on forgetting

I’ve spent more years of my life than not going to the Anzac Day Dawn Service.

My dad was in the Air Force; he was there for 20 years. He never went to war; he never went further than Malaysia, where he met my mother and brought her home, in a classic colonial style.

He joined the Air Force not to defend his country, or because he thought it was noble; he joined the Air Force because he was a country kid from a poor, religious family, and he walked out of the bank one day and saw a sign that said joining the armed forces got you room and board and a wage, and that was all he wanted.

He stayed there for 20 years, and he’d have gone to war if he had to. He’d have died if he had to. Sometimes, from the things he said, I think he wishes he’d had that chance.

And, every 25 April, he and I would get up at 0400 and trek into the major war memorial of whatever city we lived in, and we’d listen to the words and the bugle and the morning noises of Australia waking up in the autumn, and it’d be almost a religious experience. Spiritual. Meaningful. And then we’d go home again (via Macca’s, for a hot brekkie, because nothing says sacrifice like global corporatisation and hotcakes).

I thought about it, joining up, because we never had a lot of money, and the military says they’ll pay your HECS for you. That was tempting, for a while. After all, I grew up on Air Force bases around the country, and it didn’t seem all that bad.

We don’t really talk about Anzac Day on No Award. Every year in our private conversations I’ll bring up the Anzac protection act, which protects the word Anzac. Anzac, incidentally, is probably the word in the whole of Australia that is least in need of protection. But we don’t talk about it on No Award. We figure you probably know.

On Anzac Day this year, Yassmin Abdel-Magied made a social media post:

L E S T   W E   F O R G E T

(Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine).

She had to edit it shortly after, because she was attacked for it, and she’s been basically censured and attacked non-stop since then.

I don’t know what my dad’s opinion of Nauru and Manus would be. We never talked about the asylum seeker tropical gulags when he could talk, and now he’ll never talk to me ever again. (20 years of service to your country doesn’t get you much of a pension, by the way, not when you’re diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia at 64 and go downhill so fast you’ve stopped speaking by the time you’re 67)

But my dad was my dad, and he loved me and his country, and also he was a horrible human being. I don’t know his opinion on our tropical gulags but I know his opinion on queerness and Islam and the fact that my sister knows more words than he ever did. I definitely know his thoughts on Acknowledgement of Country.

I stopped going to dawn services well before my dad stopped going to them. I stopped going because when I was younger, even up until I was at uni, Anzac Day, especially the dawn service had meaning, and was about thinking about violence and treachery and deceit.

But now Anzac Day is about jingoism and the parroting of patriotism, and I don’t have time for that.

Yassmin was right. Lest we forget the crimes done in our name. Lest we forget those who believed the image our government sells, of crossing the seas and the lands to share (lands we stole), and came, and have been punished for wanting to live.

We have already forgotten. Just like my dad has.

Further Reading:

Anzac Day: We’ve Already Said Thanks, It’s Time To Move On

Black diggers are hailed on Anzac Day. But the Indigenous ‘Great War’ was in Australia

These Anzac Day “Controversies” Reveal The Huge Hypocrisy Of Australian Conservatives

Presenter Controversially Uses Free Speech That ANZACs Fought For


3 thoughts on “on forgetting

  1. I’m one of the people for whom ANZAC day was always problematic – neither of my grandfathers served in WW2. One of them was a gold miner in Kalgoorlie (and thus in a protected industry; plus, I suspect he’d already lost an eye by the time WW2 rolled around). The other was a conscientious objector (Christadelphian religious faith sub-type). This is why my mother was born in Kalgoorlie, but her younger brother was born in Harvey (near the camp where my maternal grandfather was effectively imprisoned). But when all the other kids in class were talking about what their grand-daddies had done in the war… well, I remained silent.

    Learning the history behind ANZAC day (which was basically a classic cock-up from go to whoa, and a classic example of how highly the British High Command didn’t value its colonial troops) just gave me another reason not to want to celebrate the day. Commemorate it, yes – but it was an angry commemoration, full of fury at all those lives wasted so Britannia could continue to “rule the waves” for another twenty years or so. The jingoism and hyper-“patriotism” of these later days makes me even angrier still. So I avoid it.

    There’s a reason “Scorn of the Women” by Weddings Parties Anything is on my ANZAC day playlist alongside “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (Eric Bogle version) and “I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)”.

  2. Beautifully put.

    ANZAC Day always feels a little strange and alienating to me, partly because my family was really shaped by the Second World War, not the first, and partly because… well, when it comes down to it, my great-grandparents and their siblings were mostly fighting for the other side! I don’t think I have any ANZACs in my direct ancestry (cousins, yes, but that’s different).

    And, like you, I feel as though it used to be more about remembering the ugliness and sacrifice of war, but now it’s become much more about showing how Aussie you are, in a very narrow way.

    I wonder how much of that change is about the fact that the generations who lived through the two world wars are mostly dead, now, so there is less direct memory (and Vietnam is a whole different category, I think) of what war was like and why jingoistic patriotism is a bad idea?

Comments are closed.