It’s a muted rainy morning, with a chill well worth cracking out the first porridge of the year (topped with oozy brown sugar, of course). Seems weird that it’s wet and chilly today, because it’s Anzac Day; which to my memory was always a huge deal in the St George calendar, and I always recall them as being outdoor, sunbright days.
Anzac Day is surely the most Australian holiday of them all – it celebrates a bitter military cock-up, it comes with gambling and heavy-drinking rituals, New Zealand is involved…. Back in primary school there was always a big lead-up to it. There would be drawing and colouring competitions for the younger kids, and as older kids everyone seemed to end up writing melodramatic poems or letters from diggers to their sweethearts/mothers, dipped in cold tea and edges burned with a pilfered cigarette lighter for that authentic old letter aesthetic. There would be a march, all the kids in their school uniforms, and wreaths piled on the war memorial in the main street before the last post played. And is there any melody so simple and so haunting as the last post? A tune where the weight of so many fallen young men lies in the silences between the notes.
Anzac Day is the “sunburnt left ear” poem read aloud on ABC Radio by a man with a cracking voice, while you help your mum mix golden sugar and rolled oats into biscuits. It’s a young Mel Gibson making you cry in Peter Weir’s beautiful Gallipoli. What are your legs? Steel springs! What are they gonna do? Hurl me down the track! How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard!
And that’s what Anzac Day is really about – and that’s why those rituals of childhood aren’t so irrelevant, even though we didn’t really understand it then. Anzac Day is a day when we must remember all the boys who gave their lives, proud and shitscared all at once, so that we can live the way we love in this country we love. We must not forget the slaughter, the lost youth. And we must not forget the futility all those deaths, and the men who came home but broken, and the people they were lost to: and we must make sure it never happens again.