A Time to Reflect


Now that ANZAC Day’s been and gone for another year, there’re a couple of things I would like to get off my chest. The first one is about my old mate, Bill.

Bill was quite a few years older than me. He fought in World War II. Apparently, he served with some distinction in New Guinea he even managed to get himself wounded. Naturally enough, he was flown home a hero.

When he got back to Kempsey, all dressed up in his uniform, with his medals polished and shining on his chest, they just about dragged him into the local RSL club. They gave him a night he would never forget. They bought him beers, they told him jokes, they listened to his stories, they treated him like a hero.

So the next day, naturally enough, Bill decided to go back and do it all again, with all his new found mates. He dressed up in his best civvies, and drove over to the RSL club. When he walked up the steps, the man at the doors said: ‘What do you think you’re doing, Jacky Jack? You should know you can’t come in here. Not unless you’ve got a White man to hold your hand.’

Bill walked back down the steps and got into his car. He drove home, went inside and got all his medals. He got back in his car and drove onto the Kempsey Bridge. He parked his car across both lanes of traffic, and got out. He walked over to the edge of the bridge, and he threw all his medals into the river.

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas.

He never had another thing to do with the RSL club, or with ANZAC Day marches. Bill died a couple of years ago. I believe he had the clearest, brightest blue eyes I ever saw on a man.

I guess I should remember about 45 ANZAC Days. The common theme has always been that the Aussie and Kiwi diggers were famed and respected as among the very best and most effective fighting troops in the world despite a reputation for being rowdy, undisciplined and utterly disrespectful of authority.

I always wondered why.

Can the troops of one country be naturally better shots, or braver, or luckier? It couldn’t be superior training surely, not with the ANZACs’ notorious lack of discipline.

When I asked old Bill about what made Aussie troops so good, he said,

Simple. We were mates. The French go on about Esprit de Corps. The US Marines, apparently have something similar I think they call it ‘the Code’ that seems to involve a lot of macho grunting We just called it mateship. We looked after each other.

Just about every year, on ANZAC Day some commentator has to ask, ‘Is this generation as good as the last? Do we still have that spirit? Would this generation be able to distinguish themselves in battle, the way preceding generations did, or would they be too sensitive, too civilised?’

These days, a more pertinent question might be: ‘Would they be more concerned with looking out for Number One?’

I get irritated when I hear people say Australia has no traditions.

When I was a teenager, I rode motorbikes and barely lived to tell the tale. I remember one wet day I was riding up the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, on a back road all twists and turns and hairpin bends.

There was an oil patch on one hairpin, and I ended up sitting in the middle of the road with a motorbike on my lap. Four cars came past one after the other, and every one did the same thing. As they came up next to me, the driver wound down the window, looked at me and asked, ‘You right there, mate?’

An outsider would probably call that wry Aussie wit. I think it was just traditional Aussie good manners.

I don’t believe John Howard would have wound down his window.

I think ‘pre-emptive strike’ is just king-hitting.

I think writing your own resumé with a self-assessment is blowing your own horn.

I think greed is not good.

Can a cowardly, servile and greedy leader turn a whole country into a cowardly, servile, greedy nation? Where the only way to the top is by treading on and exploiting everyone else? Where the basic rule of industrial relations is every man for himself, and to hell with everyone else?

This ANZAC Day, more than anything else, I felt embarrassed.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.