Anzac Day 2022

Over the years I have attempted to write an anti-war themed post each Anzac Day, inspired initially by an essay in Overland by author Jane Rawson – Don’t Mention the War – which no doubt I came across in her now seemingly discontinued blog. So these are my efforts to date –

2021 Stand Easy. Stories written by Australian soldiers in WWII
2020 The Black Line. Why don’t we celebrate Aboriginal resistance to occupation.
2019 A Day to Remember. Vietnam Moratorium Day, 1970
2018 Randolph Bourne vs The State, H.W. Morton. Anarchist anti-war theory
2017 Internee 1/5126, Robert Paterson. My family’s own WWI internee
2016 Miles Franklin’s War. Where she served and her fierce anti-war sentiments
2015 To mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The Anzac myth

It seems that what I had in mind to write this year, an overview of the Anzac myth, I already covered in 2015. Though given that not even Melanie read it (WG, as she so often did in the early days, shepherded that particular orphan through) perhaps I should just put it up again.

At its heart is this quote from historian Marilyn Lake: “The myth of Anzac with all its imperial, masculinist and militarist baggage has yet become our creation story.”

In 1915 the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp – hence ANZAC – were with Allied (British and French) forces storming the beaches at Gallipoli, the Turkish peninsula guarding the entrance to the Black Sea. First Lord of the Admirality (ie. Secretary for the Navy) Winston Churchill conceived the assault as a second front in the war against Germany – then and for years bogged down in the trenches of France and Belgium – which would lead to the taking of the Turkish capital, Constantinople.

The Turks famously saw off the Allied forces and Churchill resigned in disgrace.

The significance for Australia was that this was our ‘blooding’, our first engagement as a nation in war. War correspondents led by CEW Bean and Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert) invented the myth of the brave, larrikin soldier which has been enthusiastically promulgated ever since, an extension of the legend of the 1890s, of the independent, ‘lone hand’, bushman.

Farcical when you consider what a suburban lot we are, and were back then; our ready submission to today’s surveillance state; our ongoing demand for strong leadership (the horror of ‘hung’ parliaments).

MST pointed this out some years ago, but what does it say about us that all our heroes are a) men and b) failures. Anzacs – lost; Burke & Wills – died of starvation while camped at an oasis; Ned Kelly – hanged; and so on.

Russel Ward, in The Australian Legend (1958), while noting that volunteers came in equal numbers from the city and the bush, puts the case for the independent, bushman soldier, quoting Bean –

The Australian, one hundred to two hundred years hence [and astonishingly, we are already one hundred years hence], will still live with the consciousness that, if he only goes far enough back over the hills and across the plains, he comes in the end to the mysterious, half-desert country where men have to live the lives of strong men.

CEW Bean, Official History of Australia in the War 0f 1914-18

and continues, citing novelists Eric Lambert and Tom Hungerford, one of the Left and one of the Right, whose works both highlight “a very strong resentment of the whole system of officers”, which Bean too had noted.

For a while it looked like Anzac Day had reached its use-by date. By the end of the 1970s America, including us, had been defeated in Vietnam, and in the streets of Washington, Melbourne, Sydney; Whitlam had modernised the 1950s welfare state; Anzac Day was on the way out. So what changed over the next couple of decades? Two things, or three maybe – returned servicemen from Vietnam were encouraged to be angry about their treatment as pariahs, and of course gained strength from a similar movement in the US, and from the leadership of returned serviceman, Liberal leader and State Premier, Jeff Kennett; the Right, thoroughly beaten in student politics, and then through all the years of the Hawke/Keating Labor government, surprisingly fought back; neo-Liberalism (Thatcherism, Reganism) became the new orthodoxy.

And it’s hard to know whether this was symptom or cause, but the threat from the far-right in the person of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation led Liberal Prime Minister John Howard to release his inner-racist and inner-jingoist and those particular genies are not going back in the bottle.

It will be interesting to see how Anzac Days progress over the next couple of decades. On the one hand our school children are receiving US-style “values” indoctrination; but on the other, Vietnam ‘vets’ are getting old and it doesn’t appear veterans of our ill-fated ventures into the Middle East are coming through to replace them.

A recent story on the ABC site, RSLs lack young veterans for Anzac Day events, says “The future of Anzac Day events is at risk due to a lack of young veterans signing up to volunteer with RSL sub-branches”. The average age of volunteers is over 55 and “most” members are in their 70s or 80s.

So, do I think this matters? Should we keep ‘celebrating’ Anzac Day after all the old soldiers are gone? No, of course not. It was designed to get people behind the war effort, and that’s its purpose still, to normalize the spending of billions by politicians on their ongoing war fantasies.

Next year, if I remember, I might review Roger McDonald’s novel of Gallipoli, 1915. Both book and tv series made an impression on me at the time, 1979, though what I remember best is the young woman drowning.


RSL Returned Serviceman’s League. Checks – Returned and Services League of Australia. Obviously the best they could managed de-gendering-wise. (Wiki)

The image at the top is, I think, of a statue at Gallipoli, representing a Turkish soldier giving aid to an Australian. Searches: Respect to Mehmetçik Monument

see also: The Resident Judge, The life and thought of an Australian pacifist Eleanor May Moore 1875-1949

26 thoughts on “Anzac Day 2022

  1. Great follow up post Bill to that 2015 one! Glad I was the one to shepherd it out of its orphan potential. I will be doing a somewhat Anzac Day related MM tonight, though the topic will not be war!

    Having lived through the early rah-rah and then the downplaying and now the re-invigorated rah-rah about Anzac Day, I enjoyed your brief summary of that circular trajectory. (Can a trajectory be circular?)

    I haven’t read 1915, but I should.

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    • I think the trajectory might actually be a sine wave, which is what a circle looks like over time. I think the trajectory of everything human might be a sine wave. Except maybe existence which looks like ending some time soon. I see today’s Age and no doubt SMH blames the reinvigoration on the movie Gallipoli, but I think the movies were just symptoms, and the cause was the increasing confidence and sense of injustice of the men who fought in Vietnam. That they were dupes and idiots to go in the first place is another story. Probably what makes them so angry.

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      • Haha Bill, I was nodding my head to your “everything human” being a sine wave, and then you made me laugh (or, is it cry?) I think you are right about redressing the treatment of those who went to Vietnam being the major trigger which allowed all the cupboard – hmm, what – to emerge again.

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  2. Yes, a trajectory can be circular. Every satellite launched into space ends up on a (nearly) circular trajectory.

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    • I get what the writer is saying about branding. He doesn’t mention though with his War Memorial attendance figures what is apparently quite prominent branding by the defence manufacturers, Boeing et al, who are paying for the Memorial’s refurbishment as a war toys theme park.

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      • But from what I gather that’s a recent development (I take it you saw the piece about that in the Guardian today)… and this piece is from 2018 and written by a branding/marketing agency, so I’m sure they’re not going to cut off their noses to spite their face etc etc

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  3. I understand your feelings. I wouldn’t mind a quiet recognition of those people in the wars but the activities around ANZAC day are over the top. WWI was more than 100 years ago and the government still goes on about it as though it were last year. I am especially annoyed that they took money away from Victoria’s art galleries and major library to spend on upgrading the War Memorial. (There was an article about that awhile back in the Monthly magazine.) So wrong. Just a distraction away from other things such as Indigenous issues and Refugees. I appreciate the efforts of my grandfather in AMerica being in France during WWI, and my dad in WWII. I grew up in a military family but it is not my life. I appreciate the sacrifices made by these soldiers but let’s give it a rest.

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    • This is a government of very odd priorities, though they seem consistent in defunding the arts and universities. (And let us not discuss – not here anyway – a submarine fleet now FORTY years in the future. That will terrify the Chinese)

      Peter Dutton has made clear today that the government’s sole objective for Anzac Day is to normalize preparations for war. Why, when we would so obviously lose within days I cannot imagine.

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  4. Full support for your sentiment about ANZAC Day jingoism – I loathe it. But I don’t imagine the ANZACkery is going to fade away any time soon, either. More and more we’re following the US lead, putting service people on a pedestal (“Thank you for your service” to anyone in uniform) but at the same time treating individual service people like crap (see also appallingly high suicide rates).
    Funny that you remembered my line about Australians loving a loser – I think I also said it to Robert Drewe once, completely forgetting about his Ned Kelly book. Oops. He was too polite to take me to task (or possibly too stunned that I could be so stupidly rude!).

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    • I’ve spent my whole life with my foot in my mouth. People just seem to blink and then ignore it. I haven’t read Drewe’s weekly column for a long time now but he seems a nice man, though his talents are wasted writing about going down to the shops.

      Psyche. living in Darwin, knows quite a few Australian servicemen. Afghanistan was a horrible place to serve and it seems to me we burnt a lot of soldiers out and then discarded them. No doubt all the crimes disclosed by the BRS trial will be glossed over, as they have been since the Anzacs first landed in Palestine, prior to Gallipoli.

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  5. I also flipped back through your posts hoping to get a sense of when we became blogging friends; however, I know there was a period when I was so busy with teaching that I didn’t read all the posts that came to me. I stuck almost exclusively to book reviews, and not even all of those. But you’ve got at least a seven year friendship with Sue! I believe the two of you have met in person? When did you start your blog?

    I feel so guilty because in the last two weeks I keep reading what a terrible influence the U.S. is on other countries, and the way we behave is just something I live with that feels normal. I’m not a Christian, but I hadn’t realized that the U.S’s version of Christianity is tied up with working and producing — basically consumerism and capitalism. I never think about how other countries thank anyone in uniform for their service. In the U.S., we might ask, “Why wouldn’t you?” And then I got thinking about students I’ve had from other countries, in particular one gent from South Korea who returned to his country to join the military, which every young Korean male does. Would you thank every guy in South Korea for the service? Unlikely. The U.S. is also struggling with hero worship in the form of statues and arguments over how we interpret what a hero is. Can you have slaves and be a hero? Or cheat on your wife and be a hero? Or murder a indigenous people and be a hero? Etc. The other one I’ve been thinking of lately is the American work culture, which I wrote about in my post on Little Women. I’m starting to realize, Bill, that everything the U.S. has normalized is something you would be or are against.

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    • I haven’t met Sue in person.The closest I got was I was in Canberra one time and we were texting but Dragan made me go on to Sydney. Now I’m counting on her visiting Perth, though when Jess White did that and we were going to meet for coffee I managed to get stuck in Melbourne for 3 weeks (Dragan again!)

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      • Good luck with getting Sue and Mr Gums to Perth. I’ve been working on them for 40 years, still with no success! (I think they blipped through briefly once when they holidayed at Broome.)

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      • The bloggers I have met f2f are Lisa, Nathan and Kimbofo. I stay in touch with MST who as I said introduced me to blogging and aren’t I going to be horribly embarrassed if there is another and I have left her out.

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  6. In 2015 I had heard of blogs without having any idea what they were, but I was looking for a way of continuing my masters work without actually writing a book. When MST told me she had started a blog I followed it for a while and then began following also people she was following, Sue and Lisa and Nathan Hobby in particular, so that when I started my own blog they were very supportive from the beginning.

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    • Because of movies in particular, US culture has overrun the whole world. We don’t blame you for that! But I think also that we have got used to it. I can live with Elvis. I can probably live with Macas, though I’d never eat one. What is destroying Australia at the moment is our importation from the US of lying as a valid, indeed the go-to, tactic in politics. I don’t think we can predict where that is going to take us.

      You’ve written a very heartfelt comment and I’m not sure I can do it justice. But on your later points I think we owe it to victims to re-evaluate our heroes and indeed to tear down statues which in themselves are harmless, part of our history but which also serve to glorify or cover up past wrongs.

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  7. Interesting to hear how Anzac day has been “re-popularised”. We had a touch of that with Remembrance Day here a few years ago to mark the centenary of WW1. Turn out for the parade in our village was the highest I can remember of 20 years of living here but it’s faded a little since then.

    We should give recognition to people who fight for freedom on our behalf but I’m so glad I don’t live in the US where it’s almost a religion. I had to fly with US airlines often and got sickened by the cockpit announcements telling the “military” representatives on board that we “thank you and we salute you.” Bit over the top

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    • I really thought after Vietnam but before the Falklands, before Iraq that militarism was gone, a relic. I think politicians took from Thatcher and the Falklands the message that wars save (political) careers and that in the end the idea of ‘nation’ is meaningless without someone to be the anti-nation. Without wars there is no need for nations.

      Americans take this to ridiculous extremes, of course.

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