I was going to title this blog ‘ANZAC Day Ambivalence’ (which has nice alliteration) but after seeing the headlines on news.com.au this morning: ‘Gallipoli pilgrims pay respects’, I am changing the operative word to ‘nausea.’
It seems to me that each year the ANZAC Day celebrations become increasingly sentimental, distorted and obsessed with nationalism. In a country that has so little European history and therefore aspires to make do with what it has, the few events worth commemorating (and even those are dubious) run the risk of being blown out of proportion.
This year, it appears that they are trying to give the ceremony religious overtones, and this has made me very, very angry. Gallipoli was created by the mismanagement of leaders who wanted to create a back door entry by which to attack Germany. The terrain was inhospitable and almost unpassable and the ANZACs were fired upon as soon as they left their ships to crawl onto land. It was an absolute bloodbath which is not deserving of the respect of a religious ceremony. Yes, the soldiers were heroic and for that they should be remembered, but they were going into war and they were going to kill people. I am of the opinion that murderers should not be honoured as saints.
Often ANZAC Day appears to me as a celebration of war, or rather, a celebration of a bunch of men who played with their toys and territory. Adding to my reservations is the repellent term ‘mateship.’ For what of the thousands of women who supported the ANZAC forces? The nurses serving in Egypt, France, Greece and India; those working in auxiliary roles as cooks, nurses, driver, interpreters; and those holding together the country at home – taking on the emotional burden of keeping families together, and of making sure the economy dragged itself on by doing men’s work, whether in the cities or on the farms. Does ‘mateship’ celebrate them?
I do believe in respecting what these people did because they loved Australia and because they risked their lives for their country, but I think the commemoration shouldn’t focus so exclusively upon the Diggers. I also think we should look to the future rather than to the past. Australia, someone once told me, was different to England in that it had such an emphasis on youth. We encourage our young people, we are positive and we try to look forward. In this spirit, then, I believe there is another cause far more worthy of our attention: justice for the Aboriginal people.
Getup, always a practical organisation, have made a step in that direction into this by composing a song for justice. You can buy it here (but only if you’re in Oz). If Australians are determined to have ‘mateship’ as their defining characteristic, why not extend that to Aboriginals and do something about reconciliation?