Vale Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon

Vale Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon Main Image


Fitzgibbon, Lance Corporal Jack Patrick

It's with a heavy heart that I deliver this speech on the condolence motion for Jack Fitzgibbon. Jack is the son of Joel Fitzgibbon, who is the person that brought me to politics, and I will be forever indebted to Joel for that. But my association with the Fitzgibbon family goes back a long way further than that. My uncle, Owen Partridge, was a stalwart in the Cessnock Labor Party. He was a branch member for many years, and I'm sure he was a pain in Joel's behind on many occasions, as well, being a staunch leftie. Uncle Owen recruited me, at the tender age of 12 or 13, to hand out for Eric Fitzgibbon to become the member for Hunter. I can still remember handing out for Eric. We had posters of Eric in the garden and posters of Bob Hawke in the hallway of the house. It was from that time that my association with the Fitzgibbon family really came about.

My next major milestone with the Fitzgibbons was when I was on my honeymoon. I got a phone call from Joel, who said: 'You've been working with my brother Mark, through the Hunter Regional Organisation of Councils. He rates you, so I want you to come and work for me. I've just been elected.' I said, 'Thanks very much, but I'm on my honeymoon. I'll ring you in a few weeks.' I came to work for Joel in 1996, at the tender age of 25, when he replaced his father, Eric, as the member for Hunter. I remember working from the electorate office in Cessnock, and I also travelled here to Canberra with him. In that office, I met Dianne, his wife, and their three young children, and I can still remember those kids coming to the office. Jack was a full-of-energy, fantastic little boy. Caitlin, his older sister, was always there trying to pull him into line, and Gracie just tagged along as the third. I remember thinking to myself, 'How are they going to do it, with young kids?' It was so difficult, but they did do it, and they did it well.

My relationship with this family grew over the years. The next major milestone in my life was when Joel phoned me again and said: 'Mate, I want you to run for the seat of Paterson. You probably won't win, but I know you'll give it your best.' So I did, and I then became the member for Paterson.

In this speech on the condolence motion for Jack, what I'm trying to display is that the things I say about the Fitzgibbon family don't just come from working with Joel or perhaps something I've read in the paper. I've known them and worked with them for over 40 years. I feel as though, whilst they're not my blood relatives, they're as close as I could get. When I go to their home and spend time with them, I always feel so welcome, so I can't tell you the pain I felt, going to Joel and Di's place on the Monday after we lost Jack and seeing their faces. Seeing that torture, that pain, on a parent's face when they lose a child—it's indescribable. It goes against everything that we know to bury a child. I can't begin to express my heartfelt grief and condolence for that family, who in their own way have served our nation so well, whether it be here in parliament, battling it out, or, like Jack, putting on the uniform.

There is no greater service to your country than potentially laying down your life. Although Jack was a commando, it still came as such a shock. People talk about the risk of service. Of course jumping out of an aeroplane comes with risk, but you never think that anything terrible is actually going to happen, and when it does it is still so shocking. I also went to Holsworthy to visit the commandos, the special forces of the 2nd Commando Regiment, and let me tell you: they are outstanding, stellar human beings. The men and women that pull on that uniform, just like Jack did, to serve us all and keep us safe are special human beings. Then I had that out-of-body experience, being in St Joseph's at Cessnock for Jack's funeral, and I was sat behind a wall of khaki. These enormous men were standing in front of me and each of them had a look of pain and horror on their face. It was just an incredible moment in my life that I will never forget. But each of them bravely listened to stories of Jack, knowing that the next day they would take off the ceremonial uniform, pull back on the khaki and go back to work for each one of us again.

That's what Jack did. He wasn't really like his dad or his grandfather in that he wasn't an out-there, public person. He loved a drink, like his dad and his grandfather, and he loved a joke and he loved a dance. He was a really funny, good guy. But he wasn't a public person like his grandfather and father. He was a far more private person. He didn't want to be promoted; he just wanted to do his job. And he did that every day in that uniform.

I know Joel and Dianne, his parents, were incredibly proud of him, and so was Anne, his grandmother. I thought about her a lot during this time as well because I know she always had a special soft spot for Jack. I know grandparents can't have favourites, but I know Anne always had a special soft spot for Jack. So I have thought a lot about that. As the member for Greenway pointed out, that family have contributed so much to Australian politics and Australian life and given more than any family should have to give in the life of their son. But I want to thank them for that, and I want them to know that Jack's memory and his contribution will never be forgotten. I suspect that the people who worked with him will be forever compelled to give their best, as Jack did, and will be forever indebted to his memory, as we all are.

On behalf of the people of Paterson, on behalf of the broader Hunter community and on behalf of our Labor family, I commend Jack's memory to the history books and to Hansard. I hope that he finds eternal peace, and I hope that his family find some peace in these words too.

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