It is always celebrated on the 25th April and we get a holiday from work for the occasion.
There was not a great tradition of celebrating ANZAC day in our family, as my father never went to war. However, it seemed you could never miss it completely. What follows is my history of ANZAC day.
As children in Primary School in the 1950s every ANZAC eve , broadcast through the school, was the story of Simpson and his donkey. I suppose they thought it would appeal to children, a touching story - with animals – of heroism in the face of battle. The story of Simpson and his donkey is still vivid in my memory to this day.
When we lived in Woods Point in the late 50s we watched the returned soldiers march down the main street. There was a man called Andy Hut who was reputed to be a VC. We thought his name was amusing because he actually lived in a hut, just down the road from the hospital where we lived. Just outside his hut was an enormous Sycamore tree. I remember loving the little helicopter blade seedpods spinning down from the tree in autumn.
Not to be outdone by the march, we had our own monument down by the river. It was an outcrop of stones amid the blackberry bushes (which were rife in that area) and we’d found a large stone to be a plaque. On it we inscribed, with sandstone, the words “Lest We Forget” and we’d stand there and salute it.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, celebrating ANZAC day was out of favour with the youth of the day. We were, after all, protesting against another war (Vietnam), so the glorification of war as represented by ANZAC day, was anathema. Just before ANZAC day in 1971, the word PEACE was painted in large white letters on the pillars of the north portico of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. It caused outrage among the establishment, particularly the RSL. It was hard to remove, and the letters remained faintly visible for over twenty years.
In spite of this attitude on youth’s part, in my second last year of university, Australian History was one of my majors. It was a very interesting course mostly due to one history lecturer, L L Robson. Towards the end of the course, Robson – a flamboyant and entertaining speaker – delivered a lecture on the first AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) in particular, on the conflict at Gallipoli. It was a splendid dissertation– moving and inspirational. We gave Robson a standing ovation after it was over, the only time in my memory that a lecturer was accorded such an honour.
There was of course the film Gallipoli, made in 1981 about the first AIF. It has that extraordinary sequence at the end where the brave Aussie soldiers go over the top into death and the athletic boy runs, arms outstretched, until bullets cut him down.
1980s to present
Of course attitudes changed after the Vietnam War was over. Eric Bogle wrote the magnificent song “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” which I used to play every ANZAC day. It’s an anti-war song of great emotive power with cutting lyrics.
The youth of today travel as far a field as Turkey to celebrate ANZAC day on the beach at Gallipoli, something we wouldn’t have considered doing back in the 60s.
So ANZAC day, despite all, remains important in Australian cultural history. The old soldiers get fewer and fewer each year, but I dare say there will be more wars to fill the dwindling ranks of returned soldiers marching from the Shrine.
These days I just enjoy the break from work.
Tomorrow I shall just relax and enjoy myself. In the evening we are going to a dinner and show at a new, for me, venue. The artists we are to see are Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Fats Kaplin and Kieran’s son Lucas. They are wonderful performers - singer/songwriters from Nashville. More about them later…with pictures.
PS: How could I forget!
I was talking with a friend tonight on the phone and he mentioned ANZAC Biscuits - the equivalent fare for ANZAC Day as hot cross buns are for Easter.
So here's a recipe for them. They are easy to make - we children could make them - and they are quite delicious, though I must admit I haven't made them for 40+ years or so. I found this recipe in an old cookery book called Good Housekeeping World Cookbook which B bought for 10 cents from the Salvation Army many years ago. I can't remember putting chopped walnuts in the mix, but all the rest of the ingredients sound right.