Saturday, 25 April 2015


Dad in New Guinea (Front row - second from left).

On the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, everyone is making declarations about their understanding of the meaning of ANZAC.

So who am I to presume to be different?

Frankly, my association with and view of ANZAC Day has changed substantially through the years.

When I was a kid, it meant joining my mates in marching a short distance to a ceremony in front of memorials in bush townships. My dad would also march wearing his medals.

When I was that age (primary school) dad was working his way up the seniority ladder as principal of a number of small bush schools.

Dad was a returned airman (RAAF - New Guinea) and an RSL member, and as the local schoolie he was always involved in the organisation of the day. I don't recall him holding any great enthusiasm for the commemoration, but he was always there - almost with a sense of resignation.

He never went drinking after the ceremony as I recall. Many of his contemporaries did, and I remember as a kid, feeling indignant about this. To me it seemed disrespectful.

Perhaps it was this that caused me to lose interest and become hostile to the concept, as for a time, in teenage and my twenties I did just that.

When I was called up, I hadn't been to an ANZAC Day commemoration for years, and this didn't change after Vietnam. If anything, my experience as a conscript reinforced my rejection of the myth.

I also sensed the hostility at the time to Vietnam veterans who were vilified by both the Left and Right of politics - the Left for fighting - the Right for "losing". I remember wondering why Gallipoli (a defeat and withdrawal) was glorious, and Vietnam shameful. Those in the community less politically aware compromised by indifference.   

I had also become intensely aware of the credibility gap between the myth and the reality.

In 1985, I was the Principal of Petrie Special School (a school that no longer exists). The local RSL presented a cheque to the school, and I was asked to accept it at a ceremony on ANZAC Day.

The local secretary discovered I was Vietnam veteran and asked me why I wasn't marching. I didn't really have an answer, and it would have looked churlish not to, so for the first time in years, I participated.

The Welcome Home march happened a few years later, and the attitude to Vietnam veterans changed from disregard and hostility to grudging respect.

 Since then, I have always marched. It means more to me if I can join the men from my section and platoon, and that's not possible at home, so I sometimes travel to Brisbane, and on one occasion drove to Sydney.

It is to me, and to these men, an important day. Yet we are acutely conscious of the fickle nature of community support for veterans.

Last night I watched a documentary about the Australian Light Horse in World War one. There was a great deal of grief and bitterness expressed by members of this renowned unit when their strong and loyal horses were put down prior to returning home.

The cost of returning the horses could not, apparently, be justified. Of the 39000 who served with the AIF, only one Waler is known to have been returned to Australia; "Sandy", the mount of Major-General W T Bridges, an officer who was killed at Gallipoli in May 1915.

A member of the Light Horse was quoted as saying that there was no consideration of cost in the decision to send the horses to Egypt in the first place, so why was it an issue after they had done their duty?

I recalled having to pay my air fare from Sydney to Brisbane on my return to Australia in 1970, whereas the army was quite content to fly me and my compatriots to Singleton on callup.

Not much, it seems, has changed - whether it's soldiers or horses. Both remain collateral.

So on ANZAC Day, let's continue to honour the dead. But let's also continue to fight like hell for the living. Based on the history, we can't assume community or government will do that.


Unknown said...

Great photo Bob! I've never seen it before.

Unknown said...

Great photo Bob! I've never seen it before

Chris Meibusch said...

Thanks Bob

Chris Meibusch said...

Thanks, Bob

Anonymous said...

Is that your uncle second from the left back row?

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