Apr 24, 2018

Crikey roundtable: how should we feel about Anzac Day?

To mark Australia's most revered holiday, Crikey correspondents discuss the personal tensions, contradictions, and cultural implications of celebrating Anzac Day in modern Australia.

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Here at Crikey we've grappled with Anzac Day many times before. In 2015, Bernard Keane remembered how Anzac day wasn't always such a big deal. In 2012, Guy Rundle recalled that our entry into World War I was itself a confected nation-building exercise.

This year in the bunker we've pulled together some more personal reflections on the meaning of Anzac. Please write to [email protected] with your own thoughts.

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17 thoughts on “Crikey roundtable: how should we feel about Anzac Day?

  1. PG

    Thanks for this. Thoughtful, considered and respectful views. Things not often much in evidence around this time of year.

  2. Nudiefish

    As a former soldier I have conflicted feelings about ANZAC Day.

    On one hand I feel the plight of those sent off to do a nation’s dirty work, and those who risk their very lives in the process. On the other hand, it always bothers me to see politicians giving long-winded speeches on the day and trying to reflect other people’s hard earned glory onto themselves. As a Digger, I have marched the march with colours flying and bayonet unmasked. I felt pride in my own achievements and that of the men and women who have gone before me. I felt that I was simply a link in a long chain. I was anonymous, yet visible, and I represented something. That something? The pay was terrible, the conditions atrocious, but the job meant something.

    Nowadays the day has often become hijacked by elements whom I do not approve. If you wear the national flag as a cape, and speak hated words, you do not represent me. If you enjoy your moment in the ANZAC Day spotlight as a politician yet do not consider the plight of the mentally affected diggers, nor their families, then a pox upon you. If you don’t also consider the harm that war causes to non-combatants during your moment of silence, then why are you there at all?

    Yes, the packaged nature of ANZAC Day bothers me a bit. Who provided the nation with the idea that the one “Day of the Year” was a self-contained, RSL approved, Government sanctioned and marketed enterprise? Why cannot Aboriginal warriors who resisted “settlement” enjoy their status as such? What does fighting for your country mean if not that?

    Approximately 1000 Aboriginal diggers fought in France and Belgium in WW1 and a great many of the survivors were forbidden the rights and privileges of returning soldiers. This bothers me. It bothers me a great deal, because in the trenches they were Diggers – at home they were not. You see, there are many complex issues bound up in ANZAC.

    I shall attend the Dawn Service tomorrow. Despite my personal difficulties with the day I still recognise the pain, sacrifice, friendship and service. I will also do my best to ignore the politics. It won’t be easy.

    1. Helen Razer

      Nudie. I’ve been meaning to thank you for your comment for a week. I found it very moving.

  3. [email protected]

    I think it’s a joke, we celebrate illegal invasions, slaughter and utter failure as if our soldiers were 20 foot high super gods instead of young poms going to protect the mother land.

    When I was a kid my WW11 vet. grandpa said the best way to ”celebrate” as we do now is to ignore the bullshit, he never marched on ANZAC day, he fought to keep his post war son out of Nam and won, he protested Nam with me in a small country town and saw a much beloved son of that town turn into a monster after his two tours – the first as a reluctant Nasho, the second to try to dispel the demons.

    All war is failure – I will start tweeting Lest we forget Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nauru, Manus, Woomera, Port Hedland, Baxter at 12.01 tomorrow morning.

  4. jmendelssohn

    It’s time for a proper revival of Alan Seymour’s 1958 play, “The One Day of the Year”.
    My father, a Rat of Tobruk, was always drunk that day – as were most of the men in our post-WWII fibro housing street. My teatotaller mother refused to go to any Anzac service. Yet my parents took me (aged 9) and my older sister to see the Sydney production of The One Day of the Year at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Sydney. Its nuanced message is a fair counter to the nauseous official dogma that saturates the media.

    1. paddy

      Bloody good idea Jm.
      It was a damn fine play and the issues Seymour dealt with then, are still relevant today.

  5. Letterboxfrog

    Not naming names, I know people who were associated with the RSL at Senior Levels and their children, who refuse to be part of the ANZAC Day shenanigans, as it has become a self-serving opportunity for the who’s who in society to be seen doing something “good” in public. Having been to a number of events around the country, I have to concur. ANZAC Day is no longer a time for reflection, and has just turned into a party.

  6. AR

    If anyone from Planet Zog wonders why we do it, they could check the way commerce has co-opted the symbolism – despite strict ..rrr. strictures against doing so.
    The most blatant was a couple of years ago when one of the FoodFlood supamarts used “they shall not grow old” as a hoo for their, allegedly, fresh produce and a big brewer suggestion “raise one to their memory”.
    I’ll stick with Rupert Brooke’s evocation of The Old Lie – Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
    Russel “Naked Island” Braddon, pinged it in his shamefully forgotten class, “Year of the Angry Rabbit”, when Oz ruled the world and sent the elderly into battle first, long before the young.

    1. Culture Warrior

      It was Wilfred Owen. Brooke’s ideas were very different: e.g. ‘now god be thanked who has matched us with his hour’. See

  7. Gavin Moodie

    I oppose Anzac day because it commemorates people who sought to kill other people.

    1. AR

      The real worry is that they were acting out of blind obedience.
      As the Milgram experiment showed, and as is demonstrated daily, hourly in sport or politics, most people are happy to do what they are told as they seem to believe that this absolves them of responsibility for their actions.
      Freedom, and the concomitant ethical obligations, frightens the bejasus out of the Man on the Clapham Omnibus, aka Mr Pooter.

    2. Nudiefish

      I appreciate the sentiment, but in that situation those who don’t seek to kill other people usually end up dead themselves. Those, or their mates.

      If you want to pick a fight along those lines go after the people responsible for sending them in harm’s way. As far as I can remember soldiers have never sent themselves to war. Not in this country at any rate.

      1. Gavin Moodie

        But Australia does not fight wars in self defence, with the limited exception of WWII.

        The people who send others to war seem to be the loudest and least tolerant promoters of Anzac day.

  8. Ruv Draba

    Australia’s public holidays are pretty bizarre.

    * Christmas: an occasion privileging a reappropriated pagan holidy in a society supposedly both secular and pluralistic, and turned into state-sanctioned retail extravaganza;
    * Boxing day: an occasion celebrating servants none of us have, in a society that has outright rejected the subordination of a service class in the first place;
    * New Year: an administrative event with minimal historical or cultural significance;
    * Australia Day: a day commemorating colonisation in a country that wants to be thought of as respectful of its indigenes and not really a colony any more;
    * Easter: another monotheistic reappropriation of a pagan festivity celebrating an event documented by testimony largely de-authorised by serious scholars — and one that has nothing to do with secular pluralism anyway;
    * Labour day: the only day tied associated with a secular, pluralistic historical event of broad public benefit;
    * Mother’s day: government sponsored retail frenzy exhorting the decapitation of carnations;
    * Queen’s birthday: it’s not her birthday, she doesn’t really rule us except as an administrative stamp, and does so only reluctantly anyway;
    * Father’s day: government sponsored retail frenzy celebrating the accumulation of socks manufactured by underpaid foreign children;
    * Melbourne cup day: a politically sanctioned day encouraging citizens to support gambling corporates in one of the most dodgy sporting industries in Australia.

    Among these, Anzac day: a day celebrating a poorly-trained, poorly-regarded, largely misguided force of an empire that not only no longer exists, but which we’re broadly aware has done untold harm in the world, with political legacies still affecting us today, and a force of whom the last living member died three years ago anyway.

    There is no sense to be had in any of this, and no special reason to single Anzac Day out when nearly the whole calendar is archaic, superstitious barbarism, egregiously exploited by commercial interests and presented with mawkish sentimentality by politicians too cynically populist to question it. We need to overhaul the lot, and align our public holidays to the values we either have or aspire to have, rather than the grotesque accidents we inherited.

  9. Plonkoclock

    I’m a bit late to this… Both grandfathers served in WW1, one was wounded twice, in Pozieres, then Broodsheinde. My father served in Egypt and Palestine in WW2, and continued his Army career after the war. He never went to ANZAC day events, for the reasons described above, and nor shall I. Moreover, as a serving soldier, he insisted that I join the CMF to avoid participating in the Vietnam conflict for the politically motivated reds under the beds/domino effect/ US appeasement for the Liberal party that it was, and accurately predicting how it would finish. Nevertheless, the Last Post never fails to bring a tear for the lives lost and destroyed.

  10. susan rushworth

    The idea of a silent gathering at dawn is appealing.
    But the dawn service at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance is far from silent. I was in the choir a few years ago and I remember it as a highly choreographed performance, with precious little space for quiet contemplation. Hymns, speeches, more speeches – it went on endlessly and we got drenched.
    If we could only go back to the days when a few people who cared to contemplate gathered in silence, before dawn, waited for the light and went home. All without saying a word. Maybe add The Last Post. That’s all we need. The rest is pomposity and bombast.

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