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A war widow remembers the WAR Anzac Day march

Crikey readers talk Anzac Day around the world — and right here at home.

What Anzac Day really means

Audrey Fry writes: Re. “Rundle: Anzac Day’s disjuncture from the bloody failure it represents” (Thursday). Guy Rundle’s piece on Women Against Rape bought back memories. I am a war widow, 91 years of age who remembers when Women Against Rape attempted to march on Anzac Day in the early 1980s to place a wreath in memory of the civilian victims of war. My husband, Ken Fry (with six years overseas active service in the AIF), was the federal member for Frazer at the time. He elected to place the wreath  on the War  Memorial in Canberra on behalf of the women, to avoid a confrontation with police. To his credit, Bill Hayden supported him in his decision to support the women‘s right to march, in spite of howls of outrage from the RSL and a flood of letters to the editor of The Canberra Times.

My  husband was for a time excommunicated from the RSL (he was successful in mounting a legal challenge to his expulsion, with the support of  ”Digger” mates in the federal Parliament). My daughter Kerry was targeted by police on the day, even though (under our advice) she refrained from participating in the march. She only avoided arrest because I intervened, challenging police to arrest me too, as a WWII veteran.

I submitted an original research essay to the history department of ANU (where I got my BA as a part-time, mature-age student) detailing this extraordinarily unpleasant experience suffered at the hands  of fellow Australians. It is still as horrid, after reading Guy Rundle’s disturbing article that nothing was learned, that we have not matured as a nation, and that if anything we have gone backwards.

Lest we forget.

Alan Baird writes: Gee, Guy’d better be careful. I’d reckon the typical right-wing-politico-media reaction to revelatory opinions about Gallipoli et al could soon produce a “Danish cartoons” moment. Greg or Nick could be working up to a cerebral haemorrhage in print right now. He’s right about the savage attitude underlying the belligerent jingoism nowadays precluding commentary that is anything less than hagiographic. It’s bemusing that Australia is supposed to have “come of age” in the battlefield slaughter of WW I while denying thousands of Australian men the chance to do the same. It’s regularly trotted out. Why? Because it’s never examined for meaning. It just sounds good.

During the Falklands “War-ette”, a two-panel cartoon featured in a British humour mag. The first panel entitled “The conception of Private Smith” showed millions of sperm and an egg, and noted, “Isn’t amazing that of all the millions of sperm, only one imbeds itself in the egg”. Second panel, “The de-conception of Private Smith”, showing a confused soldier plodding along, head surrounded by clouds of bullets, with the annotation, “Isn’t it amazing that of all the thousands of bullets, only one imbeds itself in the head of Private …” etc. Cynical, yes, but fair comment when the equally cynical politics of the day are considered. It would enrage the Right Commentariat of Australia of today.

Andrew Charlton writes: I live in Switzerland and if the Anzac Day and Easter stars align, have been known to go to Villers Bretonneux for the Anzac Day commemoration. It was once run by the French government (with help from the Victorian Agent General and the Australian Embassy in Paris), and a low-key, sombre, touching affair it was. It has now been taken over by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and suddenly, it is flash and broadcast live to Australia and full of personnel from Canberra making Occ Health and Safety announcements in the pre-dawn about what to do in the event of an emergency. Like, say, a stupid Col Blimp sending you over the top, presumably; mustard gas; snipers — that sort of thing.

Exactly as Guy Rundle predicted, you can now exit via the gift shop — and pick up a canary yellow sweatshirt with ANZAC FANATIC written across the chest. Anzac — been there, got the sweatshirt.

Aside from the meta issues, there were two angles to the political. First, as you may have seen, July Bishop let no Digger go unturned in making her speech a party political one. Older members of the crowd (about 4500 apparently) were outraged. The French attendees, and there were many (Anzac Day still resonates around here), were outraged that the French Minister for Veterans’ Affairs did not attend in person. One year, we were left in the teeming rain for hours awaiting his arrival, so important to the ceremony was his attendance. This year, he sent some slides of his recent trip to Australia and a delegate to read his speech. The local paper, the Courier Picard, was outraged. Fortunately, they do not speak enough English to realise they were merely props in a speech directed to a tiny part of Perth.

The other random observation to this long time non-Australian resident was just how very American things have become. We needed the human interest angle at all times, we sang the national anthem with our hands on our hearts and we referred not only to place names but the state as well. Fair enough — I might have thought that Perth was in Scotland and that Sydney was in Nova Scotia without the additional information, but Tilba Tilba?

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  • 1
    Malcolm Harrison
    Posted Tuesday, 29 April 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    no, we havent changed, but we havent gone backwards. We’re like this on purpose.

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