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Anzac Day observances change with the times

This is the last of the contributions from the University of Sydney media students. Its publication was delayed because it "went missing" in the system for reasons that remain obscure. Our apologies to Ashley, and thanks for an excellent contribution. 

Anzac Day observances change with the times
by Ashley Zeldin

Thirteen-year-old Tim Spehr solemnly watched as wreaths were laid at the cenotaph at High Cross Park in Randwick; the medals of his great-great-uncle, World War I veteran Private Harold Walter Cavill, adorned his jacket. Spehr and dozens of local residents of all ages had gathered to commemorate Anzac Day, 25 April 2009.

“It’s very important that we recognise those who made Australia as it is today,” Spehr said. “Even people who are fighting at the moment,” he added, acknowledging Australian troops embattled in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The invasion of Gallipoli by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on 25 April 1915 has become mythologised within Australia as the foundation for the nation, when Australia separated from Britain in terms of national identity.

Since 1916, Anzac Day has been a day of remembrance of the Anzacs and celebration of the Anzac spirit, encompassing Australian courage, ingenuity and mateship.

The traditional criticism of Anzac Day is that it glorifies war, creating “a holy trinity of men, war and nation,” said Dr Brad West, senior lecturer in sociology at Flinders University in Adelaide.

In the 1970s, backlash against the Vietnam War quelled participation in Anzac Day; but the 1980s signalled a change, with Australians deployed in the Persian Gulf and on peacekeeping missions.

“Australian[s] saw news stories of their servicemen and women and started to correlate them with their past companions in arms. They saw the spirit of Anzac in action, and pride began to swell,” wrote Megan McConnell in The Resurgence of Anzac Day.

Despite cultural shifts in commemoration and celebration, interest in Anzac Day has remained high.

Tens of thousands of participants march to and spectators congregate at cenotaphs across Australia and New Zealand; others attend local services, such as the service Spehr and I attended in Randwick, organised by the Clovelly and Coogee-Randwick RSL Sub-Branches.

However, a modern criticism of Anzac Day is that it is marred by drunken revelry

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, just hours after that morning’s service, 13 people were arrested for fighting outside a Coogee hotel, and a man died five days after a brawl with his brother outside the Clovelly RSL club where the deceased had been refused service.

The media sensationalises violent outbursts on Anzac Day, seemingly forgetting that they happen every day of the year without prejudice.

In recent years, Anzac Day has become more of a civic event with less emphasis on the military, allowing for a greater level of involvement.

“If you didn’t have a relative who was a veteran, it wasn’t your place to be involved. That has changed,” Dr West said.

And so, I – an American living in Sydney – felt the Anzac spirit as I contemplated the bravery and camaraderie of the Anzacs and all those who came after them.

Conversely, Tom Killen, 24, of Melbourne, who cites relatives in every war since the Boer War, respects the service of his ancestors and their contemporaries, but does not see the merit of dawn services.

“Most people just troll off the regular platitudes about ‘mateship’. It has almost nothing to do with the wars,” Killen said. “It’s cock-and-bull to have a service about it. It makes more sense just to have some beers [with mates] which really embodies ‘mateship’.”

Dr West noted that people are increasingly eschewing formal commemorations in favour of social rituals, which he contends are just as meaningful because people are “more comfortable and likely to be involved.”

This more cosmopolitan understanding has sparked changes not only within Australia, but also at Gallipoli. The trend of Anzac Day pilgrimages and travel to the Anatolian peninsula throughout the year has fostered a greater, more international understanding of Gallipoli, including the previously unexplored Turkish role in the campaign.

Recent generations “have a greater ownership over” the mythology associated with Gallipoli, Dr West said. “There’s a power in being on hallowed ground.”


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The hidden cost of war

 The RAND study found that approximately 300,000 men and women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan were already suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. That’s nearly one in every five returning veterans.

The mass-produced tragedies of war go far beyond combat deaths. Behind the abstract wall of RAND’s statistics is the immense real-life suffering of very real people. The toll includes the victims of violence and drunkenness and broken homes and suicides. Most of the stories never make their way into print. The public that professes such admiration and support for our fighting men and women are not interested.

A report from the US says that one in five returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from PTSD or depression.

The families of these returning soldiers pay an enormous price.

The country will also pay an enormous price as many of these soldiers will require treatment for years to come.

On ANZAC Day we pause to remember the fallen. We should also remember those that pay the hidden cost of war for the rest of their lives.

Lest We Forget

Ashley Zeldin: "Tom Killen, 24, of Melbourne, who cites relatives in every war since the Boer War, respects the service of his ancestors and their contemporaries, but does not see the merit of dawn services."

The dawn service is an important and growing part of ANZAC Day.

Every evening at sunset all RSL clubs pause for the Ode.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

A promise to remember the fallen is given to all who have given their life for our country.

One of the ways we can keep that promise is to attend the ANZAC day dawn service.

The Dawn Service on ANZAC Day has become a solemn Australian and New Zealand tradition. It is taken for granted as part of the ANZAC ethos and few wonder how it all started. Its story, as it were, is buried in a small cemetery carved out of the bush some kilometres outside the northern Queensland town of Herberton.

Dawn was when the ANZAC troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli and it is at dawn on every ANZAC day that we pause to remember the fallen of all wars

Army cadet Cherise Reyburn, 16, was in the honour guard at Upper Coomera. She said young people were now responsible for keeping the Anzac memory alive.

"We have to play our part, we should want to," Ms Reyburn said.

"It's our responsibility to be here for those who can't. For those who did it for us."

In the Sunshine Coast hinterland, more than 800 children joined the 3000-strong crowd during the ceremony at the Nambour Wall of Remembrance which was opened last year by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Nambour RSL sub-branch president Ray Stewart said he took comfort knowing young people were prepared to carry the Anzac spirit on to the next generation.

"Lots of young people. That's what we want to see," he said.

As dawn broke in the garrison city of Townsville, generations of families turned out at Anzac Memorial Park as The Last Post and Amazing Grace were played and kookaburras chortled in the background.

More than 8000 people attended the early morning service, with a further 5000 lining the march route.

Brendan Bunt, 10, from Cairns, wore his great-grandfather's medals during the ceremony. "My great-grandfather fought in the Boer War. It's important to remember about all the soldiers who fought for Australia," he said.

Townsville RSL president Rod McLeod, who served for 31 years in the army including two tours of Vietnam and in Somalia, said he was delighted to see so many generations of families attend the service.

"They're the legacy of our remembrance, so if the younger people take an interest now, when I'm dead it will still continue on," he said.

Services and wreath-laying ceremonies were held in numerous other towns yesterday, with solid turnouts in Ipswich, Toowoomba, Mt Isa, Cairns and Winton

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