ANZAC Day (Some Aussie culture – part 9)
While Aussies do mark Remembrance Day as well it takes a bit of a back seat to ANZAC Day. It’s not so much an upside down Remembrance Day as the other way round as instead of marking and end to fighting it marks a beginning for the Aussies and Kiwis involved – the landings of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on the Gallipoli peninsula on April 25th 1915. As I understand it, and I’m no military historian so don’t expect much in the way of details, the British plan was to land the ANZACs who would have a bit of a bunfight with the Turks before driving them back all the way to Istanbul, which would fall more or less immediately and take Turkey out of the war, and in turn that would screw Germany and everything would be over by Christmas and so on and so on. Instead it was a monstrous fuck up of epic proportions which for various reasons wasn’t really going well even before it began, and eventually kicked off with the troops being landed in the wrong place. It didn’t really get a lot better from then on and eight months later the Allies gave up and pulled out, though since the Turks lost far more lives it could be argued that it was a battle that both sides lost.
Public opinion of ANZAC Day in Australia has apparently swung back and forth as different conflicts and wars, and associated protests, have gone on but these days (and I can only go on the few years I’ve been here) a good balance seems to have been found. For instance there was a time when there’d be no sport played but now ANZAC Day is a special fixture for both Aussie Rules football and Rugby League, and there are two minute silences and playings of The Last Post before traditional rivals square up and knock seven bells out of each other. This is all on the same public holiday once set aside for things like dawn services and parades of current and former service personnel at various memorials and shrines. So I find ANZAC Day can be tricky to describe – it’s solemn without being sepulchral, it honours members of the armed forces without there being any glorification of war, it’s respectful without being overly deferential, it marks the loss both of individuals and of a nation’s sons and daughters, but without it turning into a day for grief and mourning. For some it’s fallen heroes, for others it’s missing mates. It’s sad and beautiful and formal and informal all at the same time. It’s given too much weight and respect for it to be a once a year formality where you get the impression the TV stations all send out memos three weeks beforehand to make sure all staff have poppies on for the cameras, but nor is it the gung ho thing it might have been. Like I said, I think just the right balance is struck and so ANZAC Day is one of those things that set this corner of the world slightly apart.