As a somewhat recent British colony which is fairly secular, Australia has come to view ANZAC Day as an almost sacred occasion on which to commemorate its citizens (and those of New Zealand) who have served and died in wartime.
It is not without controversy, and since it has outgrown its original purpose of memorialising the disastrous battle at Gallipoli during the First World War, it has become almost a mythology. The ANZAC story often forgets to include the indigenous Australians and immigrants who fought under the flag, and regularly ignores the role of women in conflict (at the front and at home). Those who question the myth are generally not tolerated, as this eloquent satirical cartoon by First Dog on The Moon illustrates.
I am not without reservation when it comes to thinking about how the ANZAC legend has shaped the way that Australia, as a nation, sees itself. However, I think it is still possible to observe ANZAC Day traditions in a respectful way and to quietly reflect upon the realities of war and how it affects individuals, families and communities.
Thus, we have begun a tradition of attending a local march and ceremony (last year it was a particularly lovely one in Hobart). The children and I took a walk around the nearby cenotaph and talked about what it means to remember the soldiers, and together we made ANZAC biscuits to mark the solemn occasion.
In the absence of grand religious rituals or observed cultural customs, I think it’s worthwhile to observe Australia’s national day of remembrance, whilst also ignoring the hoopla that has developed around it and making a concerted effort to remain inclusive.
I also believe that “Lest We Forget” has lot more meaning and depth than it is often given credit for, and is a phrase that deserves a lot of thought.