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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Terrorism in Toowoomba

Pic courtesy Toowoomba Chronicle

It's refreshing (and unexpected) to find the local paper calling this for what it is - Terrorism.

It's less unexpected to see it reported as arson in the News Corp media.

Obviously, as far as the MSM is concerned, only Muslims are capable of terrorism.

From the article -

I would like to be wrong - but I suggest to you, dear reader, that if the attack had been made on a different building on Friday morning, and if the perpetrator had a Muslim background - the headline would have read something like, "Terror reaches Toowoomba."
When somebody who is not of Islamic faith conducts an attack on a community or a building of significance, it is described as an "isolated incident of arson" - but when somebody of Islamic faith commits a similar crime it is described as "terror".

Monday, 20 April 2015

Suffer the Little Children

Pic courtesy Daily Life
There's been a great deal of media recently about the treatment of children in immigration detention centres.

Plenty of heat, and very little light has been generated, with opinion divided between those who believe that it's OK for kids to be banged up with their parents in these places for indeterminate periods of time, and those who believe that it's not.

The policy is bipartisan. There have been differences in its application in the sense that under Labor, there were many more kids in detention, whereas with the Coalition in power, there are far fewer, but they're in these gulags for much longer, and long enough to be severely traumatised.

It's rationalised justified as being cruel to be kind. Apparently almost anything can be justified in the name of border security.

Then there's a different issue - immigration as it applies to children with disabilities.

Another more insidious rationalisation is used in relation to immigration and kids with disabilities. The justification (although it's rarely aired) is that caring for them is too expensive. Basically on that basis they're simply not welcome in Australia.

This justification is rarely discussed in the public space by those in government. I'd venture to suggest this lack of publicity is quite deliberate. Most Australians, if you stopped them in the street and asked them for an opinion, would be dismayed - if not horrified - by the assumptions contained in that justification.

Apart from the fact that the policy devalues people with disabilities, it ignores the fact that it is completely out of step with pretty much all Australian public policy which bears on disability.

Put beside anti-discrimination legislation, which has been around since 1992 in this country, it appears bizarre. Kids with disabilities are included in regular schools, there is universal and basic consideration of disability access and there are a range of commissions and agencies who raison d'etre is to ensure fair and reasonable treatment of people with disabilities.

It does not add up. To quote this article in Daily Life -

If Vincent van Gogh, Ludwig van Beethoven, Helen Keller or Frida Kahlo were alive today and in a moment of wild-eyed madness decided to permanently migrate to Australia, would we accept them?
I suppose you could argue that they’re highly skilled and their social contributions are quite possibly monumental. But judging by the requirements of Australian migration law the odds are against them. Why? Because they all had disabilities: Van Gogh suffered depression, Beethoven was deaf, Keller was blind and Kahlo had polio.

The issue emerges frequently, and it must create enormous distress for those involved. Yet it's not the subject of serious debate in this country.

We continue to turn a blind eye to abject cruelty, operationalised in policies driven by the same evil set of values that led to the extermination of Gypsies, Jews and people who were called "unfit" in Hitler's Germany.

It's time to change it, and treat immigrant families with members with disabilities the same as everyone else.

Update -

Tyrone Sevilla has been allowed to stay in Australia, at least temporarily. 
Perhaps common sense has prevailed...........

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...