War demands reverence but peace demands perseverance. CityMag's publisher, Josh Fanning reflects on what he'll be commemorating on 25 April.
What I’ll be doing on ANZAC Day
There’s a house somewhere out the back of Blackwood, down below Hawthorndene Drive, where my parents would go – for want of a better word – to celebrate ANZAC Day.
I would go with them, a child still, while my brother and sister were exempted as young adults. 25 April is my sister’s birthday, and, as a seven-or-so-year-old, I remember thinking she was lucky to have her birthday on a public holiday.
For Country, For Nation
Opening Night: Thursday 25 April
2pm – late
Samstag Museum of Art launches two major exhibitions from the Australian War Memorial with an afternoon of conversation, performance, food and music on ANZAC Day.
Entry is FREE.
The house we visited was humble but beautiful. It had a large and exciting garden to play in and an old green tin shed, full of tools and memorabilia. It was a brunch event, a weird conflation of eggs and champagne, and many adults in attendance wore medals pinned to their shirts.
And I was given my own series of metal shapes hot-glue-gunned to ribbons to pin to my shirt. I remember wearing a shirt with buttons, it was a special occasion. The year I remember most vividly was the year Geoff Sugars made me a circular, an arch, and a square medal to wear – the same shapes as the Play School windows. I felt special and grateful.
To this day I don’t know what Geoff’s relationship to the war was or is. He and my parents are still friends and see each other often, although Geoff’s graceful and caring wife, Denise died some years ago.
Geoff was a magical adult in my opinion. The home-made medals were just one example of the many ways he included the children present in the national day of remembrance. I remember him listening to me, he would bend down on one knee, cup his hand around his ear and really listen to what I had to say.
This memory and experience of ANZAC Day defines a large part of what the sombre occasion means to me.
With the death of journalist and author Les Carlyon this year I have cause to think too of what the day means to me as an adult.
Les did more than any Australian to teach me the facts about Australia and New Zealand’s Gallipoli campaign. I discovered Les’ writing on Gallipoli while undertaking the course, ‘Cross Cultural Understanding: Islam and Society’ at uni.
While Les wrote of Australian and New Zealand troops valiantly defending their toe hold in the Dardanelles, he also introduced me to General Mustafa Kemal who eventually defeated the Allies at ANZAC Cove, dismantled the Islamic, Ottoman Empire after WWI and founded the modern and secular nation-state – Turkey.
The history of modern Turkey and Australia hinge on the same conflict, and yet on 25 April we do not acknowledge the ‘other’ but bury our head in hands of grief and, increasingly, fists of pride, and a renewed and jingoistic appreciation of World War One’s role in forming the nation’s identity.
Over a century later, in 2019, Turkey experiences the ongoing Islamisation of their politics and erosion of Kemal Atatürk’s democratic legacy founded, in part, at Gallipoli.
More than 100 years since, and in 2019 Australia endures $30 million of Clive Palmer’s green and gold advertising, and leaked tapes of One Nation seeking funds from foreign gun lobby groups to win seats in our free and fair, federal election.
The 25th of April is an important day for Australia, but not because of war, or battles, or campaigns, or strategies, or geography, or ideology, or even death.
It is an important day to remember we are human – that we make mistakes. It’s an important day to remember people can do both valiant and terrible things and that, sometimes, they are the same thing, just viewed from different trenches.
So on ANZAC Day this year I’ll remember the adult who made me medals and took a knee to listen to me.
On ANZAC Day I’ll celebrate the birth of my sister with her and her Danish husband and their three daughters – my nieces.
And then I’ll go to the Samstag Museum, for the launch of For Country, For Nation – a travelling exhibition from the Australian War Memorial about the experience of Aboriginal soldiers who fought valiantly and courageously for their recently renamed country, Australia, only to return home after the war and find indifference and racism, exclusion and poverty.
War is no different to history in that too often it is concerned with the notion of victory and loss. Peace, on the other hand, must not be understood as merely the absence of war, but rather as the success of civilisation.
Civilisation is an old man taking a knee to listen to a new voice. Civilisation is traditional owners fighting alongside their newfound countrymen. Civilisation is remembering to be vigilant against prejudice, against fascism, and eschew anger for understanding.
Civilisation is to live and to learn. Civilisation is never a fight to the death.
Lest we forget.