It's a bit of a tradition now for me to blog something about ANZAC Day. I'm not quite sure why, but I think because the day is important to me and I need to do more than just go to parades, dawn ceremonies, and post on social networks 'Lest We Forget'. These activities are important, as is making ANZAC Biscuits with my daughter, but I need to do a little more. Hence this blog entry.
The theme that emerged today for me is the changing profile of Australian society with regards to ANZAC Day. And I think it is much changed. There was a time in the 'between the wars' years, and post WWII, when ANZAC Day was universally revered, it was a powerful symbol of Australianism and it was strongly connected to our ties with Great Britain and the psyche of the Commonwealth (and before that, the Empire). But in the sixties and seventies, when the Peace Movement grew in strength, and had its own brand of intellectualism and culture, there was a bit of a clash – the stalwarts from WWII, epitomized by the Returned Serviceman's League (RSL), were deeply offended by the small 'L' liberal review of everything and anything to do with society and morals, while that new generation had serious issues with the hypocrisy and pro-war profile of who they saw playing pokies in the RSL clubs. They saw the ANZAC Parades as representing everything that was wrong with the 'before' generation.
I couldn't help but harken back to the late seventies when I was in senior high school and my English class studied the seminal work on this topic, the play 'One Day of the Year', written in 1958 by Alan Seymour, and which delved deep into generational differences, and the razor sharp emotions associated with the topic of ANZAC Day. Ironically, it was a more powerful play 10 to 20 years after it was written. It effectively shed the politics and the dogmas, and displayed before its audiences the human, the individual importance of ANZAC Day.
What I am observing now is an interesting phenomenon. Many of the folk who were strong anti-war, Peace advocates in their youth in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties, are now solemn supporters of ANZAC Day. And I am one of them. Why? The reason seems clear to me. I know the Great War had no evil enemy, it was a tragic slaughterhouse of empires clashing, and I know that the Vietnam War was a senseless waste of lives, but the people who fought for Australia (as are they who fought for all other countries) were not the puppet masters. They were the victims. And they were human. And many of them lost their lives for ideals that they believed in, regardless whether they were right or wrong.
Gallipoli is an incredibly powerful symbol of Australian nationhood, purchased with death and injury. It is also a powerful symbol of the human spirit rising above adversity. For many of us today, it is also a human tragedy of immense proportions. It doesn't, however, in any way belittle ANZAC Day, although it doesn't sanctify it like it did three generations ago. For me, and perhaps for others, ANZAC Day is Australia encapsulated into an incredible mishmash of emotions, concrete and abstract themes, and pathos.
It is Australia.
On the One Day of the Year, I shed a tear, and I feel proud and sad at the same time.