Melody Lynn
All Saints’ College, Bull Creek
Winner – Western Australia

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Refer to the original ANZACs and to the ANZAC spirit evident in Australian society at other times, to explain the extent at which you agree with this statement.

When Alec Campbell died in May 2002 Australia lost its last living link with the original ANZACS of 1915. In many ways Alec Campbell had been an ordinary person; a soldier, a husband, a father, a carpenter and then an economist, but his survival through two world wars, the Great Depression and numerous personal tragedies was an extraordinary achievement. His story embodied the ANZAC spirit. This spirit has inspired many Australians since 1915 and is still alive today. A good example of this can be seen in the extraordinary contribution that ordinary Australians are making to the reconstruction of East Timor. Australia’s contribution to East Timor’s reconstruction includes both ADF personnel and ordinary Australians like Mrs Mavis Taylor. This is the real legacy of the indomitable ANZAC spirit.

Australians are not normally associated with great patriotic displays or reverence for authority. In fact many Australians see themselves as "battlers" with a healthy contempt for authority. This has much to do with the image of ANZAC that has been promoted since 1915. The figure of John Simpson Fitzpatrick embodies this image. He was a heroic figure, but was never decorated for his bravery. In fact his fame arises from the fact that he disobeyed orders and worked instead to "rescue" his wounded "mates" on the battlefields around Anzac Cove. However, from 1915 onward all Australians hailed him as a hero. The ANZAC spirit, unlike wartime ideals in other countries stresses the qualities that are best in an individual, rather than the nation. Therefore, the ANZAC spirit can be said to be evident in all of us, influencing the people around us and helping those in need in our community.

The ANZAC spirit is not just evident in wartime or the military, this spirit can also be found in community organisations. Any individual or organisation that battles adversity or succeeds in alleviating suffering can be said to have the ANZAC spirit. Every decision an individual or organisation makes that benefits another can be embodying this spirit. Examples of the Anzac spirit can be found in many different times and places, both in military and civilian life. Well known examples in war can be found on the battlefields of PNG, Tobruk, and Long Tan, while in civilian life the Anzac spirit is quite frequently embodied in the work of organisations like the Australian Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Community Aid Abroad. However, the best examples of the relevance of Anzac and the influence of John Simpson Fitzpatrick are to be found in the actions of individual Australians whose actions have directly helped others in need. Today Australian men and women work abroad as peacekeepers and aid workers in communities as far apart as East Timor, Iraq, PNG and the Solomon Islands. It is here that the spirit of Anzac is to be seen making a difference in the lives of ordinary people.

One Australian who embodies the Anzac spirit today is Mrs Mavis Taylor. She is not, and never has been a soldier, and at the age of 86 might seem to be too old to be anything other than a little old lady, but this appearance is deceptive. True, for many years Mrs Taylor was an ordinary wife and mother, though she in fact raised nine children, in the small town of Yarrawonga. However, from the start Mavis Taylor was a woman of formidable character, a fact demonstrated when after the death of her husband she took on the family textile business and made a go of it. In 1999 she was on the verge of retirement, but having seen the dramatic images of deprivation coming from East Timor she was moved to action. She decided she had to help the East Timorese to rebuild their shattered community. Mavis Taylor, like John Simpson Fitzpatrick, was one ordinary Australian moved by the sight of suffering to ask the question "what can I do?"

Mavis Taylor knew that she could make a difference in the lives of the East Timorese people using those skills she did have. As a wife, mother and business woman Mavis had been an active member of her community for over fifty years. Despite being 86 she was determined to continue to contribute to the community in a useful way. The death and destruction that she saw in East Timor, via the nightly news, galvanised her to action. She saw that the East Timorese people were suffering and she noticed how degraded their living conditions had become. Immediately she put her mind to the problem of transferring her skills to the task of aiding reconstruction. Mavis took $100,000 of her own money and flew to East Timor, where she then set up a women’s sewing cooperative. Her aim was to show the East Timorese how to mend and repair the clothing that they already had and then establish their own businesses to make new clothes. Setting up the co-operative in Dili proved more difficult than Mavis feared. Even prepared for the worst, Mavis was still astonished by the level of devastation. "I knew that it would look pretty battered but it was really depressing to see so much destruction." Though frustrated, Mavis never gave up. "I knew I'd do something good. And I hoped to stay long enough to achieve it," she said.

Over several months and a series of visits Mavis slowly realised her vision. She established contact with individuals in East Timor who had some experience as garment and cloth workers. She organised these women into small groups and saw to it that they had basic materials. She then turned her attention to the provision of machinery and workshops. This was a more difficult task as it required that Mavis deal with the rapidly growing, but disorganised, bureaucracy of East Timor. She had a difficult time securing all the required permits and agreements. However, after the intervention of the Archbishop of Dili she was able to secure a premises on the outskirts of Dili and was able to stock it with the materials and equipment that were so badly needed. Sheer determination, and a healthy disregard for bureaucratic obstacles, eventually brought Mavis success and allowed the women of East Timor to take one more step on the road to reconstruction.

The Anzac spirit has had a profound impact on the way that ordinary Australians see themselves and has inspired people around the world since 1915. In many different spheres of national life since the First World War the Anzac spirit has inspired ordinary Australians to do extraordinary things. Alec Campbell, John Simpson Fitzpatrick and Mavis Taylor are all examples of this extraordinary Australian spirit of ANZAC. This spirit is expressed equally well in acts of bravery and compassion. On 25th April, ANZAC Day, Australians everywhere come together to commemorate the original ANZACs of 1915 and renew their belief in the importance of the ANZAC spirit.

Bibliography

Books

Cannon, M., Chronicles of Australian Contemporary History, Longman, Melbourne, 2001.

Cotter, R., Change and Continuity in 20th Century Australia, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1998.

Murray, B., Crisis, Conflict and Consensus, Rigby, Sydney, 1984.

McKernan, M., The Australian People and the Great War, Collins, Sydney, 1984.

Rickard, J., Australia: A Cultural History, Longman, Melbourne, 1988.

Ward, R., Concise History of Australia, UQP, Brisbane, 1990.

Internet Sites

Egan, C., Alec Campbell: The Last Anzac, http://ink.news.com.au/mercury/anzac/aleccampbell2.html

Riddell, J., Mavis Goes to Timor, http://www.abc.net.au/centralvic/stories/s771877.htm

United Nations Report, Mavis Goes to East Timor,

http://www.globalaging.org/elderrights/world/easttimor.htm

University of Coimbra Report, The Obscure History of Timor,

http://www.uc.pt/timor/atop.html

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