ANZAC Day: It’s Part Of Who We Are.

ANZAC Day is more than just a very special day. It’s part of who we are.

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Today is ANZAC Day: the day on which Australians and New Zealanders stop to commemorate and reflect on the sacrifice of all those who served our countries – very often side by side – in World War I, and ever since.

113 years after the ANZAC forces stormed the beaches and clambered up the cliffs at Gallipoli, we stand in sombre silence and remember the enormous losses of life suffered on that day, and every other day, during major conflicts like the two World Wars. Every year, attendance at dawn services, ANZAC Day marches, and commemoration ceremonies around Australia grows, even though all the soldiers who fought in World War I, and many who fought in World War II, have passed away.

2018-04-25 12.13.17Peter Rock, the MC at this morning’s ceremony at the cenotaph in my local town, made a profound observation in the early moments of his opening speech: “Those who are surprised by the fact that ANZAC Day commemorations continue to draw record attendance understand very little of our national character.” He went on to speak about how and why we remember those who fought and sacrificed themselves for our freedom. Their bravery is renowned, but so is their commitment despite adversity, their mateship, and their love for their country. He’s absolutely right – those are qualities that have indeed become part of our national character. Our freedom and our mateship are the rewards of their courage and service.

That’s something my town has been reminded of in recent weeks. This time, our enemy was fire, and our battle was fought with water and fire retardant foam, not with bullets and mortars. Those who faced the danger and fought to keep the rest of us safe did so knowing they were putting themselves at risk, but that didn’t stop them. Behind the fire front, they were supported by others who worked tirelessly to supply and feed them, but also to care for those who had to flee from the fires, and for all those who were traumatised by them in various ways. Of course, it’s a very different scale to what was experienced by the soldiers who went to war, but the selflessness and the determination to serve and protect is the same.

Thankfully, no lives were lost in that particular war, although there were numerous casualties in terms of homes and livelihoods. It has been relentless and exhausting, yet our community has come together yet again to help, support, and defend. People may have lost their houses, but they are not homeless: we are their home, and we will make sure they have what they need to start over and keep going. In true Aussie fashion, our local community has been incredibly generous, as have many people from beyond the local area. There really is no better place to live.

Today’s ceremony was, as always, very well attended. Representatives from service groups, churches, local government organisations, school students and professional organisations laid wreaths in memory of the fallen. Families stood together, some wearing medals that belonged to fathers, uncles, or grandparents who served in the military and have since passed on. The flags of both Australia and New Zealand were flown at half mast until after the minute of silent reflection, and the national anthems of both countries were sung. Tears – whether of sorrow for the fallen, of thankfulness for the freedom we enjoy, of patriotic pride, or a combination of all those factors – were shed.

 

This afternoon, there’s a big concert being held on the local football ground, not just to raise funds for fire relief, but also to give some joy and celebration back to a community that has done some really hard yards over the past six weeks. Talents from both the local area and further afield will be performing. Local businesses are providing catering, entertainment, and every other service that’s needed.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that the locals are going to turn out in force to support that concert, and each other, because that’s what we do. We stick together in times of trouble, and we cheer each other on in our victories. In doing that on ANZAC Day, we will continue to remember the lessons we learned from the ANZACS and all our other diggers.

At the going down of the sun, just as we did in the morning, we WILL remember them.

A Favourite Poem: ‘The Man From Snowy River’ by A.B. Paterson

‘The Man From Snowy River’ is one of my life-long favourite poems.

There are many Australian poems and many well-known Australian poets.  Australian bush poetry, which brings to life the uniquely Australian landscape and the people who live there, has always been a prominent feature of Australian literature.

A.B. “Banjo” Paterson lived from 1864 until 1941. The author of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘The Man From Snowy River’ and ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ is still one of Australia’s most beloved poets.

Like many of Paterson’s poems and those by his contemporaries, ‘The Man From Snowy River’ tells of life in the high country of south-eastern Australia in the late 1800s, where large cattle stations, smaller farms, villages and horsemen featured strongly in the landscape.

It’s highly descriptive, but it is also a narrative poem – that is, a poem that tells a story. They often make use of the voices of a narrator and one or more characters to help deliver the story to the audience. A narrative poems usually follows a set rhythm pattern, and will generally use a regular rhyming pattern throughout a poem.

This is one of my life-long favourite poems. I hope you enjoy it.

The Man From Snowy River

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up-
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
“I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.”

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“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”

So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

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Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their sway,
Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side.”

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound in their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

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If you want to further enjoy this poem, you can listen to this wonderful reading of the poem by actor Jack Thompson, who played Clancy (of the Overflow) in the movie ‘The Man From Snowy River’ and has a very nice voice.

 

If you enjoyed this poem, please click “like” below, as it helps more people to see my post. Comments and feedback are always welcome. 

My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.

What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.

Wildfire.

It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.

 

Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.

 

We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.

 

ANZAC Day.

“They march to honour sacrifice…”

April 25th is ANZAC Day.

It’s the day that unites Australians and New Zealanders in remembering the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom and way of life by all Australian and New Zealander soldiers and  their allies, not just those who died at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

Last year, on ANZAC Day, I wrote this poem. I published it on my blog then, and it appears in my book, ‘Nova’.

I wanted to share it with you again today, because it’s so important that we remember exactly what our rights and freedoms as Australians have cost. They didn’t just happen. Time and time again, young men and women have served our nation by fighting for the freedoms and values that we hold so dear. Many have lost their lives. Many have been injured – and not just physically. And many families still grieve for those who never returned.

‘Remembrance’ does not tell the whole story. It’s a glimpse of men and women, young and old, military and civilian, gathered together on ANZAC Day to pay tribute to those who served, and particularly those who gave their lives for their country.

Our country.

My country.

I can never repay that debt. I am not expected to.
But I can pay my own tribute.

Lest We Forget.

Promo Nova Remembrance ANZAC DAY

PSA: How to proceed if we disagree.

Please, be very, very careful about what you defend.
More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.

I don’t take sides in politics.
I take sides in life.
 
I side against prejudice, hatred, family violence, oppression and injustice.
 
Therefore, I will state quite openly that I do not endorse Trump as POTUS. At the same time, I do not endorse Madonna’s comments either. There are Australian politicians and various other public identities that I do not endorse, for exactly the same reasons.
 
If something I post offends you because you don’t agree politically, stop and think before you jump down my throat and give me grief about it.
Am I saying “I hate this person”? No.
I’ll be saying “I don’t like this action or these words”.
They’re very different things.
Chances are, if someone on the other “side” did or said that, you’d criticise them for it, too.
 
Consider that I will call *anyone* out on bullying, lying to the nation/world, or inciting mistrust, hatred and violence. I will not accept misogyny, sexism, sizeism, ageism or racism as “humour” or “lighthearted”. 
Today, it might be someone you like. Tomorrow, it might be the person you don’t like.
 
Please, be very, very careful about what you defend. More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.
 
I am not your enemy unless you make that choice.
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A horrible chain of events occurred in Melbourne today. A man drove a car into a group of people, killing some and injuring others, including children.  Some of the injured remain in a critical condition. 

It wasn’t terrorism. Just an angry man in a car. 

Funny, though. Nobody has mentioned his religion, and there have been no popular calls for his particular ethnic group to explain or apologise for his actions. 

Nor should they be expected to. Ever. 

It’s his responsibility, not theirs. 

But you can bet your sweet patootie that it would be a different story if he were a Muslim or a recent immigrant from the Middle East. 

We’re not judgemental, though. Nor racist. Mmmkay?

Spotting the problem.

And again… there are public health alerts in Melbourne for a measles epidemic.

And again… there are public health alerts in Melbourne for a measles epidemic.  Seriously?

What part of “if you’re sick, stay home!” do people not understand?

After shaking my head at the lead story about two kids who have travelled internationally, gone shopping, and heaven knows what else for the past two weeks while they were highly contagious, I wrote this.

Look out, look out, the spots are about
Because some folks won’t immunise their kids,
But when the “did nots” find their kids have the spots

They’ll be sorry and wish that they did.
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I’ve heard all the arguments against vaccination, and I simply do not believe them.

As someone with compromised immunity due to a chronic illness, I am certainly glad that my parents made me have that needle that made me squawk for two seconds as a child. After 29 years of teaching, it’s probably the reason I’m still alive.

Love Trumps Hate. 

In the aftermath of the US election, it’s important to remember that there’s anger on both sides. Many, many people in the US, as well as elsewhere, feel marginalised and overlooked. For some, it’s been many years of actually being treated that way. For others, it’s hopes and dreams that have been kept out of reach by social forces that they haven’t been able to change or address. You only have to study a little bit of US history to see those things happening.

I think of this election as a pressure cooker – after a long time on “high”, the thing blew its lid off and left a heck of a mess when it did.

We must remember that people don’t always vote from a perspective of good policy. People vote because they long for a change, they yearn to be heard… or at least to feel as though they have been heard. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something as visceral as revulsion over what one candidate or the other has done or is accused of doing. There was a whole lot of all of that in this election.

This election in itself won’t fix anything. A new president, regardless of identity, is a figurehead. The real problems lie in the structure of the society under that leader. The anger and polarisation of the American society will only get worse while people engage in anger, vilification and distrust – of their leaders, yes, but particularly of each other.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t hold their government and its actions to account. I’m a very firm believer in doing that. But let’s not destroy each other in the process. Let’s ensure that our commentary is focused on what needs to happen, what needs to change, and how we can work together to achieve that.

Personally, I don’t think either candidate was a good choice for uniting the country, or solving the underlying problems. That has to come from the people, and it starts with one, then two, then more, choosing to build rather than tear down.
I pray for America, and I pray for the world that still looks to her for military and international leadership. I pray for Australia, because we’re guilty of all the same things.

Today, I choose love. I choose encouragement. I choose peace. I choose friendship. I choose positive over negative. I choose proactive over passive.

Will you join me? Will you work to make a difference, too?

An Armchair Spectator’s Perspective.

I love watching the Olympics on TV. The achievements of the competitors are amazing, and I can only imagine what it must feel like to be part of the atmosphere there with the cheering, whistling, and excitement of each event.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with the TV and radio commentators, though. I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but the Australian media seem to be frequently making remarks about our competitors not winning medals when they were “expected to”, with the implication that they’re letting us down somehow.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
Whose expectations and assumptions are we working on?
Most certainly, not mine.

I don’t think the competitors have those expectations, either. I have no doubt they have hopes and aspirations as they pursue their dreams of victory and success. They put everything into it that they can. Nobody goes in half-arsed and decides while competing that it doesn’t matter so much.

It’s important to remember that every single one of them is a champion for just getting there. They’ve beaten a bunch of other competitors who wanted to be there too. They’ve achieved personal bests and performed feats that are pretty much impossible for most of us ordinary folk.

Our commentators aren’t doing anyone any favours by adding more pressure with the weight of comments that imply that someone was expected to win, and didn’t. Going into the Olympics, there were reports of Australia hoping for a certain number of medals, particularly in certain events. It wasn’t the athletes or swimmers who expressed those goals, it was the media. And how the people “back home” interpret the results is strongly influenced by the ways in which the events and results are reported on and discussed in the media.

It’s easy to want to win everything. It’s easy to consider our own nation a “favourite” among others. We need to keep an open mind, though, and remember that everyone in other countries has the same hopes as we do for our competitors. Just because someone holds a world record doesn’t give them any entitlement to win that event again.  As Australian swimmer Bronte Barratt said on Thursday before the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay, “As we’ve proven many times before, if you’ve got a lane, you’ve got a chance, so we’ve got a great chance.”  She’s absolutely right. Everyone has an equal chance once they make the final.

As for the competitors, they want to do their best. Of course they’d love to win, and they’ll be disappointed when they don’t. But to be there is a victory in itself, and we shouldn’t let any commentator diminish that. And when the race is over, we should be praising and encouraging, not criticising.

 

The Day After Election Day. 

It seems, at this point in time, that Australia may have a hung parliament. 
The Greens, the Nick Xenophon team and other independents are likely to hold the balance of power. Some see that as unstable. 
I see that as the voice of ordinary Australians exerting itself over the clash and hullabaloo of the major parties fighting each other for power, often at the expense of the little guys. 

For as long as it remains a possibility, I am still hopeful of a change of leadership. If those standing up for compassion, justice and a positive response to the challenges of living in the 21st century are able to have a significant influence, even better.