Australia's newest war memorial has opened in far north Queensland to honour the 39 diggers who have been killed in Afghanistan.
Thousands of people attended the opening of the Avenue of Honour memorial at Lake Tinaroo at Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands.
Private Ben Chuck, one of three commandos killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2010, was from Yungaburra.
His family tirelessly campaigned to raise the $300,000 needed to build the memorial, which many people say is a place of healing and closure.
The memorial was formally opened during a ceremony attended by Defence chief General David Hurley, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
A roll of honour for the soldiers killed in Afghanistan was read out, while doves were released with a hope for peace and wreaths were laid at the memorial by the families of the fallen diggers.
Ms Gillard says soldiers who lose their lives during war should never be forgotten.
"They knew the life of arms and they knew their craft and, above all, they knew what they put at risk when they went away from us," she said.
"And yet, knowing all that, they did go away. I know you all marvel at their courage."
She also paid tribute to the families of fallen soldiers, including Gordon and Susan Chuck, the parents of Private Chuck.
"The fruit of your grief could so easily have been bitterness in your lives. Instead, you have created this national memorial to all the sons lost in Afghanistan," Ms Gillard said.
Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith urged people to remember the impact war has on the soldiers who do return home.
"Many men have gone to Afghanistan, many will come home with issues and problems that we cannot forget," he said.
"We need to remember the sacrifices that have been made. Mateship to me is now about remembering the mates we have lost, and the mates who are going to need our help in the future."
Gordon Chuck says the Avenue of Honour is a "living memorial".
"Although dedicated to the fallen in Afghanistan, I guess it's a representation of the commitment and courage of the Australian digger over generations," he said.
"It's here to remind people that the freedoms and liberties we seem to hold so dearly, and yet often tend to take for granted, come at a terrible price - we mustn't forget that.
"The Avenue of Honour over the years will constantly remind generations of that fact."
Mr Chuck, whose son's funeral was held at Lake Tinaroo, says the project "started with humble beginnings" but then grew to be one of national significance.
"Thousands of people turned up to pay their respects to Benjamin of course, but not just to Benjamin - to all those soldiers that are out there, in this case in Afghanistan and all those that haven't come back from the conflict," he said.
"Over the years there's been lots of suggestions as to what perhaps should be done to mark that occasion. In the end, it was decided that a living memorial, an avenue of trees, should be planted."
But Mr Chuck says the project quickly "grew tenfold".
"The project has grown enormously, driven by the enthusiasm of firstly the region, the state, and then national interest," he said.
"It was then that the expectation was for a memorial of national significance and we knew then we had to deliver something of a world standard.
"We had to ensure that our vision could be met in that time, and I'm happy to say the enormous support by so many has enabled us to do just that."
Mr Chuck says the avenue stretches about 350 metres along the side of the banks of Lake Tinaroo on a peninsula, with a backdrop of water and mountains.
"There are about 70 flame trees planted here and although not mature yet, in the years to come they will flower for three or four months of the year, specifically around November - Remembrance Day," he said.
"There are plaques for the fallen soldiers on an honour board."
Mr Chuck says there is underground lighting the whole way down the avenue, a memorial monument and also a monument for the bomb detection dogs.
He says there is a 2.6 metre-high shade structure made of beaten steel by a local firm in Cairns in the shape of two "beautiful wings".
Mr Chuck says one wing is substantially damaged on purpose.
"It's quite powerful, it's very strong and the theme is on flight of spirit," he said.
"The symbolism there is to represent undaunted spirit, which we believe encompasses what these men go to war with."
Mr Chuck says the avenue has a different strength to other war memorials.
"The great thing about this is it's here all day and all night, every day and every night, for whoever," he said.
"Its significance there is its accessibility and its usability by everybody - that I think will be its great strength.
"I think a lot of the returned servicemen, particularly from this conflict, particularly coming both with both internal and external injuries, will choose to come here and enjoy the calm, the tranquillity, and reflect on their mates and themselves and who they are."
Sergeant Garry Robinson was one of seven soldiers who survived the Black Hawk helicopter crash that killed Private Chuck, Tim Aplin and Scott Palmer in Kandahar province.
Sergeant Robinson says it has been important for him to visit Private Chuck's hometown of Yungaburra for the opening.
"He was one of the best members of my team - he was very good," he said.
"I think it's for a very good cause for people - not so much the military personnel but more the civilian population - can see what the guys have stood for and what's represented by them.
"For me personally it's going to be that one bit of closure that I need to close off - it's been a long time coming."
Key contributors to the project included all levels of government and the RSL, as well as the local community.
Kerry Kehoe, the treasurer of the Yungaburra Business Association which helped with the project, remembers Private Chuck as a "great lad".
" I get emotional thinking about him," he said.
"His mum and dad have of course been the driving force behind the avenue, but I also stress it really is for all the servicemen in Afghanistan, not just for Ben of course.
"Ben may have been a catalyst and certainly kept the thing going, but it's a monument for all involved."
Local Mayor Rosa Lee Long says the memorial has put the Tablelands community on the map, both nationally and internationally.
"We expect that over the coming years we'll have many a visitor from Australia and overseas, interstate, international," she said.
"It'll be a great memorial and remembrance of the services of our people we've sent over to Afghanistan."
Alan Pickering, president for RSL Queensland's far north district sub-branch, says the memorial is perhaps the only one in Australia dedicated to the Afghanistan conflict.
"The memorial is significant not only to the district, but to the RSL, because it is one of the few - if not the only - Afghanistan memorial in Australia today," he said.
"It was put together through the wishes and tenacity of a bereaved family - the Chuck family - who have done a tremendous job to get it up to the stage it is now.
"By doing that, it absolutely, totally, meets the guidelines and objectives of the RSL Queensland in as much to nurture the memory of fallen soldiers and the welfare of the people that are left behind.
"It's that important to us that it rates very highly."
Mr Chuck also says his son's 2nd Commando Regiment was this week awarded in Sydney the battle honour of Eastern Shah Wali Kot.
"It was quite emotional, but it was an exceptionally proud time for us, and for the whole unit," he said.
"The commendation bestowed on the boys was quite something.
"It was Benny's birthday on the 18th, the battle honour on the 19th, and the opening of the avenue on the 21st."
"It's been a fairly confronting week for us, but one of which we were exceptionally proud."
Mr Chuck says the Avenue of Honour has meant a great deal to him and his family.
"Personally I found it a very therapeutic exercise - confronting at times," he said.
"Ben did grow up here - went to school in Atherton, used to kite-surf out here on the lake.
"I think actually if Ben was able to comment, I think he'd probably say to me, 'God dad, what's all the fuss?'.
"But I'm sure he'd go back to his mates and say 'bloody hell, it's awesome'."
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