Why a Minute of Silence Matters.

Why do we stop for a minute of silence on Remembrance Day?

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Today marks the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I.

It was called “The Great War” not because it was necessarily good, but because the world had never before known war, death or destruction on that scale.

It was supposed to be the “war that ends all wars”. If only it had been.

Yet the 20th century saw another “world war” and a seemingly never-ending succession of national and international conflicts that have continued into the 21st. As though World War I was not brutal enough, humans have worked hard over the past hundred years to develop even more efficient ways of killing each other.

Despite all that fighting, I live in a country that is free, democratic, and prosperous. That privilege is mine, and indeed every Australian’s, to a very large degree because of those who have fought to defend and preserve our freedom.

This morning, I paused at 11am, even though I was home on my own and there was already no noise. It was the intent of that minute of silence that was different.

We do not stop because it’s a nice thing to do, or because it’s expected of us. It cannot be a mere token, for that would be meaningless.

We do not stop for a minute’s silence to glorify the wars. We do not stop to rejoice in our own nation’s or our allies’ victories. We do not stop to continue the hate, nor to protest. It’s noot about what “side” we were on.

We stop to be thankful for those who fought. We remember tha in addition to the millions of soldiers, there were also doctors and nurses and various other support personnel who served. Many gave their lives, others came home damaged in one way or another. Not a single one of them was unaffected by what they experienced at war.

We stop to remember, because we must never allow ourselves to forget.

It is only by remembering the horrors of the past that we have any hope of not repeating them.

To all who served: I thank you from the bottom of my free and privileged Australian heart.

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.

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

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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Don’t knock the country town!

Occasionally I experience the discomfort of hearing people laugh, or at least smirk, at the town I live in because it’s small, rural, and offers less than the bigger cities.

It’s not surprising that this gets my hackles up.
Our little town of 1800 people has more to offer than most people realise.

We have doctors. We have our own pharmacy, fully stocked hardware store that also sells building supplies and pet supplies, and a newsagent/stationer that also sells lottery tickets, toys and gifts.

We have two boutique gift stores, a clothing store, lawyers and accountants, and a fantastic hairdresser.
We have a large supermarket, two banks, a top notch bakery, a cafe, an Asian dine in/takeaway restaurant, two other places for “fast food”, a real estate agent, a laundromat, and a butcher,
You can buy furniture, flooring, curtains, bedding and upholstery supplies.
There are two places to get fuel or and three where you can get service for your car. There’s a place that sells tools, trailers, and automotive/engineering supplies. You can get your tyres changed and your wheels aligned and balanced at three different places in town.
And that’s not even starting on the number of plumbers, electricians, and other tradies around.

800px-CobdenThompsonsHotel

There’s a pub for getting a drink or a good meal, or hosting a party or event in. There are also two rather lovely bed&breakfast establishments.

We’ve got a miniature railway, an historical dairy park, a go-kart racing track, a skate park, and a dam for fishing in, complete with geese and ducks. There are two big parks to play in. There’s a golf course, and a golf club that serves great meals and drinks.

We’ve got a footy/cricket oval, tennis courts and netball courts. The footy team go alright, and win their share of games and finals matches. We’ve also got both an outdoor and an indoor swimming pool!

We have a police station, and police officers who are active and involved in the community in positive and proactive ways. They’re helpful when you need them, they work to keep us all safe, and we don’t have to live in fear of harassment or prejudice. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a police shooting in this town.

The schools here are full of kids. Really full. There’s no danger of the schools being closed, or teachers being out of work.

We’re only ten minutes away from an excellent hospital, and 45 away from a really big one with all the fancy bits and pieces.

We have people of varying faiths and ethnic backgrounds, living in harmony with one another. Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, JWs and whatever other faiths exist here, all get along just fine, because we’re neighbours and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

People greet each other in the street, and say hello, and wave as they drive past. When someone is in need of help, they get helped. Our healthy collection of churches and service clubs make sure of that.

And we have Christmas music playing in the street – not just Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, either. They play songs about the birth of Jesus, and the wonder of God’s love for the world. It’s true that “Winter Wonderland” was slightly out of place in yesterday’s summer temperatures, but I know I’m not the only one who yearns to be back in a place they love where it is winter at the moment, or who is, in reality, dreaming of a white Christmas.

Christmas is celebrated in town with activities in the local park, followed by Carols by Candlelight, where hundreds of people gather to sing and celebrate together, on the Sunday evening before Christmas.

We also have Easter celebrations where the churches in town join together and worship Christ as Saviour in public, and plant a cross in the park to remind people that the true meaning of Christmas is actually Easter.

We also celebrate Spring with a big town festival, including parades, art exhibitions, rubber duck races on the dam, and lots of other merriment.

Nobody is offended. Nobody hates on others because they don’t agree. People just keep on smiling, and waving, and saying hello, because that’s what we do.

This town should be the envy of anyone who lives in a place where even one of those things doesn’t happen.

On top of all that, we’ve got fresh air, beautiful farmland scenery, rivers and creeks, and the amazing Great Ocean Road and beaches galore within an hour’s drive.

People shouldn’t be knocking my town. They’re just jealous and don’t even realise it.

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.

  

Give “booing” the boot.

I support the rights of sports spectators everywhere to not like everyone on the field. Liking everyone is not compulsory.

I do not accept that they have a right to call names, boo, hiss, swear, curse or insult anyone who takes the field / court / cricket pitch, or anyone else for that matter.
I’ve seen plenty of this behaviour directed at footballers and participants in various other sports in my time, and it sickens me. If they weren’t among the best, they wouldn’t be out there.
The colour of someone’s skin, their racial or religious heritage, or their sexual preferences have absolutely nothing to do with it.

I support the rights of all people to work in their workplace without harassment, vilification, or threats of harm. That applies to footballers as well as mechanics, teachers, doctors, nurses and everyone else. If you wouldn’t accept that treatment at work, don’t expect anyone else to. If you would feel threatened with hundreds of people “booing” at you, don’t expect others not to.

To belittle, mock or harass someone is childish. To support that kind of behaviour among people who should know better is worse.  For heaven’s sake, we’re not all six years old.

Yes, sometimes people do things that we don’t like. Sometimes people do things that they regret. Sometimes, one’s actions end up having consequences that they certainly did not expect. That’s life. We’re all human, and nobody’s perfect.

I think it’s about time a lot of Australians took a long, hard look at themselves, got over their arrogance, and learned to play nicely with others, both on and off the field.

Outrageous outrage.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision in recognition of gay marriage, I’ve noticed a few interesting things.

The flood of rainbow coloured profile pictures on Facebook and other social media and the parallel flood of statements in support of marriage equality for all suggest at first that there is stronger social support for marriage equality than the Australian government seems to believe.  I wonder how many of the people I know splashing rainbows around this weekend have written to any Australian politicians voicing their support.

All those rainbows have also prompted a wave of people bemoaning the loss of their “Christian” right to object or to openly state that they do not support gay marriage.
What nonsense.
Nobody is being asked to live against their morals. Nobody is having their personal ethics persecuted or the security of their family endangered.

In fact, if gay people are allowed to get married, I’m pretty sure that the only personal lives affected will be their own.  For heterosexual couples, kids at school, and Rover the family dog, absolutely nothing will change. They can still go on doing what they’ve always done. So can your church, mosque or local football club.

In terms of the Australian constitution, nothing will change. The Marriage Act would change, but that isn’t going to annul or change anyone else’s marriage. And please, don’t start bleating about “undermining the sanctity of marriage”.  A 50% divorce rate in Australia, the chronic problem of domestic violence, and a popular culture full of dysfunctional families and parents, usually fathers, made out to look like idiots by smart-arsed kids has done more to undermine the sanctity of marriage than legalising gay marriage ever will.   If heterosexuals want to be precious about their marriages, it’s about time more of them started treating their marriages as precious.

I fully understand that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is immoral.  No argument there.
However, what most of the predominantly Christian outrage against gay marriage conveniently overlooks is that the Bible teaches that there are many practices and lifestyles that are immoral: anyone who is dishonest, greedy, prejudiced, cruel, selfish, rude, atheist, or sexually active outside of marriage is just as guilty in terms of what the Bible teaches.  Let’s not even start on different religions. And judging other people? Oops. There are plenty of people in our world who are guilty of that.
All of these things are called immoral in the Bible. Yet all of these other people are fully entitled, as consenting adults, to marry the person they love. That is, of course, as long as it’s a heterosexual marriage.  Anything else would be… well… sinful.  And we can’t have that, can we?

The Bible wastes no words in condemning those who oppress the poor, the vulnerable, the widow or the hungry. The Old Testament is very direct in that regard. Ironically, though, we don’t hear people raging against the relationships or marriages of the Australian politicians who are actively involved in locking up asylum seekers in small neighbouring third-world nations, do we?  No,  because that would be stupid. So would opposing the marriage of Joe Schmoe and Mary Bloggs down the road because they don’t believe in God at all, or they worship the fairies at the bottom of their garden. In fact, I do believe it’s been a very long time since anyone living in Australia was publicly stoned to death for “living in sin”, but that’s immoral too.

My point is that it seems that marriage is an option for everyone except gays and lesbians, even though everyone is flawed or immoral in one way or another.

Nobody is suggesting that churches or individual pastors or priests who hold convictions and teachings against gay marriage should be forced to perform the ceremonies. Nobody is suggesting that because something becomes legalised, everyone has to do it.  Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are both quite legal, yet many people choose to do neither. It’s quite legal to be a nudist if someone wants to be, but most people don’t practise that lifestyle, either.

It’s high time that we all just got over ourselves and treated one another with respect and kindness.  If someone wants to marry, let them.  If they don’t want to marry, don’t make them. And for heaven’s sake, stop pretending that someone else’s marriage or relationship has anything at all to do with yours.