Melissa Burge
Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School
Winner – Queensland

‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

At the beginning of World War One, the British High Command’s image of ANZAC troops as being undisciplined, untrained and rowdy was quickly replaced by one of soldiers who were daringly brave and utterly determined even in the face of certain defeat. And so the ‘ANZAC legend’ was born out of bravery, suffering, successes and defeats of the Gallipoli campaign. The spirit of the Anzacs lives on still. I agree with our Governor General in 2002, Sir William Dean as addressed the gathering at the memorial service in Gallipoli where he stated …

That ‘Spirit of Anzac’ was quickly accepted by Australians as the linchpin of our national identify. Though born from the doomed campaign at Gallipoli, it is not really about loss at all. On Anzac Day last year, at the deeply moving dawn service at Gallipoli, I tried to explain what the spirit means to us Australians: ‘It is about courage and endurance, and duty, and love of country, and mateship, and good humour, and the survival of a sense of self-worth and decency in the face of dreadful odds.’

(Dean, 2002)

The Macquarie Dictionary defines ordinary as being: ‘somewhat inferior, of the usual or common kind’ (Jacaranda, 1998) and this truly reflects the spirit of the Anzacs of World War One, which has continued throughout Australia’s history to the present day.

World War One conjures up images of soldiers kneeling on the ground shooting at the enemy, or images of deep trenches with dying men just over the top wall. Rarely thought of are the stretcher-bearers who transported wounded men from the front to the safety o the hospital, risking their lives to do so.

Private J. S. Kirkpatrick, generally known as John Simpson or ‘the man and his donkey’, entered World War One at the age of twenty-two, as a stretcher bearer for the Third Field Ambulance Company. During his time at ANZAC Cove, Simpson, after responding to the call of a wounded soldier, saw a donkey grazing nearby and decided to use it to carry the wounded man to the beach. From then on John Simpson and the four-legged Duffy, could be seen transporting injured men between Monash Valley and the beach.

John Simpson not only risked his life to rescue others: he gave them a second chance. If Private Simpson, or any other stretcher-bearer for that matter had not rescued the wounded soldiers, there would have been many more lies lost during the war. He truly was an ordinary soldier who did extraordinary things.

For those of my generation, the ANZAC spirit refers to the qualities of all those people who selflessly, imaginatively and intellectually put the well being of others before that of themselves. Many ‘ordinary’ people represent this spirit; however, Peter Davidson, Fred Hollows and Jason McCartney are all worthy of mention.

Peter Davidson, a flight paramedic with Air Ambulance Victoria, saved eight out of twelve people in a boat wreck in the 1998 Sydney–Hobart Yacht Race. Davidson acted as a ‘down-the-wire’ man. This means that his job was to reach the injured yachtsmen and hoist them to safety. In hurricane conditions he managed to pull eight crewmen from the boat leaving only four to be rescued by others. By the time Peter had rescued the first sailor he was physically exhausted, yet he kept battling the hurricane winds to honour his unstated promise to the sailors waiting below. (Halliday, 2002) This was not an easy task given the weather conditions and the state of the sailors. One of the men had a broken leg and another had lost his fingers and had massive head injuries. Less than twenty-five minutes after the last man had been saved, the Stand Aside sank. As Peter Davidson recalls:

‘That first week there were three nights where I had dreams where I failed to rescue anyone and I’d wake up and just remember it’s okay, I did rescue them.’

(Halliday, 2002)

Australia recognised Davidson’s efforts with a citation for bravery and the United States gave him their highest aviation award, the Laureate. Davidson, however reserved his greatest enthusiasm for the smiling faces of the sailors and their families. They were ‘… Worth more to me than any of the awards.’ (Halliday, 2002) This surely is an example of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things in the face of great danger.

Fred Hollows changed the quality of lives by returning eyesight back to citizens of non-wealthy communities. Hollows always insisted that everyone deserved the same chances in life as he said … ‘The rich should not live longer simply because they are rich and can afford treatment, and the poor should not die prematurely simply because they are poor.’ (Hollows, 2002, http://abc.net.au/btn/australians/hollows.htm) Fred Hollows set up a national program to fight eye diseases in Aboriginal Australians. He pioneered the treatment of trachoma, one of the main causes of blindness, and inspired other doctors and volunteers to join him on his crusade.

Hollows, his medical team and volunteers travelled all over the outback and in the first three years, they treated 30,000 people and operated on 1000. Because of his work and determination, the rate of curable blindness in Aboriginal Australians was cut in half. Later his program spread to Vietnam, Eritrea, Nepal and China, Fred Hollows brought vision and new life to thousands of people, and now the Fred Hollows Foundation continues his work in poor underdeveloped countries. This is yet another example of how the Anzac spirit has continued through many ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things.

Jason McCartney was an ordinary AFL player, however the Bali Bombings changed his life Despite suffering horrific injuries, McCartney risked his life to rescue two sisters from the inferno, and gave up his seat on the plane, as he believed that there were people who were far worse off than he was. When he got home to Australia, he spent a week in a coma, yet his amazing determination to survive and win the battle saw him make his wedding on time and to play football for the last time before retiring. ‘I feel fortunate to be here.’ He commented in June when he played the heroic comeback game. Jason McCartney has shown courage in the face of danger and therefore represents the Anzac spirit, by putting others’ safety before that of his own.

In our local community is Ipswich, the Anzac spirit has been demonstrated by Dr Hilda des Arts, a German woman by origin who spent the last two decades of her life establishing a Hospice for palliative care. Before she came to Australia Hilda tragically watched her daughter die in her early twenties and was distressed that hospitals were not an appropriate place for young people to die. After she retired from the workforce in 1978 she decided to move to Ipswich because she thought it would be a city with a strong community spirit. She was to dedicate the rest of her life to working for the community.

Hilda was involved in numerous other organisations. She founded Youth Serving Australia, was a counsellor with lifeline and spent many hours with the Aboriginal youth organisation, Teen Care. In the last ten years of her life, Hilda established Senior Net in Ipswich and once this organisation expanded she became the national president. The organisation brings older people together giving them the skills and support to use the Internet and therefore contribute to the modern world. Rachel Nolan, MP commented that … ‘She embodied the spirit of volunteerism, was a leader in the Ipswich community and showed us what volunteers can achieve.’ (in Collisson, 2002) Hilda des Arts on a local level epitomised the Anzac spirit with her selfless dedication to the Ipswich community.

The Anzac spirit which began on that fatal shore in Turkey 88 years ago has survived through the extraordinary deeds of those mentioned above as well as countless other ‘ordinary’ individuals who quietly implement this spirit within their community. Australians are known worldwide for their selfless commitment to their fellows in need and the Anzac spirit, rather than decreasing with time continues to be a shining light whenever a helping hand is needed.

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