27 April 2011
By golly, when a New Zealander comes over to Australia for a little while you never know just what you are going to find out and it makes you wonder what they are teaching in school and in the education institutions.
I have popped over to Australia (as you do) to attend a conference and arriving on the morning of ANZAC Day I hit the City of Melbourne just as it went into lock-down for the various ceremonies to take place. Apart from leading to one of the most interesting and circuitous taxi rides I have ever taken, it was quite an experience to see the hordes of people that had turned out.
- The newspapers and television news programmes were full of the events of the day and here are some impressions, some obtained first hand out on the streets and some second hand through the eye of the media.
- There were many young people out there and the media had its annual “glow with pride” about this until one eight year old took the opportunity to tell everyone and anyone who was listening that “My Dad made me come!” with that look on her face that said lots.
- I was astonished to see the number of non-Returned Service People who were wearing the medals of others and even marching with the old soldiers. Is this a breach of protocol? Can people wear the medals of others? Leave aside matters of taste and there must surely be some official guidelines on this or will the matter simply be decided by the practice that remains unchallenged.
- I was even more amazed by the number of young men in suits that were sporting a full chest of a row of medals that were impressive indeed – were they wearing the medals of their older forebears? No, I was told – a very large number of soldiers have seen service with the Australian Forces and that the medals are predominantly service medals. I think quite a few of them wore them to the footy game and on to the celebrations later.
- A navy attachment of perhaps 50 men marched in the best traditions of the Senior Service except for one officer in the front rank who confidently marched out of step!
But perhaps the most amazing feature, and this is certainly a change from the last time I was in Australia for ANZAC Day (ten years ago?). New Zealand is virtually absent from the day – “ANZAC” means “Australian” and the idea that this was a joint military expedition seems now to have been forgotten. Except, that is, for the rugby league between the New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. The shared nature of the day was both emphasised and marked with discretion and good taste. On the night the New Zealand Warriors won whereas at Gallipoli no-one could claim the victory.
I have long thought that ANZAC Day deserves a re-think. Eventually and hopefully, if we can avoid adding to the numbers of returned service people by not participating in wars, we might reach a point where the parading of returned soldiers will be replaced by something else. But what? Well perhaps we can start to address the values of ANZAC Day and have a day when we celebrate in our respective countries and in our distinctive ways, those values and their expression in the community.
Foremost among them will be the value of service and what better or higher value could we devote the day to. Just as soldiers gave much in service, many others add to the quality of the lives of others through service that might not be as dangerous but in many cases is as far-reaching in its impact on the community.
Of course this notion will be greeted with a range of reactions from outrage through to a calm consideration of the idea. Better now to think about the future of ANZAC Day and to work hard over the next couple of decades to see it cemented into the fabric of each year than to see it dwindle or lose meaning simply because we had no appetite to think about it.
Three of the above bullet points suggest that the time to start thinking about this might well have arrived. I think that schools well might consider engaging the young ones in thinking about ANZAC Day when they are in command.
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