Like Valentines day and Halloween, which were non-events when I was growing up, the twenty-first century incarnation of ANZAC Day bears no resemblance whatsoever to when World War vets were alive and marching and telling interviewers that war is an unmitigated disaster of the human project that we should always, always caution against under any and all circumstances.
My memories are as clouded by time and nostalgia as the next person. Commonality of human trait is not an easy thing to pin. As a student and scholar of jurisprudence, I often examine such questions; and I tentatively offer that nostalgia, like curiosity, is a characteristic shared, if not by every individual human, then by most if not all human cultures.
From the 1970s: colour television. Seeing someone we knew on screen was a BIG deal. Nowadays it is practically impossible to not see people we know on screens, given how widespread is the smart phone as a medium. But back then the old black and white television behaved the same way as those TVs in the Mad Men scenes, vertically scrolling without anyone tapping a touch screen; fizzing and zapping and jumping at the slightest movement of an aerial or the weather.
Both my parents were born during the second world war. Each wedding photo of my grandparents shows a beautiful woman in a stunningly elaborate white gown, and a man in uniform. When my own children were born, and when I left and became a single mother, I gleaned a strength from those photos that defied how little I really knew of their lives. I would talk to my grandmothers in the car when I felt alone; or late at night when the children were asleep.
The context is not what government or politicians or media tell me ANZAC Day is about. It is the oral history passed on by my mother. It is the sure knowledge that both my grandmothers were alone with a baby, my mum and my dad, and that my grandmas knew how difficult that can be. Keeping a baby alive, keeping baby fed and clean and clothed and happy, is not easy. It is not easy in isolated circumstances, beyond our control, because of violence, like wars and domestic violence. This is how I connected to my grandmothers in those moments when I thought I might go under, and here is what they – and the existence of my mum and dad – reminded me: we are not entirely alone. Baby is a person too.
The human condition is social. The human spirit is geared for company. The baby, the child, the young person, the tween and the teen and the adult, is a person. One of the hardest lessons I learned from my children, and there are many, was the simple insistence: I am here too mum. Yes, I struggled with housing and utility bills and the uselessness of the law to ‘protect’ us hur hur and education and sport and all the responsibilities, of course I did.
But here is the thing. Not only were my kids always there, they are great company. Being around them is fun, and enlightening, and uplifting. And they had no choice. What were they supposed to do, compete in a free market of more or less terrible parents? The only adult human who could negotiate this treacherous world on their behalf is me.
When I was five and six and seven, on the 24th of April, my mum would ask if we wanted to be woken up to watch the march. A big drawcard was that we might see grandad on television.
Two memories: the ecstatic excitement, always with a tinge of doubt, as the parade passed the cameras. Was it our granddad? There he is! It’s Dee! We called my mum’s dad Dee, he was David, named for his maternal uncle who was in turn overseas in 1918, when my grandfather was born. In case he never came back, my mum would share gravely, a story passed down as families do.
And then it was Don’t Touch! Don’t put your greasy fingers on the screen! For years I thought I had uniquely greasy fingers. Many years later, when the greasy finger marks of my children obscured blindspot vision checks while driving, I came to appreciate why greasy finger marks should be discouraged. Lol.
After we watched the ANZAC Day march, and saw – or maybe saw – grandad on TV, we went about our day. Dad would tell me and my sister to pick up the dog poo and the damn bones so he could mow the lawn, a task we hated (we hated all tasks). Mum would tell us to put away the dishes, and clean our rooms (ditto). In other words, a normal day. Domestic tasks. Household chores. Family matters. A household headed by two people whose lives were irreparably shaped by the second world war, and their parents were more so, literally lived and born into it.
This is my ANZAC Day memory. This is my knowledge of what is called world war. Not the Bean or the Monash, nor the Greste or the ABC. My grandmothers are why I am here today and I pay my respects to everything they did.
*my mum’s dad his family in WWII there were 5 siblings Barbara, a WAC, her husband Colin, all the brothers Ted (Edward), Derek, David and Leonard their surname is Giblin thank you
1 thought on “AND SO THIS IS ANZAC DAY”
With respect to the ANZAC Day ceremonies, here is a speech that ought to be said, but will never be heard.
The ANZAC Speech
‘It’s an Australian tradition that we’re told what to do, but not why we’re expected to do these things. Today, I want to ask why and how we might more honestly honour the ANZAC sacrifice. Have we ever questioned if their sacrifice was in vain or not? How can we tell?
Is our token assembly today what they’d want? Or is there something else? Is there something they wanted so badly that they were prepared to die for it?
Nobody is prepared to die just to be honoured in a yearly speechfest. If the ANZAC diggers died for something noble, what was it?
One of the last of the remaining ANZACs from the Great War, Ted Smout, told us that war achieves nothing. It is waste on a grand scale. His efforts, and those of his fellow diggers, he said, served no purpose. They died for nothing.
Our British masters regarded our troops as cannon fodder for the least winnable battles of that war. Our army suffered more deaths, and more hospitalisation for wounds, illness and injury than any of the armies of Britain, Germany, France, Canada, or the United States. More than half those Australian soldiers who survived were discharged medically unfit. Of those not discharged that way, sixty percent applied for pension help after their return. That means four out of five surviving servicemen were damaged or disabled in some way.
Despite all of that, Britain didn’t want us at the table during the Versailles Peace Conference. In their eyes, we’d served our purpose and we could go home and be done with it. We were, after all, just a colony, not a nation in our own right.
That’s why I put that question to every true Australian who cares about what befell these men, what did they die for?
When a government they chose by their vote … sends off such a massive contingent of its finest sons … like Ted Smout … to a war in which they’ll find they died for nothing … his own words and his colleagues, not mine … they have grounds for a revolt at home—a revolution no less violent and bloody than the war these men were ordered to engage in without knowing why; without knowing the truth behind it, without knowing who planned it and why. Who are we to believe? The soldier who bore the dreadful cost of the butchery … or the butchers who directed it? Those who watched from a safe distance at home, gaining secret advantage from the misery and suffering of the combatants while denying them the independence and national sovereignty they’d won for all Australians?
It’s too late to tell Ted Smout, and all of his comrades, they were wrong; that they did indeed die for something noble. That something was our Nationhood. Our independent nation status in the eyes of the world community. But it was a prize their masters at home didn’t care enough about to enshrine in our history. The acid test for us here today is this: are we willing to die for what they won for us by their sacrifice?
The test of what we value isn’t conducted by merely gathering to say a few fine words then whooping it up.
It was Montgomery who said the most able General of that war, was John Monash. Monash said of his men that they had the greatest spirit of all; a spirt that’s part of our Australian nature. It flowered again at Kokoda, where small forces defeated large out of sheer grit, determination, and spirit. Monash would beseech us not to stow that spirit away, but use it in the defence of Australia. We need it every day of our lives … fighting our own battles here at home. We need it more today than in that war. The dead we honour still want what their sacrifice achieved… but lost in the stillbirth of an independent Australian nation. Until we recognise that, there’s no point kidding ourselves we honour our war dead with empty rituals like this.
At that infamous Peace Conference in Versailles, on the 28th of June, 1919, our Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, fought the British king and his Prime Minister, and won on the behalf of our war dead, independence and sovereignty for Australia as a nation. He fought for an end to the British Act that formed the Commonwealth of Australia as a colony of Great Britain. That, Ted Smout and your brave comrades, is something worth fighting for! On his return to Australia, Hughes’ efforts to make the necessary new Constitution for a free Australia were blocked in the Parliament. A Parliament led by that arch Anglophile, the Australian-born Viscount, Stanley Bruce, a man his critics said, was more English than the English. He replaced the brave Hughes as Prime Minister to lead the most treasonous federal government in our shameful history. Hughes was forced to withdraw the independence Bill from Parliament, thus condemning us to our servile status as a British colony. Hughes said: ‘our soldiers had earned that national status for us, and our parliamentarians threw it all away. They threw away the freedoms countries historically go to war to secure for themselves. Is that what we celebrate today—our failure to match the valour our war dead showed on the field of battle? Or is it to paper over the disgrace we bear in peacetime defeat? Looking down on us today, their hearts are filled with shame for us all. Why, they ask, did we choose to abandon our egalitarian values they lived and died for? Only then can we show them—not tell them, but show them, by proper action—that they didn’t die for nothing. We can remember our war dead by remembering the politicians who betrayed this nation in the decades after that Great War. All those politicians who revered their imperial Royal tyrants as their masters. The politicians who made us their obedient servants and willing victims. We can go on ignoring the century-old plight of those we say we honour today … or we can, at this eleventh hour, show moral and physical courage that has been sorely lacking in our leaders. Let us ask ourselves: are we, the people, up to it?
That question, and our answer to it, is all this sacred day was ever about—all it can ever be about.