Apr 252008

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Watching the ANZAC Day services from Gallipoli and Viller-Bretonneux, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities, and differences between the two.

Gallipoli was, as has been the case ever since real-time telecasts began several years ago, reverent and solemn. Viller-Bretonneux, at least to me, was different in that it gave the impression of being a ceremony for the also-rans of Australian politics to attend. Joe Hockey for the Leader of the Opposition (what would have kept Nelson away?) and the myriad of stand-in’s for this federal minister and that state member. I noticed that Ted Ballieau actually made it, but have to question why it had to be as Leader of the Victorian Opposition. Why not just as Ted Ballieau, individual Australian? Parts of the Viller-Bretonneux ceremony were, indeed, reverent however, I question the need for the ceremony to include members of the public laying wreaths on international television. I also question the need to have a choir singing and some of the most awful bagpipe playing I’ve ever heard.
I enjoyed Gallipoli’s service and always have ever since it was possible to take part, albeit thousands of kilometres removed. The reading of the ode, the last post, revelly and even the speeches given by Joel Fitzgibbon and especially so this year, by Winston Peters. I found his speech to be particularly moving, and will be tracking down a text copy for posterity.
Viller-Bretonneux was far too drawn out for what was essentially a brief ceremony. The site is sacred and undoubtedly highly emotive to be associated with close up & personal. A half rectangle with it’s enormous tower incorporating the Australian Imperial Forces ‘Rising Sun’ emblem at the base, and three walls with literally thousands of names of those who died in the battle for the French village, and immediate surrounds. I felt the ceremony was ruined by the appeal to everyone present to retire to the tents in back of the memorial for refreshments, and ‘take your rubbish with you, thanks’
As a personal aside, I remain fascinated that on days such as ANZAC Day, we continue to evoke the Christian deity to save, protect, etcetera, etcetera. If such an all-powerful deity really existed, we’d not be holding days like ANZAC Day. What an incongruous irony. Above it all, I remember my Dad. Gone now these three years, I never asked the questions about his time in New Guinea I wanted to ask, and now am so terribly sorry I didn’t. Whatever memories – good bad or otherwise – he may have had of those times, are gone forever. To those of you who still have family who served in places they’d rather forget, make the effort to ask them to recall, for your sake, and for the sake of those who come along after you. The efforts and sacrifices of our fallen, both in battle and in life’s great culling, must be remembered for the sake of the national identity, and foremost, for the futility of war at the behest of spineless politicians. Else, we’re doomed to repeat and repeat that which those who fought & died hoped would never have to be fought for again.

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