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.

International Women’s Day, 2018

Why We Should Celebrate International Women’s Day.

As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.

“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.

While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.

This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:

Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.

It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.

It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.

It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.

It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.

These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.

That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.

I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.

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

Exhibiting the Courage to Care

Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.

We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II. 

Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them. 

  

The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same. 

Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.

I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.  

I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result. 

   

My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.

He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.

 It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.

Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather. 

I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did. 

I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre. 

Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander. 

There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.

All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.

  

ANZAC Day, 2015.

Hundreds of people attended the ANZAC Day memorial service at the cenotaph in Cobden for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. There were thousands at the dawn service in Warrnambool and hundreds of thousands at the dawn service in Melbourne. The grey clouds and steady rain did not deter them: instead, it seemed appropriate for a time of sombre reflection.

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In Cobden, the path to the cenotaph was lined by a guard of honour consisting of our Scouts and Girl Guides.

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A lone piper played in tribute to the fallen and in honour of the returned servicemen who were present.

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Hearing the New Zealand ode spoken in Maori was very powerful, even though most people there couldn’t understand a word of it. The speaker’s love for his country and thankfulness for the ANZACs and all those who served after them was evident through the emotion in his voice.

The Australian ode was spoken equally powerfully.It was impossible to remain unmoved by all the feelings of love for my country, gratitude for those who have served and the freedoms we still have because of them, and sadness for the loss of life on both sides. I made no effort to hide several tears that spilled down my cheek when they played The Last Post and during the period of silent observance before they played the Reveille.

When they played the instrumental version of the Australian national anthem there was no invitation to sing, but half the crowd sang anyway. I would have loved it if everyone joined in, but I guess the “I’m not singing in public” sentiment is still strong among many people.

It was beautiful to meet a little boy, Euan, who was incredibly proud to be wearing his great-grandfather’s war medals. I watched him stand attentively and proudly through the whole ceremony. He had obviously been made aware by his parents of the importance of the medals and the reason for the commemoration, because he took it all very seriously.

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I am so thankful that remembering those who served their country and their fellow Australians, New Zealanders and allies, often at the expense of their own lives, is so important to so many.

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“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.