Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anzac Day - Campbelltown and Canberra

4:45 and half awake, as on all Anzac Days I slowly overcome the lethargy, my conscience just won't let me stay in bed on this day. I rouse hubby and get up and prank daughter on her mobile. A quick sip or two of coffee for hubby and rapid dress and we’re in the car earlier than usual. On our way to our local dawn service armed with plentiful hankies. We’ve been attending the Campbelltown dawn service in Mawson Park for many years now and have seen it grow from barely 20 or 30 mostly older people to the hordes who congregate today, emerging out of the comparative dark into the flood lit park. I had thought perhaps the weather might put people off, but no. There’s even more people here than last year. We are lucky and the rain holds off. The local RSL lays out a large area of seating for the older folk and all around behind crowds and crowds of families, people of all ages have gathered to reflect and show their respect.

A brief welcome and a catafalque party move into position and stand in honour around the memorial. We listen to a few well chosen words which remind the crowd that we are here not to celebrate and glorify war, but to reflect on the sacrifice and tragedy of war and to remember the fallen. The point is made that though war is caused, some say, by the greed and brutality of men, that sometimes such men have to be stopped.. The ode is read and the crowd repeats the promise “We will remember them”. When the direction comes, the crowd rises and faces west for the playing of the last post. All stand in silence for a minute as the local magpies sing their dawn chorus. A patriotic anthem for Australia if ever there was one. A danger period for tears as you think about the suffering that is inevitable in war and the courage and sacrifice of those who fought. The announcement comes to face the east and the crowd duly turns and stands silent for the playing of the rouse and we all repeat after the announcement. “Lest we forget”. Somewhere along the line a lone piper plays the bagpipes I’m sure I should know the name of this very moving tune. It is played every year. Anzac Day just isn't complete without bagpipes.

We dry our eyes and start to move off back to our car and amazingly spy a friend of daughter and his mum. Surprising as they live quite a long way from here and I would have expected them to attend a service closer to where they live. They have come with the friend’s uncle who is a Vietnam veteran but who they have somehow lost in the crowd. After a few minutes chat we say our goodbyes and head off.

Back home for a bite of brekkie and a cuppa and we deliberate how to spend the rest of the day. Last year we all headed in to the march in Sydney. Generally if we don’t go in we watch the broadcast on the television, which has the benefit of commentary. But there’s nothing quite like standing in all weathers in George St as the many bands and veterans march past. Posties on scooters wizzing back and forth handing out flags. Our favourite position is opposite the war widows. I like to sea the veterans salute the widows as they pass.

One year at the Sydney march I recall a very memorable moment as the crew from a visiting United States Navy ship rounded the corner into George St from Martin Place, looking very smart in their uniforms. The crowd greeted them with a rousing cheer and a shout of “good on ya yanks” at which they all to a man stood visibly taller. It was quite remarkable and nice to feel that they got something positive from their participation. Nice that they took the time to show their respects to our national day of remembrance, and lord knows Australia owes the servicemen of the United States a lot for their efforts in the Second World War.

This year we make a last minute decision to head down to Canberra for the National Anzac Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial. Just hubby and myself. Daughter is also going to Canberra but with her boyfriend. We set off at about 6:40 am. An appropriate day for listening to the oral history CD we purchased on Remembrance Day as we travel the Remembrance Driveway.

We listen to a military historian telling us about Partridge VC as we pass the rest stop dedicated to his memory. The oral history is a nice compliment to the rest stops themselves which have a board with the citation on it. The oral history tells you a bit more- where they were born; about their lives before the war – and after the war if they made it home. The next rest stop isn’t until after Berrima.

Travelling down the highway some early wattle is in bloom in the median strip. The Cootamundra wattle which is planted in abundance in this early section of the drive is budding up creating a yellow hazy effect with the promise of a wonderful show in a couple of months. As we’ve got a way to go until another rest stop, we swap the CD for some classic John Williamson – only possible when the offspring aren’t in the car. Elder daughter can’t abide listening to him anymore after having a continuous John Williamson loop playing at her work for years. A rather unfortunate side affect of working in the tourism industry. Anyway, naturally we start our listening with “Cootamundra Wattle”. Such a lovely Australian song…

Finally we resume our listening as we hear of John Mackey VC the only pioneer to be awarded the VC in the second world war, and Bruce Kingsbury VC. Who could ever forget Bruce Kingsbury’s actions saving the day at the battle of Isurava. Kingsbury’s story is of course well known to us, as is the story of Jack Edmonson VC and his amazing efforts at Tobruk. The offspring all attended Hurlstone Agricultural High School – Jack Edmondson was an old boy and is commemorated in the schools hall of valour along with other old boy veterans. The school hall is also named after him, so he feels like a member of the family. As an old school principle always said… the Hurlstone family. We enjoy also being introduced to some new stories – Hughie Edwards awarded for action commanding 105 squadron RAF having transferred from the RAAF, William Kibby of Tobruk and El Alamein …. 13 stories of extraordinary valour. We have no time or inclination to stop at every rest area of course, but today we stop at Derrick VC rest area. This is a very lovely rest area with plantings of deciduous trees, claret ash, and oaks all beautiful in their autumn colours. There are also substantial picnic huts and of course toilet facilities. The picnic area also serves an historic walk to some convict era relics. The oral history CD also points out such things about the area around each rest stop which is helpful.

We make good time and arrive in Canberra about ten minutes before 9 Oclock. The service starts at 10:15. I am prepared with directions from the war memorial website about parking and shuttle bus, but we try our luck in the little street that runs parallel to Anzac Parade (which is closed today of course). We get a bonza little spot just near the Tobruk memorial. Sandwiched between a couple of Queensland plated vehicles. The parking spots down this street are filling very fast with cars pulling in one behind the other. What a great spot, this way we can wander up Anzac Parade on one side and come back on the other, visiting each of the memorials along the way – which I’ve been meaning to do for absolutely ages – what better day to do it! The Tobruk memorial is an inspired design and incorporates the memorial originally raised in Tobruk by the Australian soldiers. The perimeter of this memorial is inspired by the defence works of Tobruk. Brilliant.

We wander up past the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) and RAN (Royal Australian Navy) memorials as well as a memorial to nurses which is surrounded by fencing and appears to be under construction. All the memorials are modern in design and very impressive. We make our way up to a tent being operated by the Salvation Army where they provide hot drinks and a sausage sizzle. Smells great. I’ve had my brekkie, but hubby has not so he is delighted to indulge. It is free. You just give a donation…. Which cost us extra of course.. I mean who that could afford to be generous would skimp on a donation to the Salvo’s on Anzac Day?

We pay our respects at the Attaturk memorial which is the final memorial as we approach the ceremonial ground. The words of Attaturk are given pride of place below a sculpture of his face. Attaturk’s generosity of spirit must surely be the bedrock of Australia’s friendship with Turkey today. How could his words not move anyone to tears?

We accept the offer of a free program from a young volunteer and head up to get ourselves a good possie for the coming ceremony. Not a lot of ground available. Several large grandstands have been erected and are reserved for veterans marching. The ground is quite damp and we lay out our picnic rug, just enough to sit on so we don’t consume too much space.

Guests of honour at today’s ceremony are, as is fitting, representatives of New Zealand and Turkey. I think of the Battle of Kapyong: an amazing feat of arms by Australian troops serving in the United Nationals effort in Korea. The Aussies called urgently to battle had to postpone their celebration of Anzac Day. They had been planning to celebrate the day together with the New Zealanders and the Turks. Instead they did the day proud following in the footsteps of their forebears serving their country. Today nothing stands in our way. We have the privilege of celebrating this sacred day in peace.

A large contingent of the Australian Federation Guard march into position. The New Zealand High Commissioner arrives followed by the Prime Minister of Australia.

The catafalque party move into position. 4 plus a commander. I am really pleased to see it is one representative from the RAAF, one from the RAN, one from the RAA and one from the NZ Army. Incredibly appropriate.

There is no sign of the Governor General and it is explained that he is overseas unveiling an important memorial and that in his absence the Prime Minister has kindly agreed to take the salute of the Anzac Day Parade. We find out later that the GG is in Afghanistan. The Federation Guard moves out of the ceremonial ground. Units have formed up down somewhere along Anzac Parade, people lining the parade also, they march up and into the memorial ground past the Prime Minister. An interesting and informative commentary is broadcast causing a bit of a dilemma to us as spectators. If we applaud and cheer as we would at the Sydney parade, we can’t hear the commentary. In the end a sort of compromise is reached with mild applause and periods in between to listen to the broadcast. The veterans are led this year by a number of units celebrating important anniversaries. Once past the PM the vets proceed out of the ceremonial ground and then back in to file up into the grandstands and take their seats.

The Australian Federation Guard move back into position in the ceremonial ground.

The Prime Minister delivers the commemorative address. I’m not a huge fan of the PMs speaking style, but today his words hit just the right note. No self aggrandisement, no inappropriate nationalism, and very inclusive of New Zealand and Turkey. Spot on.

The service moves on with a hymn I do not know, but it has very moving words printed in our program. We have laying of wreaths. Australian PM and NZ High Commissioner together – as it should be. I'm still feeling scarred by John Howards sickeningly nationalistic speech at Gallipoli for the 90th Anniversary of the landing. He didn't mention New Zealand once in his speach. Not once. I felt like crawling under a rock in shame of him. Especially when Helen Clarke (Prime Minister of NZ) was so generous and inclusive of Australia in her far more appropriate speech. ... anyway General Peter Cosgrove, Chair of the Council of the Australian War Memorial reads the requiem and we follow up with the hymn abide with me.

Finally the National President of the RSL reads the ode and we promise again “we will remember them”. The last post, minutes silence and rouse. “Lest we forget”. The national anthem and then the crowd disperses. We briefly consider heading up to the memorial, but figure it’ll be bedlam in there today, so we head back down Anzac Parade on the western side. We stop to pay respects at the Army memorial. Quite good, but the figures look a little wooden. I admire the trees that line Anzac Parade. All native trees they look brilliant. I love that about Canberra, there is plenty of Autumn colour, but the great parades use native trees. They look great and create a really Australian feel. I stop to photograph some very nice bark….and get a few reasonable pictures…though it’s a challenge to avoid getting the road, passers by or cars in the shots.

We come to the Korean War Memorial. Very striking. A lovely memorial. There is a little room where they tell the story of the Korean War. I don’t stay to read. I read a very interesting book about the Korean War that I picked up in Borders in Chicago. The battles of the Korean war should be better known by Australians… we all know Kakoda, or Passchendaele, and Long Tan and many others. How many understand what the Australians went through and achieved at Kapyong or Maryang San fighting to uphold the ideals of the United Nations?

Outside the Korean war memorial I am drawn by the sound of persistent creaky door noises coming from the trees overhead.. goodness, is that a Gang Gang? I look up and quickly spot a male gang gang cockatoo with his jaunty red head and curly feather crest. He is stuck with baby sitting a persistent youngster who continuously begs for food. After a while dad gives in and baby gets a bit of a feed. How delightful! I haven’t seen that before!

Next we come to the Vietnam memorial. Outstanding. Dedicated “For all those who served, suffered and died – Vietnam 1962 – 1973” There are snippets of comments inscribed on the interior wall and images etched in black stone on another wall. Outside there are memorials to individuals whose remains were not recovered.

Final memorial along the parade is the Light Horse memorial. This is a replica of the memorial erected in Port Said and irreparably damaged during the Suez crisis. It is the second of two, the other located in Albany WA.

Back to our car. It is still early afternoon. We decide to run across to the National Gallery and see "Turner to Monet – the triumph of landscape". As it is well and truly lunch time our first item on the agenda is some tucker. We have visions of eating at the nice restaurant out the back, but find it is closed during the construction works extending the gallery. The café doesn’t look that inspiring, and with all the emotion of the morning neither of us are feeling particularly hungry so we decide to skip the long queue and give lunch a miss for now. We head back upstairs and fork over our $20 per person entry and head on in. I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition, it’s a drag my eyes are a bit tired though. There is a guided tour about to leave, there are stacks of people at the gallery today and in the exhibition. The tour guide is surrounded by a large crowd and voice projection is not her strong point. We can’t hear a thing so opt to wander around on our own. Some interesting paintings. I find I can live without Turner or Constable… some of the ones I like best I find are from Australian public collections – do we have a national taste in landscapes or something LOL. I am pleased to find a couple by Van Gough that I like, one I would even hang on my own wall. On the whole I’m not a huge fan, but then that’s why I love coming to these exhibitions. Reproduced images of art work NEVER do the originals justice. NEVER. They just cannot capture the light or the colours as they are in the flesh. I enjoy the contrast between a Tom Roberts painting of .. Bourke St Melbourne I think it was, hung next to one of Paris … by Pissaro I believe. Both excellent, the Pissaro hubby’s favourite of the day. I felt that in their own way they were on a par for me. Tom Roberts captures the subject so well. There was an outstanding landscape of yachts on the solent.. artist escapes me. They chose this as one of the works to have made into mounted prints for sale – the prints are nice enough I guess, but only as a reminder of the excellence of the original. A pale imitation. One of the works reminded my very much of "Menin Gate at Midnight" – with quite ghostly images and that rich dark blue of night.

We head on back to our car, which is parked across the road. Nice bark on the trees in the car park, kind of like leopard seal skin, frustrating the background is totally inappropriate but I give it a shot and we head for home stopping for petrol and some snacks to the journey as a back up. Just as well as it turns out Lynwood Café is closed today. The local pub is doing great business judging by the cars outside. They have 2 up on today of course. An idea for next Anzac Day is planted. We must go somewhere for a game of two up. Maybe the pub at Collector might be the go. We skip the oral history on the return trip. Save that for next time. We just don’t have the emotional energy for any more war remembrance today.

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