Anzac Day 2016

I promised myself that I would be restrained in my comments on Anzac Day this year. Why oh why did I then listen to the radio?

Let me start by saying I have much respect and sympathy for those killed in wars. It makes me very sad. I support services where the dead in wars are remembered. I support the wearing of poppies to represent the dead. I mourn over wartime tragedies.

But I mourn inclusively and, as a person interested in history, I like our stories to be accurate, not fuelled by too much grief, too much pride or anger. And I do not like unrealistic images, that can rarely or never be matched, thrust before returned or serving soldiers or our young children. These things only lead to more tragedy.

My attitude to Anzac Day has been forged by several events over many years. As a child in the fifties I met one of my father’s workmates, a good and sincere German man who had fought for Germany during the then recent war. He had been in an English POW camp where he met some Australian soldiers working there. His wife and daughter had been killed during the allied bombing of Berlin. He thought he had been nobly fighting for his country. He mourned the dead on both sides, particularly the civilian dead, and I realised then, at quite a young age, that wars had at least two sides and that the soldiers on all sides were just real people with losses of their own.

During my University years I was involved with some protests against the Anzac Day march. We asked how could such a jingoistic event ever help lead to a cessation of warfare? Protests such as our very peaceful ones were tolerated and not even interrupted or moved on. Our freedom of expression has been limited so much that I would not think they would be tolerated now, almost sixty years later.

A number of men from my family and my late husband’s family fought in World War II. But men who did not or could sign up were given quite a difficult time. My father, for example, had not been able to fight in the war because his work as a professional engineer for the Commonwealth Government was regarded as essential and despite several attempts both by himself and with some representations from the navy who wanted him to work on something to do with radar, he was not released. He suffered a bit of backlash. Just very recently I read a book in which the well known author suggested she thought that her now deceased father had deliberately obtained a job regarded as essential, specifically to avoid military service. This was very difficult to do, but such was the attitude of the day it was often assumed. My father in law was not accepted for service either as, at his medical when he tried to join up, he was told he had a bad heart. It was widely said about him that he had feigned this bad heart. He sometimes seemed to accept this view himself. Which was the better option for a sense of self? He had his first heart attack at the age of 41 while working as an ambulance driver, and died very young a few years later.

When I was a young married woman the son of one of our next door neighbours was sent to Vietnam as a soldier.

The neighbour on the other side was an older man who was a TPI pensioner, unable to work since his return from World War II via a long period of incarceration in Changi. He was a lovely man. He would not belong to an RSL Club or celebrate Anzac Day. In fact he would not usually speak of the war at all. However one day, when he and I were with my almost two year old son, something my son was trying to do triggered his memories and he spoke to me about it a little. He expressed himself as concerned about the glorification of war and stated that there was nothing he could see that was worth making men kill other men. There must be better solutions that could be found rather than continuing to fight wars.

Eventually the young neighbour on our other side returned, physically unharmed. But he could not march on Anzac Day! It had only been the Vietnam War in which he fought!

No old Turkish veteran could march on Anzac Day. They were the enemy!

Those anomalies have been fixed, but too late for me and most of them, I would imagine.

On Friday I was speaking to a friend among a group sharing their mild annoyance of having to work during the long weekend. My friend was working all three days and complained that Anzac Day was one of the worst days to work. She works in a role delivering a public service. She rued that there would be fights between the drinkers and among Two Up players after the remembrance services and marches were over, there would be domestic violence when some of those people returned home and, during the day, there would be the regular spike of Anzac Day suicides and attempted suicides from returned veterans with which she would have to deal. These veterans were probably feeling much like our former, now deceased, neighbour.

Many men were extremely brave. We must acknowledge bravery when we see it but we must not, even inadvertently, belittle any soldiers who did not rise to great heights. At the same time there is nothing magnificent in just killing. There must be a better way to work these things out and glorifying something not glorious is not one of them.

I remember with sorrow and love all those soldiers who served in all wars and those who died in wars. I also remember, with sorrow and love, those people who died with, and perhaps because of, them.

And yet, the radio broadcaster today talking of a plot being foiled by our excellent, ever vigilant policing authorities that had stopped a 16 year old in a planned attack on a venue today, rightly wondered about the ideas that must have infiltrated this young boy’s mind. However he added seemingly bemused, and like so many people obviously not thinking it through, “But why would he plan to do such a thing on Anzac Day? That makes it so much worse.”

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A confluence of events – someone’s enquiry about essay form, a book of poetry by Clive James, the death of Bob Ellis and the forthcoming Anzac Day – what do they have in common?

They reflect a time in Australian life that was both exciting, and character forming. Or do they?

The days of the late 1950s and early 1960s at Sydney University were certainly full of thought provoking issues. I had the privilege of been being able to attest to that personally. It was the days of John Bell and his beginning career in drama, Richard Neville and Richard Walsh with the University Newspaper “Honi Soit”, and Germaine Greer was just around the next corner. Of course the late Bob Ellis was ever talking and writing. Clive James had already loomed large on the horizon, capitalising from the very first time when he often appeared as a schoolboy, along with other children on radio, with the “Pied Piper”, Keith Smith. Barry Humphries had just created from Melbourne a thought stimulating axis for an Australian life view.

I have not pondered too much about those times in a general, group, philosophical sense. I had made my own friends, many of whom I still call close, but living within the walls of the University for four years and continuing to study there for a further two (with flat mates who, by then, walked the hallowed floors of the old “Fisher” as genuine, qualified librarians) meant we knew who and what was a happening event within those learned precincts. We read Honi Soit with enthusiasm. We protested vigorously against the jingoism of Anzac Day. To make an Australian Republican stance, like Thomas Keneally AO, we refused to stand for the National Anthem whilst it still was “God Save the Queen/King”.

Recently in search for a good essay exemplar to print out, I found a beautiful one by David Malouf (also a product of these times and a little earlier) on the subject of Anzac Day during those years.

In his essay he reflects on the past outspoken but realistic opposition to some of the practices that made up Anzac Day. He called his essay by the name of a 1961 protest play by Alan Seymour, “The One Day”. The nature of the way the Anzac campaign is remembered has become even more indefensible now, but any protests made at the unrealities of the history and the jingoism expressed on Anzac Day, would no longer be acceptable in this day and age.

At the end of his essay David Malouf suggests that he has changed his opinion. He proposes now that the last Anzac has died and the silence of the survivors has been stilled, the myths and legends about Australia and Anzac, mostly created by proud descendants, can flower. His view seems to be that it makes a positive contribution, not a negative one, not only to our view of history, but to our future.

But can we afford to go on creating new histories for ourselves and not challenging ourselves as to truth as David Malouf seems to suggest? Would this be a mistake?

We have done that with Australia’s attitude to the acceptance of “New Australians”. It, too, has become viewed in an unreal way. Even that name, applied to post war refugees and others, indicates the then attitude to and the total lack of acceptance of different origins, cultures and customs and highlights the attitude that supported our “White Australia Policy”. This policy was actually enshrined in our law, albeit in an indirect fashion. But our former attitude is now widely lauded and recognised in oral history as having been “welcoming”. Even the handful of bright Columbo Plan students our Universities accepted at the time, were subject to very onerous conditions that could best be described as racist, both then and now. We were not a country that welcomed others who were different.

We have already been rewriting history for generations in terms of our indigenous people. Has that worked? There was much information disseminated that ours was a peaceful settlement not an invasion. We recently have bemoaned, at a Government level no less, the fact that some “black armband history” is taught in schools. Many people of older generations do not accept that any Aboriginal families grew up in the areas in which they lived because of the unspoken segregation and separation of the time. The stolen generation has been wrapped up as a positive for their children. Such was the atmosphere at the time that most of the workers themselves believed they were doing something worthy. Helping families and their clan groups who were struggling did not surface as an option. We were doing good things in the name of the children!

We teach our children that it is necessary, in retrospect, to admit to their mistakes. That is how they learn. But if we change our national history we cannot ever learn from our nation’s early years.

A forward thinking Australia would accept that its history sometimes needs a black armband and we must learn to wear it with educated humility.

Sometimes we see most clearly at times of confluence.

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Public Whinge

After listening to the radio this morning and watching public media over the last few months, it seems clear that we, the public, want a great deal from our law enforcement agencies yet are not prepared to contribute ourselves.

This is, in my opinion, caused by a “we” and ” them” blinkered vision of society.

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the public will only be silenced if the police are issued with light sensors so they can selectively deal with poor behaviour. If the light is green let the behaviour pass because it is one of the “we” people on a bad day. If the light is red it means they are a “them”. Stop them quickly before they take “ice”, have a mental breakdown or crash a party.

But do not search a “we” by mistake or expose them to a dog search. This is a breach of the right to enjoy themselves.

The police and law enforcement agencies are always to blame for violence on the streets at night, but, when appropriate laws are enacted to give the police some power to deal with this, it interferes with the personal liberty of the “we group”. Of course the “we group” and their children would never act like “them”. In fact the “we” group know exactly what “free wine” means. It is preservative free, pesticide free, organic or perhaps even alcohol free. No one in the “we” group would possibly think it is an encouragement to have another drink!

The police are apparently responsible for violence in hospitals where they have, on occasion, not been able to always deal with violent people suffering from a mental illness or who have ingested legal or illegal substances. This causes many problems for the “we” in the waiting rooms, but it always seems to be the “them” that are in that sort of trouble.

Police and law enforcement agencies are blamed for AVO orders not working. Sometimes even in this very, very  difficult area it is because some unfortunate victims  think “who are they to say ‘we’ do not have the right to invite whomsoever we like to our own house?”

Those who complain about our overseas image, about nothing being done about “them” whilst “we” are not able to roam the streets late at night or in the early hours of the morning in search of alcohol, that “we” must go home or to a friend’s to continue the party, and that someone must do something about these important freedoms of ours immediately, should stop and think.

Whinge begins and ends with “We”.

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Jacquie the Fish – My Blog

I do not know how many other fish have blogs. But I am not afraid of swimming in uncharted waters. My life has been very interesting so far and I thought I would share it with you.

I cannot remember coming out of my egg. But I remember a lovely leaf I swam out from under. My swimming felt very strange after being in such a small egg but I seemed to stretch out more and more as I kept going.

It was very dark when I hatched out and so I could not see very much but I could hear a few other fish making noises and I did not know what they were saying. Soon a light went on and I looked around and found I was in a very big space. But there was a clear glass wall between me and the space and plenty of water for me to practice my swimming. I ate some lovely flakes which came floating into the water from above. I found I could read a sign backwards. It said “Armidale Pet Shop and Aquarium”. I enjoyed myself there but one by one my friends all left. They were caught in a net and put in a little plastic bag. Where were they going?

One day it happened to me. All of a sudden a big net came down and plucked me out of the water and popped me into a plastic bag and off into the streets of Armidale I went with a nice young lady.

I found out that her name was Jacqueline and that she did not plan to keep me in her house but she wanted to give me to two little boys she sometimes looked after. Their names were Timbie and Jack. I was so excited!

That afternoon I went with her to Timbie and Jack’s house. It was a lovely house in Armidale and they looked after me very well. They called me Jacquie after the nice young lady. I ate delicious food and started to grow bigger in my new home. The only trouble was that Armidale was quite a cold place and sometimes the water was a little cold in winter if the fire was not on. I lived there for more than a year.

But there were changes. One day Timbie and Jack’s mum popped me and my tank into her car.
We went on a very long drive. At the end of this journey  to the Central Coast of NSW guess who met me? It was Timbie and Jack (and their dad). They were staying with their grandma. When I got out of the car their mum and dad decided I might like a turn in the outdoor pond in their grandma’s  yard.

It was like heaven, it had lots of room to swim, lots of weeds to hide under, plenty of visiting frogs and tadpoles and plenty of rocky crannies. There was lots of food and I grew bigger and bigger. Jack and Timbie often visited from their new home in Terrigal. The dogs often dipped their feet in the pool to cool off. It was fun. I lived there happily, growing very big, for almost a whole year.

But then the disasters started. First we had a huge hailstorm. My pool was covered completely by hail. Timbie and Jack’s grandma scooped a lot of it out so that I could get some fresh air. But it was almost as cold as Armidale! There was some hail damage to the house too, but not to my pond. I was very pleased.

The weather grew warmer, summer came, the frogs croaked happily and I swam all around enjoying myself.

One day some men, with big scaffolding came to work to repair the roof of the house that the hail had damaged. Some of the scaffolding was right over my pool and I could watch all the interesting things the men were doing with their wood and nails. Then BANG! Down fell a big slab of wood! Phew, it missed me by one of my whiskers. What a relief!

I swam around happily then I felt the water gradually getting shallower and shallower! What was happening? What could I do?

Soon I was lying on my side gasping for oxygen, which I can only get from the water. I cannot breathe it from the air. This is the end of Jaquie the fish, I thought. My friends the frogs quietly hopped away. Then I felt a big builder’s hand as he leant over to pick me up. (Timbie and Jack’s hands were always much smaller and softer.) “What’s happened here?” the builder called to the others. “Our wood has made a big hole in this fish pond. The fish is stranded with no water.” They quickly put me in a very little pool through which water could cascade to the big pool below. I felt some water on me. They pored a bit more into this little pond. I slowly began to get oxygen again. I was still alive.

Timbie and Jack came to visit me in the little pool. They were proud of the way I had so bravely survived the disaster.

It felt that I was a long time in this little pool. There was not very much room and not quite as much food. But I could make do. Then one day Timbie and Jack’s grandma came out with a jug. I dodged and raced around the pool as fast as I could in such a small space but eventually she caught me. What was going to happen now? What further disasters were before me?

Whoosh! Where was I? In strange bigger water? No it was my old pool all fixed. There was no more hole. I swam as fast as I could all around. Home at last!

That night my friends the frogs came back. They told me they had moved to a nearby drain with water in it. As soon as they saw the pond was mended they could not wait to come back. They were pleased to see me. I had a very big feed. Some fresh rain poured into the pond. I am happy again.

This morning Timbie and Jack’s grandmother tried to take a picture of me in the pond. Every time she clicked the button I dived to the bottom. The pond is my secret place. I do not want to be in a photo.

I hope that is the end of any horrible adventures. But if I have any exciting adventures I will write some more on my blog page.

Goodnight Timbie and Jack.



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Bravo Destroy The Joint

Bravo Destroy the Joint for your apology.

I would like another favour from you. I was delighted when the site began. I have been a supporter of the “liberation” (and I use that word carefully) of women since 1952 when I was just eleven years old. I have followed the highs and lows of the yet continuous upward trajectory for the recognition of equality of opportunities for women across the world.

But, again, the movement has become diversifying rather than uniting.

We do not have one “enemy”. Whilstsoever there are unfortunate people who need help of any gender (or not) we must also acknowledge their needs and not count their needs as less important than ours are.

If we really want to be equals we must never forget the needs of men, and particularly young boys who are often cast into a role half way between a super hero and a super villain while they are very young. And many mothers must take some of the responsibility for doing this! How can we expect little boys to succeed in this mixed role whilst loving, “saving” and yet acknowledging as equals, their mothers and sisters. And I disagree with your stand that money should not be devoted to education and counselling aimed at preventing disaffected boys and men from becoming or continuing to be abusive, until all victims are helped. I think this is one of the best ways to help stop abuse and the two courses of action should be concurrent.

I have shuddered at your counting of dead women. I shudder for these poor women. I shudder, also, at the way you demean their lives and personalities as a statistic, in a way with which they may not agree.

I acknowledge any physical abuse as something totally abhorrent. I think such should be dealt with with the full force of the law. I freely acknowledge, as I think most men do, that men tend to be physically abusive more than women. I also know that men are usually much stronger than women. But they also  outnumber women as victims of physical abuse from other men. Their plight should also be considered.

But men are not completely on their own as being”controlling”. Men are not on their own as being physically abusive to children. Men are not on their own as being isolating. All these things are unacceptable. They totally are unacceptable when done by men. They are totally unacceptable when done by women.

I very much admire some of the work Annabel Crabb has done in describing how men and women can, and should, co-operate at difficult stages in life around care of children when needs are both very different for each gender and are very different from what has gone before and what will happen in the future for both genders. Traditional roles may have disappeared to a significant extent but they hang over our heads and are used freely by all of us when we want to have our way.

Come on Destroy The Joint. You started off so well. Be there for everybody in our continuing search for equality of opportunity for us all. Let’s not end up, as so many feminist liberation attempts have done, in playing the “blame game” when all we need to do is to both teach and learn to co- operate with one another with love and respect.

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Storms came, great gums were felled
Crashing into saplings and natives
Ripped asunder with the force.

Time passed. Chain saws reverberated.
And neighbourhoods echoed
More crashing and grinding.

Then came the sprouting and greening.
Dead branches showing life,
Tiny fertile bumps appearing

Healing had started.

But nature, not forgiving, returned with hail.
In moments the fertile bumps were wiped
Leaves old and new shredded
More devastation.

The people moaned and groaned,
Fought their repairers, their insurance,
Searched not their souls –

But those soulless, leafless trees,
Regrew their shattered bumps,
Once more lived with shredded leaves
And grew.

We are the ones professing souls
That creation preferentially gave to us.
Yet, though with souls, we lose our way
In adversity.

The plants, with nought but search for life, just grow.
And bloom again despite their losses.
Spirit unvanquished with the storms.
Seeking existence.

Healing all, despite no soul.

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