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.
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.
Peter 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.
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.
My great-uncle, H.C.E MacAuley, was a member of 6 Div AASC. He was captured in Kalamata in April of 1941, and stayed undercover and on the run for more than twelve months during which he tried to make it to the Turkish border. He was recaptured in June 1942 and remained a POW until liberation by the 101 Airborne.
I was privileged to know this man as my beloved Uncle Charlie.
He had a great sense of humour and always made time for me. I used to go and visit him and my Auntie Marion on Saturday afternoons with my Grandpa. We would watch the cricket, football or other sports and talk and joke and laugh.
This was where I learned to love watching sports, where I the learned the rules of the different games, where I started to learn about politics, and where I first learned about the war.
Uncle Charlie would tell me stories about things he and his fellow soldiers did, but as I got older I realised how gentle and careful he had been with my young heart and mind.
He told me of events and characters of the war, but he never revealed to me its horror or brutality. He always told me how lucky I was to be Australian and explained that men like him fought so that we could remain the lucky country.
We cannot underestimate the degree to which we owe those soldiers our social and cultural freedom.
We cannot allow our society or our nation to forget the reasons for each war in which we have participated or the outcomes and consequences that each delivered.
I am proud of Uncle Charlie and every other person who has risked or sacrificed their own freedom to preserve that of their countrymen and of the oppressed.
I am thankful for their service.
I am thankful for my country and our prosperity and way of life compared to many other countries.
This ANZAC Day, I encourage everyone to remember and reflect on the freedoms the Australian military services have won on our behalf, and what it cost many of those men and women to achieve them.