What does ANZAC Day mean to you? As revellers drank beer and played two-up outside nearby pubs, this was the question we tackled in our warm-up exercise at tonight’s regular writing group meet-up.
Given only ten minutes to respond, participants reflected on subjects ranging from Czechoslovakian childhoods and Russian propaganda, to domestic violence and love letters penned from the trenches of Belgium.
Thank you to Peter Kehl, Rosalinda Corazon and Matt Jackson for volunteering to share with our readers their quick-fire and captivating musings on this sensitive topic.
It was my second month in Australia. My housemate Len invited me: ‘Mate, next week I’m marching with my friends. Are you coming, too?’ Until then I’d believed him to be sane. Seventy years old, an Army Reserve member, fit and smart. ‘No, thank you,’ came from my lips. Something different went through my mind: ‘No way I’m buying into this ANZAC propaganda. These poor Aussies … ‘
Let’s go back twenty-five years ago to Czechoslovakia. The military and a communist version of scouts are marching down the main street. ‘No way I’m buying into this Russian propaganda,’ my Dad said. Some years we didn’t even turn up at all. You see, if Russians didn’t liberate us, we would have been a free country.
Only through conversations I learned what ANZAC meant to people. I’m still sorry that this peaceful nation sent its sons to die, and even worse, to kill. But what would I have done in a fight? ANZAC taught me respect.
© Peter Kehl
Banzangs. At least that’s what Uncle Barrie called them. ANZAC biscuits. Baked for the day Australians recognise those who went to war.
The one day of the year we had biscuits. Every April the troops went west. To Blackheath. Barrie, Toni, and their two, Bill and Ginna (Mum and Dad) and their four.
Mum brought the Banzangs. We never discussed the soldiers, perhaps because at my place the war was still in full swing. Instead, while the men drank beer and fried animals, and the women dished out the inevitable tinned pineapple, coleslaw and tossed salad (all I would eat), the kids climbed on metallic life-sized toys – an aeroplane, a rocket, a sailing ship – creaking the rusting gears and shooting the enemies.
Shoulda shot ol’ Bill right then and there. Coulda saved the future years of fear, when he slept with his rifles and fantasised about wife-icide. Coulda stopped right there the immediate, ongoing psychological warfare. Never knowing, always anticipating active combat, hand-to-face, monster-to-victim, against our mum or one or other of the rest of us.
His mind is crumbling away now. The specialist describes it as a ‘pretty shabby brain’. Coulda been one too many ANZAC Day beers and whiskies, and wines and sherries and … For him, every day was the one day of the year. Endlessly celebrating ‘the aggro’, as he liked to call it.
Bang bang Banzangs.
© Rosalinda Corazon
It’s unusual, being a fan of history, seeing the split between the past and present, and having some visibility over where we’ve ended up as a society. I’ve often heard ‘cultural appropriation’ be used to describe one dominant culture stealing from a dominated one. It seems like we’ve done that to ourselves.
To have gone from an occasion of drinking and gambling with deeply sombre overtones, a survivor’s coping mechanism, a day of deep reflection to remind us the cost of repeating past mistakes, to the reckless celebratory nature we see today … it doesn’t sit well with me.
I mean, how many people have a true awareness and understanding of war? Of violence? How much of the emotion and sentiment is rooted in something more than a base emotional appeal?
There is a series of questions I’d like to ask of people deeply invested in this day of national celebration. Why? Why? Why?
And maybe if those three are answered – what for?
I once read a journal of a British soldier fighting in Belgium during WWI. Captain Charlie May. In it he addressed a letter to his wife as he prepared himself to charge across No Man’s Land as part of an infantry assault. He wrote of his love and affection for her, and of their darling child who he knew would not remember him. How they were all the world to him.
He knew he would die. He did die. As did several million others as these old great empires wore and ground themselves to nubs.
How many people really understand the deadliness and raw power of artillery?
As another example, take the Gallipoli celebrations. How many would admit that it was a misjudged, stubborn, useless, dead-in-the-water campaign? Mention it or take but a moment to really think and you may as well have pissed on those dead soldiers’ graves. The national ego couldn’t handle it.
And when a line of questioning uncovers such a deep-seated insecurity, you have to wonder.
© Matt Jackson
Photos of ANZAC Day pub patrons at The Rocks: Sharon Dean