a heart of gold. What a great endorsement of the man. Gary said that he hoped people would understand why his brother was fighting in a far-flung corner of the world such as Afghanistan. We in this place do understand why he was fighting in Afghanistan.

You hear from these families and you know that they understand the mission and they understand their brother and son’s passion for what he did. Gary told the local radio station:

He actually just sent us a postcard earlier this month about how things were going. He showed us footage of what he was doing—how he trained and flew in on his helicopters.

Gary also said:

Mervyn was a hell of a guy, he was. Would always do things for you. He was always sending stuff to my kids. He really wanted to start a family; he’s a very big family person … we just can’t believe he’s gone.

Gary said:

He had a heart of gold. He was always trying to make sure that we were OK. He was just such a top guy…

Even when Merv was on his sixth tour in Afghanistan he wanted to make sure his family was okay. Gary said he just wanted him to be remembered, and that is what all members in this House today are doing—we are remembering him, and we are putting our thoughts in Hansard forever.

The day will come where his son and his family get to read exactly what the members in this place have said today and previously.

I would commend each of the members speaking today, because these words will be read by the families in time—by and their children, by their comrades, by their friends.

It is important that we show the respect that we do in this place. We do understand the grief of the families and that it might be a long time before they are able to read the words we have laid down in this parliament, but it is important that we do place these words on the record.

The Chief of Defence Force General David Hurley described Lance Corporal McDonald as quick-witted and said he ‘he brought a positive energy to both his unit comrades and to all of those who served with him’.

That is a great endorsement in itself, to have a positive attitude no matter where you are and what you are doing. Lance Corporal McDonald, as we know, is survived by his fiancee, his mother and stepfather and three brothers.

These two men were among the five Australian soldiers killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan in a 24-hour period.

All of us felt that so desperately. We felt desperately for the circumstances and for the loss of five really fine Australians. I would think we would not find any better Australians anywhere.

It is important that in this place we recognise the sacrifices that each one of these men made and equally, as I said earlier, we have to recognise the ongoing sacrifices of their families. I believe we understand that these families will have to live with these memories every day.

Equally I know from my mother’s and my sister’s experience that throughout the years it is the support of the other ADF members, the support of their comrades, the support of Legacy and all that we place around them that is so important to those young people and, of course, to the families.

I am really proud to join other members in this place in offering our condolences while recognising the sacrifices of what we have to say were two really fine Australians.