Reclaiming Anzac

I had hoped that the fetishisation of Anzac was a symptom of the Howard years, and that perhaps with a change of government, it might recede.   I think I’m about to be disappointed though: if anything it seemed just as fervent this year.

I’d been disconcerted by Rudd’s evocation of “The Anzac Spirit” at the bushfire memorial service– a characterization that was largely rejected by firefighters themselves, who under procedures revised after Ash Wednesday and the later fires in the Dandenongs,  deliberately withdraw from situations where lives are endangered- a luxury not extended to soldiers in battle.

ANZAC Day’s co-option by the AFL as a marketing opportunity is even worse. I was repulsed by the visits that AFL football teams made to the Shrine this week to soak up the ANZAC spirit to embolden them for the Anzac Day Round of football this weekend, and the pre-match images of war shown to players to gee them up for the game.  Mick Malthouse’s petulant response to Collingwood’s loss says it all:

I don’t think we played anywhere near (well enough) to capture the spirit of the Anzacs, and I think this is what makes this one of the most disappointing games I have ever been associated with…Unfortunately, I reckon we let the Anzacs down.  The whole game, not just (the final few minutes), the whole game, and Essendon showed true Anzac spirit, why we play here.

Some how, I don’t think the Anzacs themselves will be too fussed about the loss of a football game.  I’m sure that the diggers who played for Essendon before dying in war won’t feel too let down at all.  The whole solemn intoning of the sentimental nationalist pap before the ” invented tradition” of the fifteenth Collingwood/Essendon match (yep, that’s some tradition),  the marketing of the “Badge of Honour” football magazine,  and the crass slippage between “heroism in the trenches”  and “heroism in taking a mark” is manipulative and demeaning.

Thursday’s Age carried an edited version of a longer paper that Marilyn Lake delivered at Melbourne University’s free public lecture program hosted by the School of Historical studies. In this paper she challenges the funding of an ANZAC creation story provided  so generously by the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1996 that elides the controversy over involvement both during and after the war, that excludes on the basis of gender and race, and which silences other claims to Australian identity.

The comments posted to the Age website are revealing. Jack Jones, for instance, writes:

Typical academic perspective pandering to the lefty minority groups whilst ignoring the majority view and belittling past sacrifices made so she could actaualy be in a position to enjoy the opportunity to write such diatribe. Suggest you revisit your history lessons (if you had any) and go on a site visit to Gallipoli and see what it means first hand. Then come back and write an apology.

David Farmer writes:

Trust a left wing ‘academic’ to loose site of emotional reality! I’ve been to Galipoli and the sense of pride and spiritual emotion was enormous. It made me proud of our fallen hereo’s regardless of the success or idealogy that came with fighting for mother England. Time for a true blue Aussie reality check Marilyn Lake!

Yes,  Marilyn, it seems that you do have to go to Turkey to know what it means to be Australian, and learn some ‘real’ history while you’re at it, girlie.

In an otherwise worthy speech, the Governor-General has elevated our response to the ANZAC story even further beyond the call of national identity to that of  the spiritual:

We have a sacred trust to remain accountable to its legacy.

I’m not quite sure by whose authority it became “sacred”.

And all the shiny-eyed school children, brought to the Shrine breathlessly parrot that “the diggers at Gallipoli died for our freedom”.  Ah- freedom!- is that the same “Fridom” that G. W. Bush held aloft for us?  King, Country, Empire, British Liberty, Mum, my sisters, “the boys”, my house, our way of life– all these for sure, but “freedom” then didn’t necessarily mean the same as “fridom” now.

Although, having said that and to contradict myself completely – I was interested to see if “freedom” rhetoric was common during WWI. I went to the “Despatches from Gallipoli” section of the NLA site, and conducted a word search for “Freedom”  and found only a reference to press freedom in reporting the war, which seemed rather ironic.  But a word search of newspapers on the NLA website turned up this hither-to unpublished poem, written by a Mr Gilbert Crawford, a reader on the night staff of the Daily Mercury Office,  Mackay Qld- safely on home soil, but eager to encourage men to hear Freedom’s call.

I hear a voice a’calling and its note is one of pain

Don’t you hear that voice a’calling out to you?

Tis the voice of nations ravished, Freedom crushed and honor slain

Can’t you hear that voice a’calling out anew?

Chorus:

Don’t you hear that voice a’calling, calling clear as tocsin peal?

It is echoing throughout the whole world wide.

T’is the voice of Freedom calling from beneath the tyrant’s heel

The sons of Freedom calling to her side.

I hear a voice responding from the heart of sunny France

Don’t you hear her answer sent to Freedom’s call?

And the tenor of her message makes men’s pulses throb and dance

Have you no response to make to it at all?

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

I hear a voice responding and it sounds now loud, now low

Don’t you hear it in the shrieking Arctic wind?

T’is the Russian National Anthem, rolling o’er the fields of snow

And the might of Russia’s millions rolls behind.

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

I hear a voice responding by the Meditterean shore

Don’t you hear the sons of Italy reply

And ’tis swelling ever louder o’er the din and battle’s roar

As Freedom’s hymn goes mounting to the sky

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

I hear a voice responding from across the Atlantic waves

Don’t you hear them  as they come to play their part?

‘Tis the warsong sounding lustily of Canada’s proud braves

Don’t their warsong wake an echo in your heart?

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

I hear a voice come swelling o’er the burning desert sand

Do you hear the sons of Africa respond?

And a pealing echo answers it from India’s coral strand

Don’t these voices make your recreant heard despond?

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

Where the Southern Cross is beaming comes another voice that swells

Don’t you hear the answer of your own Home clime?

‘Tis the slogan of the Anzacs welling down the Dardenelles

And their war song echoes down the tide of Time.

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

And another voice comes pealing through the starry night

Don’t you hear the eager Banzai of Japan?

‘Tis the men of Nippon marshalling to battle for the right

Can’t these voices stir your soul to play the man?

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

Won’t you hear those voices calling, they are calling close and clear

Won’t you also take your place beside the brave?

To Freedom’s earnest pleading do you still turn a deaf ear?

Will you bear the coward’s brand into your grave?

Chorus: Don’t you hear that voice? etc…

I hear a voice that rises now supreme above them all

Don’t you hear it through the battle’s awful roar?

‘Tis the voice of Victory swelling up to Heaven’s highest hall

As the Tyrant’s ramparts fall, to rise no more.

Last chorus: Don’t you hear that voice a’calling, calling clear as tocsin bell

It is echoing through the whole world wide

‘Tis the voice of Freedom calling, and the notes of triumph swell

From the sons of Freedom rallied to her side.

NORTHERN TERRITORY TIMES AND GAZETTE 27 JULY 1916

No doubt, this is all part of the conscription debate of the time, and Freedom is depicted as a feminized  figure calling to the Allies at a national level,  even ‘the sons of Africa’ and those ‘from India’s coral strand’.   What ever it is, it’s not the personal freedom our “me-me-me” culture tells us we are entitled to.

I have been to the dawn service at the Shrine, and found it a sobering and yes, emotional experience.  In April 2003, I went with my teenaged children to a local ANZAC ceremony on the Gold Coast, where we were holidaying at the time.  With a heightened sense of being a nation contemplating war, I wanted to show my respect for older men and women who had responded- for whatever reason- to their country’s call for action.  I wanted to acknowledge the waste, the pity, the tragedy of war.  And so, it was with mounting anger that I sat as the gathering was harangued by the local RSL president about the commie hippies who were protesting Australia’s involvement in the war to find Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that were going to destroy freedom for us all.  In the end, I stood up and left.

And I think that, for a while, I want to stand up and leave for Anzac Day generally as it is being manufactured and marketed at the moment.  I have not forgotten: I do respect.



2 responses to “Reclaiming Anzac

  1. Such a shame the day has been sabotaged this way. You articulate the very reasons I’ve decided never to go to Gallipoli on one of those packaged backpacker trips I once wanted to make — until I realised they were just an excuse for a big piss-up.

  2. residentjudge

    Yes- I think that the Turkish authorities are very indulgent (too accommodating perhaps) of young Australian “pilgrims” and eager Australian government departments wanting bigger roads for the buses. I’m not sure that we would be so generous to Japanese coming to memorialize their soldiers who might have died up in Darwin.

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