As the day dawned and the traditional drizzle came to attention, I wandered down the road to the memorial as I do most years for the dawn service. I’ve been going for more than 10 years. As a peace activist I was a slow in coming to an appreciation of ANZAC Day. Each time I go there are more and more people there and our little village swells with friends and family who gather around to hear the songs, words, bugle, and tributes. They come to lay down their wreaths and pass onto the next generation their own stories of peace, justice, war and horror. I continue to be struck by the intergenerational event it has become.
I shy away from the nationalism that camouflages the deeper spirit of a shared humanity that binds us altogether. I miss the annual Palm Sunday Peace marches so taking my own steps down this morning is a small reminder of my activist days. This quiet act, is my own honouring of those who went to war, those that stayed behind, the conscience objectors, the families the wounded and worn returned to and all those who died.
I am sad that in my name, there are Australian troops overseas occupying a land, not their own. There is no good war. It is all bad. So what am I doing here at dawn in front of the RSL reciting the Lord’s Prayer and listening to the Last Post with my neighbours? It is a sense of community and common good that draws me – just as the sense of community and common good of years past probably drove other women, mothers, partners and friends to stand in solidarity and watch their men, fathers, sons and brothers go off to war. The litany of names on the memorial is a testimony to families emptied of men as a result of war. I feel drawn to the generations past, and I hope fewer, yet to come, who will gather to say not in my name.
My first memory of war was seeing a moratorium march in Adelaide on the TV. I was in Year 7 so it must have been 1970. On the TV I saw mounted police, protestors, flags and more people than I had ever seen in Adelaide before. I was shocked to see the streets of the city I only knew of as being peaceful and cultured hosting this rabble. As the years went on, I went to school in the big smoke and become more aware of what it was all about and became active in my own little way in the peace movement, mainly learning songs to sing and taking a pledge that if I was ever a mother I would do all I can to make sure no child of mine would be conscripted to go to war.
Over the years my activism included me helping organising the Palm Sunday Peace marches, fostering a spirit of cooperation and understanding where I could, more recently learning about nonviolent communication, supporting activists like John Dear . I don’t think of myself as much of an activist these days. I am pleased though that none of my offspring have gone to war and that they all hold a healthy attitude to peace and understand the relationship between peace and justice.
One of my favourite maxims is from Meister Eckart, a fellow Rhine dweller to you dear Hildegard. He says ‘in compassion, justice and peace kiss’. This is what leads me to be up at dawn on Anzac Day – a call to myself to be more compassionate and to understand those who say yes to war.
Bruce Dawe, the great anti-war Australian poet says is well in so many of his poems and this one called Homecoming seems right to share on Anzac Day.
All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,
they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them home,
they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,
they’re zipping them up in green plastic bags,
they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolnessthey’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of
the deep-freeze lockers — on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut
the noble jets are whining like hounds,
they are bringing them home
– curly heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms
– they’re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the steaming chow mein,
their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific
with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east,
home, home, home — and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures
of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness…
in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers
– taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming risessurrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)
then fading at length as they move
on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
raise muzzles in mute salute,
and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs
telegrams tremble like
leaves from a wintering tree
and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
– they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.
(c) Donald Bruce Dawe
When I was in my bedroom in the 70s, I sung along with Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam. So it seems appropriate to end this blog with that piece of history, linking the Rhineland, poetry, music, wars past and current with Peace Train. These days I am more likely to be motivated by Pink singing with the Indigo Girls, Dear Mr President or Elvis Costello’s classic, What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding.