What The Diggers Fought For


Anzac Day is a time for reflection. I know this because I read it in a Herald Sun liftout supplement once. But what did we reflect on this Anzac Day?

Did we reflect on the first Anzac Day, way back in roughly 1910-1920 if I recall my high school history correctly, when an expeditionary force of Australians, New Zealanders and Samoans stormed the beaches of Gallipoli to take Italy back from the Vietnamese?

Did we reflect on the sacrifice our diggers have made throughout the centuries, not just for the British Empire, but also for American business interests? Or how our national identity was forged in the white-hot clamour of battle and is now sustained through our commemoration of those warriors and the generous sponsorship of liquor corporations?

I think we reflected on all of these things, but perhaps the most important thing to contemplate on Anzac Day is the matter of just what our men and to a certain extent women have been fighting for all these years. Just what do our diggers fight for? When the Anzacs hunkered down in the trenches back in whichever world war that was, just what were they there for, and what did they hope would come from their courage?

The fact is, they fought for us, for me and you and that guy over there, and they fought so that we could enjoy all the great Australian things we are so often in danger of taking for granted.

They fought for democracy. They fought so that every few years you would be able to walk into a booth and mark down your preferred candidate out of whichever group of political timeservers the various parties had rewarded for their factional back-rubbing in your particular region. Without the ANZACs we wouldn't have a representative in parliament to put forward the views of various wealthy party benefactors. They fought so that the nation would always be secure in the knowledge that politicians were citing points of order in defence of its basic freedoms.

More than anything, they fought so that nothing would ever be done without a thorough process of consultation and reports and consideration of stakeholders’ interests and community cabinets and expensive advertising and robust debate and suites of measures and compromises and polls and eventually not actually doing it but doing something else that almost looks like a useful action. For this they laid down their lives, and we thank them.

They fought for values. They fought so that we would have choice in everything we do, from what clothes we wear and what food we eat to what school our wealthier neighbours send their children to. They fought so that we could all make our own decisions about which religions we hate and what sexual behaviour we disapprove of.

They thought for the oppressed and the downtrodden. Australia has always been the land of the underdog, and that’s why our diggers fought for the most disadvantaged and marginalised in our society: the small business owners hamstrung by unfair dismissal laws; the mining magnates crippled by confiscatory taxes; the battlers robbed of their second boats by the tyranny of means-tested private health insurance rebates; and the suburbanites drowning in a sea of cashed-up dusky-hued asylum scammers jumping the queue to get their hands on white women, Centrelink claim forms and photographs of flammable national landmarks in that order.

Most of all they fought for Australia – not Australia the landmass, or Australia the movie, but Australia the idea. Australia the grand experiment. They fought so that citizens could live together in peace and harmony and alcoholism. They fought so that this great nation, founded upon the purest egalitarian spirit, could make its way in the world free from class divisions, so that Australians could live in a land where a man would not be judged upon what titles he had or who his grandfather was, but simply upon how much money he possessed; and that anyone could make their fortune, even if they started from the humblest of multibillion-dollar inheritances. And noblest of all, they fought for equality: so that no matter what your colour, faith or creed, you could be sure you had it better than Aborigines.

This is what we remember when we stand, beer in hand and flag around shoulders, and remember the sacrifice they made in the name of all that is good and pure and decent and honourable and brave and pretty and tanned and blonde and athletic and great at the Commonwealth Games.

But honouring our diggers isn’t just for Anzac Day. We honour them every time we cast a vote. We honour them every time we exercise free speech within certain reasonable limits. We honour them every time we cheer on the green and gold and every time we cry “Oi oi oi!” We honour them every time we spend our Baby Bonus. We honour them every time we take the local council to court to prevent the construction of a mosque near our houses. We honour them every time we write to the paper warning that fluoride is poisoning us.

We honour them every time we run for election on a platform of strong border security. We honour them every time we stand up in the House of Representatives and ask the minister to explain why the government is great, and we honour them every time we stand up in the House of Representatives and ask the minister to explain why the government wants to kill us all. We honour them every time we refuse to answer questions. We honour them every time we point out that the other side is even worse. We honour them every time we appear in Women’s Weekly cuddling our kids. We honour them every time we get tough on crime and make life harder for dole bludgers and give single mothers the whack they deserve. We honour them every time we decide who comes to our country and the circumstances in which they come.

And I’m sure the Diggers, as they gaze down upon us from Larrikin Anti-Authoritarian Brave Person Heaven, have a tear of pride in their eye, as they see all that they fought for, and all that they dreamed of, coming to fruition in so perfect a manner. Raise a glass, guys. You’ve earned it.

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.