Australia’s governor-general became the country’s first head of state to visit Israel while in office.
Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffery arrived on Sunday for a weeklong state visit that is scheduled to include meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. On Monday, Jeffery and Israeli President Shimon Peres will open the Park of the Australian Soldier, which honors Australian soldiers who fought in the Middle East.
An initiative of the Melbourne-based philanthropic fund The Pratt Foundation, the centerpiece of the park is a life-size bronze sculpture of an Australian soldier on horseback – a memorial to the 800 soldiers of the Light Horse Brigade who routed the Turks at Beersheba on Oct. 31, 1917 in a battle that has been dubbed “the last great cavalry charge in history.”
The Australians’ victory at Beersheba opened the road for the British to take Jerusalem and then Damascus, precipitating the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Jewish state.
On Friday, hundreds of Australians joined Ambassador James Larsen at the annual Anzac Day dawn service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem. Among them were many of the descendants of the Light Horse Brigade.
Australia has had two Jewish governor-generals: Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen. The governor-general is the queen’s representative in Australia and is largely a ceremonial position.