‘How and why have Australians commemorated the Anzac Experience?’
Although Australians remember Gallipoli as an horrific component of our history, it is also greatly respected and honoured, as it was the birthplace of our Anzac spirit. In the Great War, Australia was only a new nation lacking experience. However its people built a spirit so strong and persuasive, that 87 years on it shows no indication of abating. Rather it strengthens with each passing year. As Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove stated, the Anzac spirit ‘…is one that permeates all Australians and not just those in uniform. It is the innate Australian quality of wishing everyone could get a fair go.’ (Hele, 2000:4). This aspiration of wishing everyone could get a fair go, extended through World War Two and can also be identified in many peacetime situations. The qualities of the Anzacs are intrinsic to our society. It is an unwavering presence in our country.
Throughout the Second World War the Anzac spirit remained a significant factor in the survival of the Australian soldiers. Even in the most callous circumstances in the Changi prisoner-of-war camp, the soldiers’ spirit continued unscathed. The Australians refused to surrender, finding diverse ways to maintain some aspects of ‘normality’ in their lives. The Changi concert was one innovation. Soldiers performed pantomimes, musical and serious dramas and presented a thirty-piece orchestra every Sunday for fellow prisoners, in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. ("The Changi Concert Party":2002. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/changi/life/concerts.html). The Anzac spirit of mateship and duty to look after each other did not alter during the time at Changi and even today remains unintimidated by challenging circumstances.
In times of war, people are tested both physically and mentally, by the daunting situations they face. However this just challenged Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop to continue in his efforts of ensuring his mates got a fair go on the Burma-Thai Railway. Japanese officials took the prisoners’ clothes, food supplies and medicine, however their Anzac spirit remained untouched. ‘Weary’, as he became affectionately known, distilled medicines from jungle plants, used tree saws as amputating tools and fashioned surgical tools from sharpened cutlery. (Chopping, Dickson, Hobson, Lewis, 1995: 149). The Anzac spirit of mateship and sheer determination not to give in resulted in Australians having one of the lowest death rates compared with other countries in neighbouring camps. (Ebury, 1994: 421).
That Anzac spirit continues among Australians today and significantly, it does not diminish in times of crisis; rather it draws all Australians closer and recharges the spirit born over eight decades ago. Recently, Australia was affected by the tragedies that occurred in Bali, with many losing family and friends to the acts of terrorism. Nonetheless our country united, carrying out a telethon which contributed $2.5 million to that previously raised, totalling $7.2 million. ("Telethon takes Bali appeal to more than $7m", Electric Library:2002.). The money was intended for both Australians and Indonesians. Although Australia was arguably the target of the attacks, its citizens still raised millions of dollars for another country, because Indonesians, too, suffered - an example of the Anzac spirit of mateship and lending a hand.
At present Australia is in the midst of a severe drought. Farmers are struggling with low water supplies and unsubstantial amounts of rain. Awareness of this suffering led fellow Australians to organise the ‘Farm Hand Appeal’ concert. At this show, celebrities such as INXS, Olivia Newton-John and Slim Dusty performed to raise money for the nation’s farmers. ("Concert and telethon put appeal on target for $20m", Electric Library: 2002). In total $14 million was raised by Australians "lending a hand" to their fellow citizens, trying to ease their mates’ burdens. ("Concert and telethon put appeal on target for $20m", electric Library:2002).
Australia has always acknowledged, both formally and also informally, the men and women who fought to protect our country. This is not to glorify the occurrence of war, but is an attempt to educate and so prevent further conflict. It is also to show recognition. Two very significant days are dedicated to those men and women, the 25th of April-Anzac Day and the 11th of November- Remembrance Day, previously known as Armistice Day. Both are commemorated every year. On these days, the entire country reflects on all of the wars and conflicts Australia has been involved in, with a sense of grief, but also, an immense sense of pride. These commemorations take place at every town’s war memorial, the place dedicated to the lives lost at war. Australia has also remembered its soldiers and their efforts through the media and schools. Films and documentaries have been made with the theme of war, to educate the younger generations and also to honour those who actually went through those experiences. Schools also play a major role in continuing the Anzac spirit but at the same time, educating children of the tragedy of war and the effects it has on society. Personally, I remember in every year of my schooling, a veteran coming and telling us of his experiences in war - the funny side, the serious side, but every time it is with a great sense of pride and the wish that no one else has to experience what he did. It is through this that the Anzac spirit is born in the younger generations, the spirit of mateship, determination and lending a hand, not just to friends, but to all.
Australians and New Zealanders possess something special because of the Anzac spirit that exists throughout our societies and differentiates us from the rest of the world. All of the men and women who were involved in any war deserve our remembrance and pride, partly because at first, they volunteered for a war that was not originally their own, but mainly because of their sacrifice, endurance and pragmatism. I feel amazed at what these ordinary humans accomplished and their ability to actually volunteer to sacrifice their own lives for others. Just by volunteering, every soldier manifested qualities of ‘lending a hand’ and helping out a mate. These traits became the Anzac spirit that was extended to everyone.
The Anzac spirit defines Australians and exists in every citizen regardless of whether he or she was born in this country or has been naturalised. It is a spirit of mateship, of lending a hand and also, one of determination. Whether in war, conflict, peacetime or day-to-day situations, the spirit is so strong and honoured that it determines our behaviours and decisions. Through Remembrance and Anzac Day, schools and the media, our government has endeavoured to spread the Anzac spirit and keep the legend of the Anzacs alive. Approaching its 90th birthday, unlike the soldiers of war, the spirit does not age and slowly disappear, rather it continues to strengthen and expand its views of mateship and lending a hand, to future generations, ensuring that no one forgets the Anzac Spirit.
1) Chopping Alexandra, Dickson Suzan, Hobson David, Lewis Geoff (1995) Exploring History, Melbourne: Oxford.
2) "Concert and telethon put appeal on target for $20m", 2002, The Australian, p4. In electric library (online). Available: Electric Library.
3) Ebury, Sue. (1994). Weary: the life of Sir Edward Dunlop. Australia: Viking.
4) Hele. Michele, 2000 "A tradition of defending what’s right", The Courier-Mail, p4. In electric library (online). Available: Electric Library.[Accessed November 10th, 2002].
5) "Telethon takes Bali Appeal to more than $7m", 2002, AAP General News. In electric library (online). Available: Electric Library.[Accessed November 15th, 2002].
6) "The Changi Concert Party" (http://www.abc.net.au/changi/life/concerts.html) (2002).[ Accessed November 15th, 2002].
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