Monday, April 25, 2011

Anzac Day 2011 reflections

Today is Anzac Day, a day that for Australians and New Zealanders is full of significance, a day when we celebrate the sacrifices made by our soldiers during conflict. The reason why we celebrate on this day, is because on April 25, 1915, our soldiers arrived a Gallipoli, the first time that we had fought not as British soldiers, but as Australians.

The word Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, and this is a day that we share proudly with our New Zealand comrades. For all the jokes that are made at each other's expense, the sporting rivalry, and more, we know that in a time of need that New Zealand will stand by Australia's side and vice versa. This year, this was evidenced by the support and mateship that was shown in the aftermath of the terrible natural disasters that affected both of our countries.

The focus of the day is on all those who have served - from World War I to those who are serving now in conflicts around the world.

This year, in honour of Aussie Author Month's fundraising for the Indigenous Literacy Project, I wanted to acknowledge the part that indigenous Australians have played. Indigenous diggers signed up to fight for this country in World War I and subsequent conflicts, even though at the time they weren't even recognised as citizens, and they or their families did not receive the same benefits as their white Australian mates they had served along side when their war ended, either on their return to Australia or when they were killed in action. When visiting the Sydney Museum last month, I was reminded that it was only 4 years before I was born that indigenous Australians received the right to vote and to be citizens. I guess I like to think that we are a lot further ahead in these kinds of issues than we really are, and sometimes it is good for a non indigenous Australian, like myself, to be reminded of these things.

When I was trying to think about what I would write about this year, one of the things that I kept coming back to was the song Only Nineteen by Redgum. I remember being moved by the lyrics when the song first came out in the early 1980s and it still moves me now. Whilst the lyrics are specifically written about a young soldier in Vietnam, the sentiments are relevant to all conflicts I would have thought. I hope you will take a couple of minutes to listen to the song, but first here are the lyrics:

Only Nineteen - Redgum

Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing-out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets.
The sixth battalion was the next to tour, and it was me who drew the card.
We did Canungra, Shoalwater before we left.

And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean.
And there's me in my slouch hat with my SLR and greens.
God help me, I was only nineteen.

From Vung Tau, riding Chinooks, to the dust at Nui Dat
I'd been in and out of choppers now for months.
But we made our tents a home, VB and pinups on the lockers
And an Asian orange sunset through the scrub.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I stil can't get to sleep?
And night-time's just a jungle dark and a barking M16?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only ninteen.

A four week operation when each step could mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself.
But you wouldn't let your mates down til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about something else.

Then someone yelled out "Contact!" and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours, then a Godalmighty roar
Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon,
God help me, he was going home in June.

I can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row.

And the Anzac legends didn't mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real.
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn't even feel
God help me, I was only nineteen.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only nineteen.

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

Lest we forget.


  1. A beautiful post, Marg,and the song made me quite tearful. I agree with all your sentiments, it is a special day for all Kiwis and Aussies and for me, a bit more, because it was also my Dad's birthday.

  2. Oh, I remember when that song came out. We were living in Melbourne at the time and it struck such a chord with me. It was always the line about the Channel 7 chopper that most got to me, I think because that was something I could see and hear in the sky myself and it brought the whole song so much closer. I never much liked the noise of it, so I would imagine how much worse it would be for a soldier like the one if the song. Thank you for reminding me of it this ANZAC day. (I'm off to iTunes to get my own copy of the song.)

  3. Marg, just a quick note to add an extra thank you.

    Many years ago (early 1990 I think) I travelled across from Melbourne to Perth with friends who were travelling back home. Many tapes (remember those?) were played on the trip that introduced me to some of my favourite albums (I particulary remember Paul Kelly's So Much Water, So Close to Home) but there was one I never tracked down. Over on iTunes, looking for Redgum, I found it. It was John Schumann's Etched in Blue and finally, over 20 years later, I have a copy. There are so many good memories tied up in that album that I am so delighted to have it. Now I shall go back and get that copy of I Was Only Nineteen that I was intending to buy originally.

  4. Oh, Kerry! Awesome connection - glad to have helped you out! I remember tapes. I might even still have a few in this house somewhere! It was the Channel 7 line that used to get me too, but today it has been the line about the Anzac legends don't mention the mud and blood and tears. I think we do moreso now, but it is easy to gloss over those and not concentrate on them as much.

    Thanks Cat, and happy birthday to your Dad.

    Thanks Maree!

  5. This song always gets me misty eyed my uncle was a volunteer and my dad narrowly missed out on being conscripted. And even though my uncle came back It affected him for the rest of his life. The effect on families can't be overlooked either. I remember listening to an interview of an Australian major and his daughter. As kids they had to tip toe around him if he nodded off, no surprising dad on Christmas morning, and he talked of being home sitting in the park with his family but constantly on the alert scanning the tree line for imaginary enemies.

  6. WOw this is a really powerful post and song. I've been reading a lot of books based in the trauma of war, lately, and it's really quite heavy stuff. Thank you for this beautiful post!

  7. A Walk in the Green Light (I Was Only 19) always struck a chord with me.My mother's cousin stood on a land mine the day man walked on the moon, and while his name was not Frankie, it always makes me shiver.They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

  8. I had never heard of Anzac Day before, and thank you for sharing this very interesting and informative post with us. I also really liked the lyrics that you shared. Thanks!

  9. I loved this post Marg - and thank you for writing it! As an ex-pat, it's so easy to forget these important dates, and Anzac Day is one I always "misplace". No one here knows what an Anzac is - in all senses of the word - and I miss that shared knowledge/community feel you get when home.

    And wow, I remember that song! :D

  10. To find the grave of my grandfather at Hill 60 at Gallipoli was the object of a weekend visit from Istanbul.We had booked through a tour operator there but a few days from departure from Sydney,I contacted them top confirm they would take us to Hill 60 and they said they do not go to that part of the peninsular on their tours.I cancelled right away and, luckily,in that weekend's newspaper's travel section was a letter from a person who had booked with directly in Istanbul so I emailed them and was told they could take us to Hill 60 at no extra cost.A coffee break half way after 2 1/2 hours allowed us to stretch our legs. On the final part of the 5 hour journey,a tape was played outlining the history of the Dardenelles-Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Upon arrival at the Maydos waterside restaurant we were given lunch on the terrace wirth a wonderful view across the Dardenelles then we were off to the Brighton Beach site (one beach south of Anzac Cove and we were shown large maps of the area nd our guide explained the topography and battles shown on the map and the sites we would be visiting that afternoon.After the rather complete and highly interesting afternoon tour which included a visit to the local museum, we were taken back to restaurant and boarded a cruiser for the short crossing of the Dardenelles to Cannakale.. This in itself was a bonus as one could view the Gallipoli peninsular and grasp the view which eluded so many in rthe 1915 campaign when only a few Australian soldiers reached the peaks and saw the Dardenelles which we were now crossing,only to be beaten back by the Turks under the leadership of Attaturk later reforming President of Turkey.Included in the tour was a Sunday morning tour of Troy- that most elusive and explored city which Homer wrote about some 1200 years BC with Helen, the beauty being kidnapped by Paris and the resulting Trojan War which saw Troy VI destroyed only to be rebuilt at least 5 more times! There is a wooden horse there now but the original is said to have been a seige engine. driver and a guide to go north to Hill 60 to find my grandfather's grave. Through some wheat fields and onto a low knoll and here we were- the first persons to ever visit his grave, front row extreme right hand end.Only 44 graves, some 930 all buried in common grave, the action was made up of left-overs from various regiments,Aussies,New Zealanders ,British in this, the last main battle of the campaign.They were all wiped out in 2 days. An Australian flag, some gum leaves and a red poppy we left on the grave stone- it is a lonely place,sad and gut wrenching when one sees the absolute wastage in human lives-Back to Istanbul on the coach with memories and a feeling that we had, at least fulfilled one of life's ambitions!