Wednesday, 25 April 2012

ANZAC - Old Values for a New Country

COLMSLIE SUB-BRANCH RSL SERVICE (Bulimba)
Bulimba Memorial Park, Brisbane
25 APRIL 2012

Soldiers of Australia.

Veterans of Australia.

Some may ask, after 97 years, what more is to be said of ANZAC.
 
The official history has been written.
The great speeches have all been made.
The trees planted as here in this memorial park, each one strong, old, established, each one of them here in memory of one of our local lads who went abroad to war only never to return.
The names Jacko, Simpson and the others, and their gallant deeds, all now etched into the nation’s memory.
The places, Gallipoli, Lone Pine and Suvla Bay, now the commonplace names of our streets, of our towns and of our cities.
The sounds, the bugle, the thud of cannon fire, the shrill whistle of shrapnel, echo still across the chasms of time.
The smells too. The smell of rotting flesh, the unmistakable stench of war, of all wars since time in memorial, compounded still by the sheer scale of this first, most modern carnage – killing now occuring on an industrial scale.
And then there is touch – the letters home from the front, epistles of hope crafted in a sea of despair, but as real, tangible, physical objects, paper held by a soldier’s muddied and sometimes trembling hand, loved with the ink of his pen, then held again by mothers, by wives, by sons and daughters, a world away from the slaughter.
These letters are like sacraments of a secular world, sacraments as we were once taught, the outward, physical sign of an inward spiritual event, transmitting life from the dead to the living.
In some senses, they are the epistles of our nationhood.
Signaller Ellis Silas of the 16th Battalion writes a few weeks after the Gallipolli landing, he says;

“The roll is called – how heart breaking it is – name after name is called, the reply a deep silence which can be felt, despite the noise of the incessant cracking of rifles and screaming of shrapnel. There are few of us left to answer our names – just a thin line of weary, ashen faced men, behind a mass of silent forms, once our comrades – there they have been dead for days, we have not had time to bury them.”

So to answer the question – what more is to be said? – I say a library of some 9000 volumes for that is the number of our own we committed to Gallipoli’s soil, a soil they nourish still.
These men, and the men and women who down the ages, proudly have worn the uniform of Australia, speak to us with fresh, clarion, clear voice each ANZAC dawn.
They and their voices burst through the acrid cynicism of our age like a shaft of unalloyed light.
They bring to us old values for this our new country – strong values, true values, values that have weathered the ages, values that have stood the test of time, values that soar above the petty controversies of our day, values that declare themselves still as our nation’s compass, values that are tested, values that are sure, values to help chart our future course, if we have eyes to see and hearts to hear.
For if it were not so, why do we gather now in thousands upon thousands, and more thousands each year as the distance between now and the time of ANZAC passes. We are here because these values of ANZAC mean something to us that is real today and they offer hope for tomorrow.
So what are these values and what to do they say to us and what hope do they offer us today.
Courage, when we feel we have none.
Fortitude, when we too readily complain about the tiniest hurdles in life.
Determination, when it’s so easy to simply fall away.
Solidarity (what they called mateship) when the ethos of our age is often to look after number one.
Sacrifice, speaking to an age when we demand everything today, if not yesterday.
A passionate sense of national purpose, now seen by some as unfashionable, if not down right extreme.
Civility, as reflected in the ANZAC’s  attitude to their foes the Turks (and the Turks to them), now speaks to an age when civility now seems often to be dead – as people tear each other to pieces, without even the excuse of war.
These are the values (just some of the values we see, sense and smell in what we still call ANZAC today) which confront afresh each April amidst the resignation, the malaise and the torpor of our current age.
They speak to us of new possibilities for the future.
They speak of a positive vision for our future.
They speak to us of the sheer perseverance that we need to get to that future
They say no, resoundingly no, to the despair that sometimes characterises our age.
Instead they say to us; lift up your eyes and with the eyes of our national imagination, imagine the country that we dare to be.
One which incorporates this ancient spirit of ANZAC into our modern way of life – and to do so, build the nation’s house on the surest of foundations – foundations of courage, of determination, of ingenuity, of mateship.
For otherwise, their sacrifice is in vain.
And the nation they fought for is little more than pedestrian, and every man’s journey, an unremarkable place.
I believe by instinct we Australians choose ANZAC and we are at our best when we so choose and respond to the better angels in our nature, and our absolute worst when we do not and we meekly submit to the spirit of the age.
Beyond these things, I believe the ANZACs would have us reflect on one further thing still.
Yes, they say to us honour the dead, and the values for which they died.
Yes, they say support the living.
And most importantly tend to the wounded.
We will soon have among us tens of thousands of returned servicemen and women from Iraq, from Afghanistan from Timor and from other parts of the world.
Our solemn oath to the ANZACS (and through them, through their RSL) is to look after these modern day ANZACs as well - who will march in greater and greater numbers in the ANZAC parades of the future.
This is the solemn duty of all Governments.
The solemn duty of the RSL.
The duty of all of us gathered here today in solemn ceremony.
Lest we forget the ANZACs of the past. Lest we forget the ANZACs of today. Lest we forget the values of ANZAC as we build the Australia of tomorrow.
Lest we forget.

5 comments:

  1. well said Kevin ,true spirit of Anzac

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  2. Being a proud frandfather, I was deeply moved to witness the littlies greeting & smiling and mingling with our ANZAC VETERANS furing the march on Wednesday...and I was later sincerely, deeply moved again by the service at Lone Pine conducted on the forershore to the sounds of breaking waves rippling in the chilly morning

    Peter Watling JP 197813 and ex RAAF a27801

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  3. Once upon a time Australians had a spine, they had honour, and they honestly believed in a fair go and were willing to forego all to meet the image that these traits engender. This statement evidenced by young men and women, filled with patriotism, volunteered to go to fight and die in a European war (1914-1918). A war caused by in factional fighting, between postage stamp sized empires that had been going on for ever, triggered by a Serbian shooting some petty royal, the Arch Duke Ferdinand. We had b-lls.

    Today, Australians have lost those traits that inspired them to stand up for themselves, for what is right and what is the correct thing to do, to live the creed of the Australian Coat of Arms, the Roo and the Emu, who we believe do not take a backward step (turns out to be incorrect).

    Today we let so many international organisations run our show, we are told to take in emigration queue jumpers and import New Zealand Apples. We remove import quotas and subsidies, yet let other foreign governments subsidise their products and impose import quotas (like Indonesia has on our beef).

    We increase our retirement age, already one of the highest in the developed world, from 65 years of age and we say and do nothing. When France increased their retirement age, still lower than ours, the French rose up and physically challenged their government. Shame when we cannot even muster the spine and passion of the French.

    The government imposes a Carbon tax, a tax imposed purely to keep some radical political fringe dweller (Bob Brown) on side so the PM keeps her job. This will lessen even further our international competitiveness and cost others their jobs. We know it has nothing to do with global warming, but still, do we do anything about it, No. We’re pathetic!

    A bunch of semi-literate, ill-informed minority group spits on and burns our national flag on our national day and do we remove their stinking, illegal, eye sore camp from nationally owned property, no. We’re worse than pathetic!
    However, I hold my personal contempt for the Australian parliamentary system. Listen to the daily broadcast from parliament house and you are in no doubt. This talentless cowardly bunch of hacks, on both sides of the house (few exceptions), are concerned only with their personal grab for power and wealth. Does their game playing and juvenile banter, time wasting and total disrespect for the office they hold and the people they, supposedly, represent cause the public to rise and complain, no. We’re despicably pathetic.

    The PM promised transparency in government, she is! I can see right through her and I do not like what I see. Mr Rudd, the deposed leader in waiting, sobbing away to himself when he got the push, not for any other reason than self-pity, does not conjure up the image of a strong national Australian leader that you could or would count on in trouble.

    With that lot in power, you would think that any decent opposition would eat them alive, well it hasn’t happened. No leader of any significance here either. When they should be as one, they are still countenancing dissention in the party with possible new or re-treaded party leaders. I’d prefer you just do your job, what we pay you for.

    Still they will have a job next week, next month and most likely next year, despite their collective ineptitude and Australians won’t do anything about it, wimps.

    What a nation we were.

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  4. chris hunter9 May 2012 13:25

    There has to be an antidote. A year and a bit ago, just b4 ANZAC day I bumped into an old comrade at night bowls. He seemed different, changed, and on the spot began recounting about an abrupt (yet permanent) alteration in his outlook. Bearing in mind that old Bill served on the Kokoda track in WW2 (I served in 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) BN, SVN 1969) this was something out of the ordinary. Bill told me he had recently been watching the TV news about the Tsunami in Japan and had seen some of the terrible devastation caused. Suddenly all his years of distrust toward the Japanese race collapsed, specifically at the projection of a small child in severe shock -- something had broken through. The shock and awe of the tsunami took the worlds attention but as vast and tragic as the disaster was a small rekindling of love and hope flowered in the embittered psyche of an old warrior, far away. I wrote a poem about it:

    Sendai 2011

    I've known you for years my friend,
    Your body old yet spritely,
    Your mind quick and memory sharp,
    But something amiss,
    Something that is hard to put a name to,
    Something soldiers know about,
    A condition called PTSD --
    A landscape from the past peopled by ghosts
    And shouts in the night turning dreams into torment.

    You approached me with your usual grin,
    Relating scrapbook snatches from those years,
    The years spent sweating in the jungle,
    But this was different --
    Your eyes held a light I'd never witnessed,
    Projecting the image of a child
    Swept beneath the rubble by that awesome tsunami.

    I can't hate them anymore you said,
    I feel sorry for them and I don't know why,
    Perhaps I should see a psychiatrist you laughed,
    But your heart told the story,
    As the tsunami within swept away the barriers
    That had trapped you for so many years,

    And the night became suddenly closer
    While the birds rang out in evening song --

    My own thwarted spirit touched the freedom and rejoiced.

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