Why the Yoof Like ANZAC

Macgregor Duncan, David Madden, Peter Tynan and myself have a piece in today’s Australian on why ANZAC still resonates for young Australians today. Full text over the fold.

Youths’ image in Anzac lore, The Australian, April 25, 2005

Across the country, across the Tasman Sea and on the shores of the infamous Gallipoli peninsula, Australians and New Zealanders will gather today to commemorate the sacrifices of a past generation.

Anzac Day is an important time for remembering our national history, but – between the dawn service, the marching parades and the games of two-up – it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the way in which the Anzac legend is changing.

During the past decade, commentators have frequently remarked on the renewed interest in Anzac Day, particularly among young people. To some degree, this reflects the forceful advocacy that Anzac has received under John Howard’s prime ministership.

But a more important reason for the modern appeal of Anzac lies in the cosmopolitanism that is implicit in the modern telling of the story and the way this cosmopolitanism speaks to an emerging aspect of our national identity.

For younger Australians, Anzac is no longer exclusively, or even predominantly, about the courage, heroism and manliness shown by Australia’s bronzed soldiers on the battlefields of Turkey. The fighting and the bravery are remembered, but they are not as important as perhaps they once were.

It is the tragedy of the event that moves young Australians. We weep for the memory of wasted young lives because in the Anzac spirit young Australians see themselves: the cosmopolitan spirit of curiosity, adventure, good humour and humility. Young Australians, who today so readily travel the world, sense in the Anzacs kindred forebears, possessing the same wanderlust and fearless passion to explore.

The new Anzac legend is about the mourning and celebration of young Australians – the type who we all know and recognise – whose lives were cut tragically short on the other side of the world, far from their families and loved ones, while indulging the unique Australian spirit of adventure and exploration.

This is why Anzac today remains an important part of Australia’s attempts to deal with national tragedies such as at Interlaken or at Bali.

The new Anzac legend also explains why so many young Australians today make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli. It is about consecrating our sacred ground. As the dawn breaks over the Dardanelles, young Australians can be found standing silently, in significant numbers, at Anzac Cove. They walk up and down the gullies and over the steep and rocky hills. They pass through Lone Pine cemetery with its white headstones and manicured lawns.

Most profoundly, young Australians at Gallipoli respond to the beautiful words written in 1934 by the Turkish commander there, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, which are engraved on a plaque overlooking Anzac Cove: "To those heroes [who] shed their blood and lives . . . You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie side by side here in this country of ours . . . You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far-away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."

These sentiments capture the modern Australian sense of cosmopolitanism. Australia may have begun the 20th century as an isolated colonial outpost, but today no other country can match Australia’s combination of an internationally diverse population and an internationally focused social outlook.

In the 90 years since Gallipoli and in the 60 years since World War II, Australia has adopted cosmopolitanism as our national creed.

It is fitting, then, that Ataturk’s words are reproduced on a memorial in the Ataturk garden on Anzac Parade in Canberra, near an Aleppo pine planted from seedlings taken from Anzac Cove. They stand for the proposition that there is a common humanity between all people, a universality that Australia has been seeking to embrace.

When viewed through the eyes of younger Australians, the new cosmopolitan Anzac legend still embodies the great Australian values of egalitarianism, mateship and the fair go. But these values no longer carry the Anglo-Celtic baggage they once may have had. Today, they have a universal hue.

Macgregor Duncan, Andrew Leigh, David Madden and Peter Tynan are the authors of Imagining Australia: Ideas For Our Future (Allen & Unwin, 2004).

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3 Responses to Why the Yoof Like ANZAC

  1. shannon says:

    Great piece Andrew (as usual!). I am (only) 28, but my feelings towards ANZAC day are resonated here.

    I have been fortunate enough to live through “peacetime” so the true tragedies of war are difficult to grasp. But the sense and spirit of adventure shown by our troops and the consequences of these feelings (which as you identified, as not dissimilar to the need for adventure for today’s young men and women) are what I can really grasp today.

    (I will link to this article over at my blog)

  2. Dominic says:

    Andrew, you sum up alot of my sentiments aswell (I’m 24). I just wrote an extended coment on the Troppo blog on the same issue before reading your piece: http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/009000.html
    I live in Canberra where we have the Australian War Memorial, but I don’t believe the memorial successfully captures this sentiment. I think it is still glorifying of war and nationalism. Its a shame. Perhaps if all our memorials were built to remind us of the futility of war instead of the glory we’d be more determined to make peace without waiting till the last resort was the only option.

  3. geoff says:

    once you’ve lost a family member or two to one war or another, the gloss tends to fade somewhat. those poor bastards died so people like you and me wouldnt have to.

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