Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Welcome to the debut blog for Remember – Lest We Forget. This week I want to introduce you to two incredible people who have gotten behind the book, the Hon Dr. Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial, and military artist and freelance illustrator, Mr. Ian Coate. Sir Isaac Newton once said that if he was able to see further than others, it was by standing upon the shoulders of giants. And what giants these two men are.
Very few men can boast that they have brought a room full of people to tears. But I was blessed to be at a dinner in Brisbane recently, where I witnessed Dr. Nelson do exactly that. And no, it wasn’t because he is retiring from the Australian War Memorial. Dr. Nelson was speaking candidly about his journey and the stories he has heard along the way. He spoke about meeting with a soldier on deployment overseas, and how that conversation sparked the creation of a modern exhibition, so that our young servicemen would have the opportunity to walk the hallowed halls of the Memorial with their children, hearing them say, ‘That’s like you Dad. That’s where you went.’ His genuine passion for our soldiers was powerful and heartfelt.
I’ve always believed that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat those whom they perceive as being beneath them in some way. Before I met Dr. Nelson, I knew about his impressive career, having been a doctor, the youngest ever National President of the Australian Medical Association, having held several prominent positions in Australian parliament and ambassadorship, and having received many awards and honours, including being appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. Last year, one of my favourite veteran support groups, the Returned and Services League (RSL), conferred Honorary Life Membership upon Dr. Nelson for his services to, and support of, veterans and ex-service organizations. He is also Patron to Lifeline, the Weary Dunlop Foundation, NSW RSL and Services Clubs, and the Commando Welfare Trust, and Ambassador for Legacy Australia, the Invictus Games Sydney 2018, Soldier On, and the Defence Reserve Forces Council.
Despite all these awards and positions, I found Dr. Nelson an incredibly approachable and humble man, who was extremely generous with his time, both toward me, a person of no significant position or power in the world, as well as some other Australians, from a year nine school student and her teacher, to veterans whom he spent time speaking with that day. In a world where actions speak louder than words, there was a lovely story told by the strength of Dr. Nelson’s character that day, seeing the emotion in his eyes as he shared his feelings about when he was the one standing on the shoulders of giants, and how his early experiences shaped his life.
Another humble man of wonderful character whom I am very honoured to have supporting Remember, is an artist who has risen to such heights of popularity that he has been featured in a Bob Dikkenberg cartoon strip! Ian Coate’s career as a military artist began in the late ’80s when he joined the Royal Australian Survey Corps. Now retired from the army, he has art displayed in museums and private collections all around the world, and his passion for military art continues as he serves as the SAS Historical Foundation’s Artist-in-Residence and an Ambassador for the Army Art organization. Direct members of his family have served Australia in the Boer War, WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Timor, and Afghanistan. Ian has a great love for Australia. For over 15 years Ian and his wife Sue have quietly been working on Mythic Australia, a fun Aussie universe filled with drop bears, hoop snakes, and other curious creatures only found in the Land Down Under.