What a wonderful night. This Anzac-eve function was organized at the Deakin Edge theatre at Fed Square by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, with support from the ANZAC Centenary Peace Coalition and funding from the Dept of Veteran Affairs ANZAC Centenary Local Grants Program.
The night started with a presentation by Jackie Mansourian from PEN Melbourne who spoke about the Armenian Genocide- that other centenary that marks the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals on 24 April- and the resistance of the Turkish government to have it acknowledged as the century’s first genocide. She spoke of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the editor of the Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos by anultra-nationalist in 2007 after Dink referred to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as ‘genocide’. At the time Dink was being prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for ‘denigrating Turkishness’.
First up Shaking the Tree Choir, decked out in scarlet and purple, sang a bracket of four thoughtful songs, including the beautiful On the Turning Away, the Pink Floyd song that they have adapted in their video clip:
Then Kellie Merritt, the widow of Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel who was killed in Iraq in 2005. She said that she was apprehensive about public speaking but she was fantastic: controlled, articulate, forceful. She spoke of her resentment at the conflation of personal grief with political argument. Honouring personal grief did not necessarily mean honouring the political purpose and intention for deployment. The two aims of the Iraq War of 2003 were never met: there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, and one dictator was merely replaced with another dictator of a different sectarian hue. She particularly resented Attorney-General George Brandis who attacked those who drew links between the 2003 and 2015 deployments as “simple-minded” and “ignorant”.
She was followed, after long and heartfelt applause, by the Melbourne Singers of Gospel, a huge choir – I counted at least 55 people -who gave a terrific rendition of ‘When the War is Over’ .
Adam Bandt, the Greens member for Melbourne spoke next after taking a picture on his phone of the assembled audience. He picked up on Kellie Merritt’s call for Parliament to be required to approve the deployment of Australian troops (unless we are facing imminent threat). Even though Parliament may still approve it- and with our current government and opposition, that would be the case- it is still important that the reasons for sending troops overseas be articulated and that Parliament be accountable for the decision.
Peter Cundall, the 88 year old peace activist and gardener spoke next, speaking about his experience in both WWII and the Korean War.
I was struck by his description of the pervasive, nauseating smell of battle. He finished with a beautiful recitation (from memory!) of Seigfried Sassoon’s ‘Aftermath’, written in 1919 . What a fitting poem during this current tsunami of bad history and mawkish emotionalism:
Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same-and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
You can find the rest of the poem here. It’s powerful writing.
It was affirming to finish with a group from Brunswick Secondary College, singing a beautiful arrangement of Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’ and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, prefaced by the worlds spoken in many different languages.
I was proud that this is a government-school based choir of engaged young people.
We left on a drizzly ANZAC Eve, really pleased that we’d attended such an affirming and respectful night. The crocheted poppies spill over the steps of Fed Square. Beautiful