Apr 24, 2014

Anzac Day’s disjuncture from the bloody failure it represents

At least the women who protested against Anzac Day in the 1970s and '80s had a real cause. Lest we forget what the remembrance of a bloody failure has become today.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


They launched themselves across no-man’s land in the early dawn, never expecting they would make it, but determined to make their mark, to serve a higher cause … I speak of course of the black-skivvied foot soldiers of WAR Women Against Rape, who conducted, amazingly, a few charges against the Anzac Day march in the late 1970s and early ’80s. They argued that the march did not recognise the single greatest casualty of 20th-century war, the civilian, and that war was essentially a male activity — whose least recognised victims were the women raped and murdered in the invading armies’ path.

God knows what would happen if anyone tried that stunt today. Charged under anti-terrorism laws I suspect, if they were not set upon by an enraged crowd. The WAR protests occurred at a time when second-wave feminism was still relatively unified, had a cultural-political presence and was not yet divided by the issue of whether you could legitimately shop for fancy shoes. But everyone assumed that Anzac Day would die with the actual veterans marching in it. No one imagined that people would take up medals of forefathers one, two, or three generations distant, or that the event would start to be commemorated at the Gelibolu peninsula in Turkey, and laced into some sort of mixed pilgrimage-backpacker trek, which usually, ironically, ends at Oktoberfest.

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30 thoughts on “Anzac Day’s disjuncture from the bloody failure it represents

  1. Richard Scott

    This piece fairly spectacularly manages to miss the whole Iraq/Afghanistan thing, which has reinvigorated Anzac Day with not-insignificant number of new veterans. Guy may have blinkered himself to the bravery of these men and women, but VCs don’t get handed out willy-nilly. And, regardless of the rights and wrongs of being involved in either conflict, the public seems to want to support the folks in uniform.

    It’s also a stretch to say that ADF larrikinism was merely anti-aboriginal bias translated into the local Arab population. I was struck recently when diving into some Kipling writing on the Boer War by his casual description (fictional, but with the ring of transplanted reporting) of Australian troops massacring Boer farmers. And I remember reading that the Germans were very keen to surrender to someone other than Australians. Perhaps it would be fairer to just say that ANZACs were largely hard men of their times…

  2. Yclept

    Excellent piece Guy!

  3. Bo Gainsbourg

    Interesting. I always thought the Keating Kokoda thing was twofold, trying to get focus off Britain and towards the home front fight (more important for Australia) in WW2 as well as sending a clear message to the Indonesians that invading PNG would bring an Australian response, unlike the East Timor invasion. Nevertheless war imagery is strong and will always be used successfully by canny politicians. As an infamous German once said…sad that we fall for it so repeatedly.

  4. paddy

    Thanks Guy.
    Well worth a read as usual.

  5. zut alors

    ‘What they would think about people three generations down wearing their medals…’

    Worth pondering at length, possibly they’d be bemused. I’ve become conflicted about Anzac Day & prefer to pay quiet homage on 11 November.

    A terrific piece, Guy.

  6. klewso

    There have been too many wars the flower of our youth have been asked to pay too high a price for, and been placed in harms way, for the sake of politician’s self-gratification.

  7. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    I watched Abbot the other day talking at some Monash Scholarship thing and he was saying that ‘the Western Front was a Victory’ and I realised that he just doesn’t get it. A victory for who I wonder given the carnage on both sides, a victory for what?

  8. Venise Alstergren

    “Whatever purpose it served in cementing a notion of Australianess, grounded in “mateship”, it failed to become the heroic, outward-looking ceremony that its planners had hoped for it.”

    Perhaps this is because hard right wing governments (e.g. John Howard) seize on the chance to seem at one with the ‘good old mates that died.’ After all nothing is more guaranteed to produce photo ops than a PM mourning our great and glorious dead.

    Of course the right wing shock jocks pump out the pro war drivel better than anyone. This morning I started the car only to hear Neil Mitchell (3AW Melbourne) throwing a fainting spell because a female journo, (I think,) had had the temerity to see the ANZAC day march as something far less than in the majestic terms Mitchell was using. One could almost see the face becoming red and his wattles jiggling up and down.

    For the past week the media has dredged up every sickening detail and the poor school kids are being frog marched into shrines in order to leave flowers everywhere. What a waste of flowers. The recipient never gets to see them, they die very quickly and they mean nothing.

    I daresay the visit of the royals had been planned to the nth degree to almost coincide with ANZAC day.

    No wonder Australians still have abundant chips on each shoulder re the English. The English pour buckets of scorn over Australians. And we blindly lap it up. We have no shame.

  9. dke

    Good article Guy.
    I remember those anti-War ANZAC day protests well, including a performance piece by Jon Deeble who draped himself in plaster of paris on a footpath outside an RSL with a poppy in one hand and a bottle in the other. As he emerged from the sculpture – “Another Fallen Soldier” – he was arrested.
    I think you have addressed Mr Scott’s concerns (above) with your fleeting reference to Long Tan. Australia continues to unnecessarily involve itself in wars around the world. There men at times act bravely and get medals. Wouldn’t we all be better off if they stayed home and put their good energy into something more positive?
    I’m going for a bike ride in the bush with a few mates at dawn tomorrow.

  10. AR

    Sez it all really, “regardless of the rights and wrongs of being involved. My country right or wrong, better dead than re(a)d,dulce decorum ad nauseam.

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