Last Saturday was ANZAC Day, the day in which we remember the men and women who have fought for Australia, and New Zealand, in many overseas wars; remembering too the many who are still serving. This year was a big event because it was the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in the First World War. In fact it was such a Big Event that there was debate about the amount of commercialisation of Gallipoli and the ANZAC Legend.
However, I had a different view of the day. Let me assure you that I am quite respectful to those who fought in wars, and also of those who treasure the day. My grandfather went to WW1 and fought on the Western Front. My father was involved in WW2. Fortunately both returned. I have visited the War Memorials in Normandy and been brought to tears by the acres of graves. So many lives lost needlessly.
I have a very ambivalent attitude to ANZAC Day. I grew up in a time when there were large protest about Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I didn’t go to the protests, but they were lead by people who were later to become friends and political comrades. During the 80s we protested about nuclear weapons and uranium. I remain very anti-war.
I realise that many who went to ANZAC Day events would also be anti-war too. They go, I suppose, to pay their respects to soldiers who are seen to have been defending our way of life.
We know that the Gallipoli Campaign ended in defeat and retreat. (Although I have heard some youngsters are surprised to know that. The relentless media lead them to believe it was a victory.) But the whole of WW1 is difficult to celebrate. Indeed I think Gallipoli is chosen as the poster campaign because the rest of the war is riddled with huge numbers of dead and wounded, mutinies and desertion. In fact the war was stopped, not by military campaigns, but by the Russian Revolution in 1917 and then the German revolution in 1918. The years afterwards were years of upheaval, strikes and revolutions.
If we are really going to celebrate our ‘way of life’ why don’t we celebrate the people and events that created the things we hold dear?
Education Act (Victoria) of 1872 established an education system that was free, secular and compulsory, giving all children access to education. Isn’t that part of our way of life? We were amongst the first in the world to give women the vote, to remove property qualifications for Members of Parliament and to give salaries to MPs. I recently learnt that we had secret ballots way back in 1856. Aren’t measures that promote democracy and help squash undue influence in our political systems worth celebrating?
What about the workers who fought for the 8 Hour Day? Our Labour Day holiday in March is to recognise them, but instead the day has been taken over by the hoopla of Moomba.
Why don’t we have memorials to scientists and inventors? People whose work has given us break throughs in medicine and or made things safer or easier?
I could go on, but I think you understand my point.
So, what did I do on ANZAC Day? Well, I went back to visit the Women’s Peace Garden in Kensington. I have blogged about it before; surprisingly it is one of my most viewed posts. In it you can read about the history of the garden and the symbols used in it. I sat and thought about those who have died in wars, and continue to die. I sketched the colonnade, to help me remember that a world without war would be a wonderful thing.
And lastly I want to leave you with two video clips from Eric Bogle. He is a singer/songwriter who was able to encapsulate the sorrow of WW1. The first is “The band played Waltzing Matilda”, the Gallipoli campaign told from the point of view of a young man sent off to fight.
The second video, is even more heart wrenching, “The green fields of France”.