Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia?

Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia? 

Anzac Day is one of those days that matters. It’s central to my being and even though I am far away, it’s a day, as is Australia Day, that causes me to pause and consider my home, my country, my nationality. I remember, as a child, attending Dawn Services at the Cenotaph on the Domain in Hobart, visiting the trees planted for the fallen of my family – handsome young men as you can see from the photos – who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign field far-far away.

As an Ozzie abroad you are more aware of your nationality than ever you are at home. You are defined by it: it makes you different, something of an outsider and so, to an extent, you cling to your Ozzie-ness even more. I think this is a common thing and might go a long way to explaining why exiles – be we self-exiled, or refugees or migrants – feel our nationalities more on foreign soil. To wit, I am more Australian here than ever I was at home.

And so, recent developments offend and upset me perhaps more than when I am at home because I feel a responsibility to be able to explain and, to an extent, excuse our behaviours, even though I am anything but connected to the idiocy that is our political land-scape, the callous treatment of the more vulnerable in our society, and the foolishness of our sportsmen. Actually, it’s because people here expect me to… I have become Australia– indeed my room at work is the warmest class-room around and was dubbed ‘a little bit of Australia’ by one of my wittier students.

And so as Anzac Day hoves into view I find I am quite angry. It’s not a matter of pride being an Australian abroad these days. It wasn’t under the embarrassment that was Tony Abbott but it isn’t any better with Turnball. I despair of the Greens and wonder about Bill Shorten too. I read about more tax breaks for big business, I read about big coal mines being subsidised, I read about the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. And of course the on-going stain that is Nauru and our reprehensible treatment of refugees.

Education is no better, health care is in decline. Home ownership is harder than ever; the under-privileged slip further behind, bullied by a vile Centrelink who pursue the poorest members of society over fake debt and bills. Young people have the invidious pleasure of huge debt if they go to university. Zero-hours contracts stalk the semi-skilled. Penalty rates are a thing of the past. We are one of the worst countries in the world in terms of standard of living for pensioners. And our Indigenous people moulder away in jail in numbers still hugely disproportionate to their numbers in society. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown inordinately.

What the fuck is happening Australia?

It may as well be England.

We are not the Lucky Country, we are no longer the land of the fair go. We have become a nasty country full of nasty people. A country that no longer cares for all, a country that is racist and sexist, and ageist and anti-youth as well. Indeed, how have we managed to be so anti-everything? So full of double standards and shut-you-down vitriol.

We used to be about fair-play, about having a go. We weren’t always about money and position and privilege. Or am I deluded? Am I remembering some imagined past that never really existed?

Yes, we’ve been an overtly macho society for years – the lone stoic stockman, the bronzed Ozzie surfer, the larrikin taking the piss out of everyone. It’s been a hard country for women, foreigners and the Indigenous inhabitants. But we were getting there. We were open to equality, to hard work and people being able to be who they wanted to be if they worked hard enough and long enough. Yes, our own American Dream. An ideal of equality, not of rank or status. Born of being a bunch of convicts I guess, a radical irreverence for position and rank – respect for the person not the title. (Something that certainly got me into trouble over here!!) And then hacking them down, because we don’t want no tall poppies here, mate.

So, because it is Anzac Day – a day that unites us, that reminds us of the debt we owe the past, we need to pause and consider what was fought for, what came out of that catastrophic slaughter over a hundred years ago so far away from home. Too many young men were sacrificed for the Empire, for an engagement that had no merit, that was certain death for those involved. Yes, members of my family travelled to Europe for the great adventure of war, but they didn’t come home. Yet, because we were in thrall to Mother England, to king and country, because we were young and naïve we signed up in droves and we died in droves too. Like thousands of other (mostly) young men: horrid deaths, many needless and then carrying home scars – external and internal – that were never healed. World War One was a brutal, pointless exercise, one that was meant only to last a few months and then to be the war to end all wars. Yes, we can laugh at that incredible irony now.

But out of the war, and especially out of what happened in Turkey in 1915, rose the Anzac spirit; the core of our character. We celebrate bravery and sacrifice; we thank those who laid down their lives for us, as we should. Those who fought and died, those who fought and survived, who protected us and make our country safe and fit for heroes. Our romanticism has it that Gallipoli was the event that turned us around: it was when we grew up, it was what made us into a nation. It was certainly a turning point. And it is right that we continue to acknowledge what happened, in that war and in the (too) many since.

But what has happened that we now are more like the England of WW1, when the gaps between the haves and have nots were appallingly wide and led to pointless sacrifices of young men who were mostly much further down the social ladder than those in charge, who remained at the back of the theatre of war, often not engaged in any sort fighting with bullets or gas or tanks? Why have we let ourselves become that sort of country? Why have we become callous and brutalised – uncaring of the suffering of others, unwilling to make a difference, unwilling to share the wealth of this great country.

Make no mistake about it, Australia is still a rich country, full of great things, good people trying to make a decent life: most of my friends and my darling daughter, her wonderful partner, and my gorgeous grandson are there. I count the days and months until I can go home. But I wonder, what am I coming back to, will I be horribly disappointed by what my country has become, will I regret coming home?

Consider the following:

*Why don’t big businesses care about their clients or employees; why is it all about profit?

*Why don’t the banks give a shit about their customers?

*Why do the politicians (on all sides, in all state, as well as Federally and locally) repeatedly sell out the population to the highest bidder?

*Why aren’t they, or government agencies, held accountable for their behaviour? Barnaby Joyce anyone?

*Why is it okay to hang sportsmen out to dry but not politicians, bureaucrats, CEO’s?

*Why is the media allowed to peddle lies and untruths and stir up hatred and division?

*Why are we not protecting our environment – the Great Barrier Reef, the old growth forests of Tasmania, etc?

*Why aren’t we investing in smart tech, looking at a clever future, dreaming big dreams, planning for a big future?

*Why are we accepting an increasing divide in our country between the haves and have-nots?

*Why do we pursue the under-dog so relentlessly and cheerfully keep on kicking him when he’s down – students, unemployed, pensioners, the disabled, refugees?

*Why do we remain so anti-women, why do we persist in out-dated sexist behaviours, advocating bloke culture at the expense of genuine respect and equality?

Australia is not a powerful international player, despite what various PM’s and others like to believe – there is so little about Australia in the media over here you wouldn’t believe it – but that doesn’t mean we should be sacrificing our national identity on some foolish belief that to be more like the UK or the USA is somehow a good thing.

We have people living it large on the international stage – usually our sportsmen bring honour to us – playing hard but fair, punching above our weight. Remember it was Australia that broke the longest running sporting record in history when Allan Bond with Australia2 finally won the America’s Cup after 132 years (no, we won’t go into what happened to AB…) Our celebrities do us credit – people love Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Kylie, Tim Minchin, Barry Humphries. We have world class creatives – Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Clive James, Germaine Greer, Baz Luhrmann: AC-DC just keep on rolling. Our celebs are seen as grounded, good people, not part of the up-yourself-don’t-speak-to-me-now-I’m-famous lot. We can be proud of them; they bring credit to us.

So, Australia, on this Anzac Day, nearly 100 hundred years since the end of WW1, what do we stand for? How do we define our character now? Would the fallen of WW1 be proud to lay down their lives for what the country has become? How would those who died at Gallipoli feel if they could see us now?

Somehow, I doubt they’d feel their sacrifice had been worth it. (Images from Private Collection)

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