25 April 2007

Anzac Day

Currently reading: The stars, my destination by Alfred Bester. Yes, it's a classic, and I should have read it long ago, but I've got it now, and must say am really hooked into the story...

So, husband, Mr Gadget-Man, asks me last night, "Do you want to go to the dawn service tomorrow?" He's talking about the local service outside the town hall, rather than the big one in the city at the Shrine of Rembrance.

I say no. I'm not a morning person. Too often, I go to bed too between one and two am, trying to get work finished, and his alarm goes off at 6.30. I reckon I average about four hours proper sleep a night, but do a fair bit of dozing around this, and some nights I do go to bed earlier.

Anyway, he asks Princess Sleepyhead if she'll go to the dawn service with him, and she gives a maybe. Sir Talkalot is out at a scout sleepover because they're going to the dawn service. He marched locally with the RSL last Sunday, something the scouts do on the Sunday prior to Anzac Day each year.

So, Mr Gadget-Man's up, trying to rouse the princess, but she's pretending sleep. Because she's a light sleeper, it's easy to tell. So, I think that I'll get up. Drag myself out of bed. Throw on some different clothes. Pull on a jacket and shoes. Hop in the car.

Halfway down to the town hall, I say that it will be nice to see Sir Talkalot, and good for him to see we're interested. Husband looks askance. "He's not there. He's in at the city."


I should know this, of course, but the reality is that, between work and outside writing commitments, sometimes life just flows on by me, and I rely on others to make sure I stay afloat of what I need to. This doesn't always work, but mostly it does.

The ceremony was nice, though shorter than I expected -- it ended well before dawn. Listening to "The last post", I was taken back twenty years to when I made the pilgrimmage to Anzac Cove -- and Gelibolu (as the Turks called it then). Or even Eceabat, which I think was the nearest town. In those days, some Aussies went to Gallipoli, but not as many. We still had the sense, not of being pioneers, but at least of doing something different. The Turks were very friendly, very reverential of the Aussie soldiers -- talked about how well liked they had been, how honourable they were, how respectful and respected. Our guide moved me with his stories. He, as much as the scenery, the atmosphere, contributed to the experience, and brought it home for me. He taught me that it wasn't about doing something different, that through these losses, so long ago, I had a real connection to this place. That this place would remain within me forever. That surprised me. I had never felt more proud to be Australian than standing in the shadow of so many giants. I know they didn't all die well or even bravely, but that doesn't diminish their sacrifice in any way. And whether they fought for a king or a country or a flag or their mates is irrelevant. What they did shaped us all. What all of our soldiers do does -- whether we ask it of them, whether we are pro or anti-war. But I digress...

My poppa (my great grandfather) had fought in World War I, and I always thought he had been stationed at Gallipoli, so I felt drawn to the area, bound to it through him. Later, I found out that he hadn't been there at all, and was strangely disappointed. Being there, and having been there, I found something spiritual, almost mystical there. When we walked the beach, we understood why the film Gallipoli hadn't been filmed there. It must be the most beautiful cemetary on the planet. And walking through Lone Pine, row after row of names -- all so young. I couldn't help wondering what life might have held for them, how different the world might have been had they survived. Liaisons that did form wouldn't have; different children would have been born -- and how might they have contributed? What of those who ended up unborn? What would the world have lost?

My diary was filled with my trying to document the experience, but to this day I remember the awe, the horror, the gratitude, the loss that I felt. Naively, I hadn't expected to be so moved. At last, I understood why my mother always cried (and still does) when she hears "The last post". I wrote a really bad rhyming poem in my diary -- no small effort because I never wrote poetry. Several years later, when Western Women Writers had convinced me that poetry wasn't the scary arm of literature I thought it to be, I revisited the experience and wrote another Gallipoli poem. That placed touched me, as I'm sure it has everyone who has visited since. I understand the pilgrimmage and concede that it's a place every young (and older) Australian should visit. We should remember those Australians that died there as brothers: black and white. And the Kiwis who are as much a part of that Anzac tradition. And those we fought against -- the concept of the mini-truces called so that both sides could bury their dead, and the accounts of the camaraderie between both sides at these times amaze me still.

I just wonder, with the great increase in tourism, whether the local Turkish people are still as friendly, as happy to see pilgrims (seems funny calling them that), because these days it must be a constant stream, and tourism, I think, always exacts its price.

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