Tribute to Bert Collins

I thank the Minister for making this statement of condolence in the House so that we have the opportunity to remember and honour Bert Collins, who sadly died at the age of 105. I acknowledge my colleague the member for Bankstown, who I know is a very dear friend of Bert, and the sub-branch, as well as everyone else on his community. We know that Bert was born in 1916. He was the youngest child of Florence and Maurice, as the Minister stated. Bert worked in retail and got his first job at 16 with Farmers, which later became a department store now known as Myer.

As a younger man Bert had a real passion for ballroom dancing and won many competitions with his late wife, Peggy Harmon. However, his life all changed when World War II came to Australia. He, like many others, answered the call and decided to sign up with the army. Bert was one of the lucky ones who returned home and lived to become one of Australia's longest-surviving World War II veterans. As the Minister stated, he copped a bit of shrapnel but he survived. I had the privilege of meeting Bert a couple of times and hearing some of his stories, which clearly displayed how much of a humble man he was. He rarely spoke of himself. He spoke a lot about what he felt were more important causes in the veterans' community and, as the Minister stated, he also discussed Legacy and the wives and family of the soldiers who served in defence of our nation.

Bert raised to the rank of sergeant in the 52nd Australian Composite Anti-Aircraft Regiment (AIF), based in New Guinea. Many members would know that at that time in Australia's history New Guinea was the last line of defence between the invading Japanese Imperial Army and our nation. So Bert, along with his comrades and other serving personnel, knew when they were going over there that this was it. If the Japanese got past them, they were on the shores of Australia. That never left their mind. It was a unique time in Australia's long, proud and rich military history and Bert was at the forefront as one of those who served. He served with distinction and honour and he never forgot about his mates. His Anzac spirit was unwavering and he was admired by many. His age was no barrier, becoming the oldest veteran to march in Sydney's Anzac Day march in 2021.

Bert was a true hero in many respects, extending, as the Minister stated, to beating stage 4 cancer at the age of 101 and becoming one of the world's oldest survivors of melanoma. Prior to that, he had heart and stroke problems. He was a fighter. He not only fought for our nation, he also fought for things that he felt were right. He loved his community and his community loved him, and he fought for issues on behalf of others who may not have been able to do it themselves.

Bert was also the oldest living member and a life member of the Australian Labor Party—a party that he so dearly loved and a party that dearly loves him. He loved the Labor Party. When I was talking to him at St Patrick's College in Campbelltown when he came out for the display, he said he loved the Labor Party because he felt it was a conduit for a better life for others. It was as simple as that. Bert made a difference for the better in his community and we are indebted to his service to our nation and the legacy that he has left. On behalf of the New South Wales Opposition and the veterans' community, I extend my deepest condolences to Bert's family and loved ones and his community, especially my colleague the member for Bankstown. I know Bert was very dear to her. I will conclude with these wise words to reflect on:

I must remember to never be rude to anyone, to never tell lies and to always show respect towards others … and I have every day of my life.

That is something that Bert was commonly heard to say. Rest in peace, comrade. I thank him for his service. I thank him for everything that he has contributed to our nation, his community and our society more broadly. May he rest in peace. We will never forget him. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

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