A glorious day after a week of rain. It is wonderful to be on the road again with everything clear and fresh. You can almost hear the countryside sighing with relief at the renewed moisture the rain has provided.
The drive between Sydney and Canberra gets mixed reviews. It is amazing to us how many people report that it is a fairly boring drive with little to see. We conclude that these people must be driving with their eyes shut! In truth the drive is featured by wide vistas of broad pastures, blue hills and glorious sky. Areas where rain has been a little more generous are boldly, lushly green. Some where rain has been slower in coming a green tinge is appearing among the golden brown of last seasons cover, but everywhere you can almost hear the landscape sighing with relief at that at least some small measure of relief from this savage drought has at last been delivered. Paddocks are here and there populated by sheep and cattle. The trees and shrubs in remnant bush change in type with the local terrain. Along the centre of the highway flowering shrubs are planted which throughout late winter and spring provide a beautiful festival of native flowers. The display commences with the exuberance of the golden wattle in August/September. Today the red of the bottlebrush flowers provide a bold contrast to robust little shrubs smothered in tiny white flowers. It is so satisfying to see the little creeks and rocky rivers renewed with run off from the rain. This, the Remembrance Driveway is a beautiful and fitting memorial to Australians who served their country in the second world war. www.remembrancedriveway.org.au
Today we are destined for the Australian War Memorial where the Remembrance Driveway ends, marked by three Spotted Gums in Remembrance Park behind the memorial. As we travel, we are reminded of the valour and sacrifice of all by rest areas and memorial parks named for the 24 Australian winners of the Victoria Cross from WWII and the Vietnam war. There is now a set of 3 CDs of oral history about the Remembrance Driveway. Surely suitable entertainment as you travel this memorial route. We pick up a copy from the War Memorial shop, it is also available from the Roads and Traffic Authoritywebsite http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/oralhistory.
We make good time and arrive in Canberra at about 9:15. A brief stop at the information centre to identify the closest local Maccas outlet to satisfy some of the party who skipped their breakfast to effect our attempt at a 7 am departure. 7:10 not a bad effort for the younger party animals of the group. We are parked and getting into position before 10 am for an alleged 10:15 am start for the Remembrance Day service. Much larger turnout for the ceremony than last year, and as the MC notes, even the flies have turned out bringing another type of salute – the Aussie salute – to the formal marks of respect. Like a church service from my childhood, matrons with legs crossed using the free program as a much appreciated fan and fly switch. Attire among the crowd everything from jeans and collared shirts to heels and tailored jackets with jauntily brimmed millinery, dress uniforms of numerous nations. Dignitaries heavily bedecked in honours and badges of rank.
The service follows the usual program. This year the Prime Minister personally in attendance delivers the commemorative address. The Australian Federation Guard – a mixed formation from the three services marches in stands in formation. The catafalque party emerge, move into position and stand in respect throughout the proceedings.
Again this year one of the servicemen in the main body of the Federation Guard faint from the immobility and heat and is assisted from the field unable to walk unsupported. I find myself mentally rebelling at the illogical aping of customs developed in another time and climate, a republican spirit within me stirs and grumbles. I find another reason to appreciate that our main commemorative services are held at dawn on Anzac Day.
The service concludes with the Governor General and Prime Minister and their wives and other dignitaries proceeding up the stairs to the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier to lay wreaths. Throughout the day a guard of honour is maintained around the tomb. The changes of the guard and military spectacle observed by the many visitors to the memorial.
As we move away from the ceremonial ground the offspring report with some anger and vigour the appalling behaviour of some foreign visitors sitting in the row behind them. I’m glad I was out of earshot of the comments in question during the service. You have to wonder why on earth anyone would bother attending a Remembrance Day service in any country if all you plan to do is find fault. Everything was considered fair game - from the cars used by the official party, to the name of the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The object of the service is quiet reflection and commemoration and clearly these nitwits completely missed the point, and what’s worse, contaminated the experience for the people around them. Inexcusable.
For the record, should anyone else out there wonder why we note that the tomb in question is of an Australian – until the early 1990s, our marking of respect for the unknown soldier, was obliged to be focussed on the similar memorial in London which represented all of the fallen whose remains were not recovered from the Great War. For a long time this was not considered inappropriate given that we served as an element of the British forces in that conflict. When finally it was felt that we should repatriate the remains of one of our unidentified fallen and have our own local memorial to the unknown soldier in our main national memorial, it was appropriate that it be given a different name to distinguish it from the London memorial which Australians still very much respect and honour. It was not a pompous gesture of Australian nationalism, more a continued mark of respect to the London memorial. If anything was pompous it was the arrogance of these visitors in assuming that they could interpret the intentions of a people they clearly do not even come close to understanding.
After a quiet picnic lunch in the serenity of the grounds. We make our way in to the War Memorial. We have some time before the Remembrance Day talk, which is to be delivered today by Les Carlyon on the topic “Two men of Passchendaele”. A discussion of Field Marshall Haig and David Lloyd George in the context of the events of third Ypres – which Australians know as the battle for Passchendaele. I take the opportunity for a little browsing in the memorial shop. Attracting a comment from daughter, that there can’t be anyone who enjoys the war memorial shop more than me! LOL I am strong and massively disciplined and decline to buy more to add to my already groaning reading waiting list! Though I was reminded during the later talk introductory acknowledgements, that I must read some Antony Beevor. In what time remains we spend a half hour or so checking out the new discovery zone. There’s going to be a few farmers with their legs blown off in the field I attempted to clear of land mines!
After Les Carlyon’s very interesting talk, the author has agreed to some book signings, which result in my acquiring an author signed copy of Gallipoli to match the author signed “the Great War” I picked up here last Remembrance Day. Better yet, I plant a seed for a Les Carlyon penned book that covers Douglas Macarthur. Les Carlyon is so objective in his writing. I think it would be fascinating to get a book with an Australian focus that is really objective about Douglas Macarthur and provides all the relevant context for the reader to make up their own mind on the subject.
After a tiring and emotional day we climb back in our car and head for home. Driving in the early morning or late afternoon is a pleasure I find it’s hard to surpass. A leisurely stop at Collector for afternoon tea at the Lynwood café. Purchase some preserves and such for Christmas pressies. We’re home at about 7pm and I’m nursing a dose of mild heat stroke and ruing the fact that I’d managed to leave my hat out of the car this morning.
I can hardly wait for another run to Canberra with a little more solitude to listen to the Remembrance Driveway oral history CD. Perhaps when they reopen the redeveloped post 1945 galleries…..