April 20, 2018

The ANZAC Spirit

Australia, as a member of the Commonwealth and a former British Colony, is a reasonably successful experiment in multi-culturalism.

Considering that in Sydney, 39% of the population was born overseas, Australia can boast a peaceful, cosmopolitan and tolerant society overall – and one that is accepting of diverse cultural identities.

Yet, there is something that is uniquely Australian, not from anywhere else that binds everyone in this perfectly diverse land. The ANZAC spirit lives in every city, every regional town, every school, every swimming pool, and surf club. It is also represented by an ethnically diverse range of Australians, including the indigenous contribution to the war – for a country where their constitutional recognition as persons was severely lacking.

When we are talking about the ANZAC spirit, it can be hard to lock down the features of it that cause throats to swell and tears to fall when the last post plays. The Gallipoli campaign is frequently described as a ‘slaughter’ of Australian life because, despite the heroic stories, the Australians were defeated because they lacked every conceivable advantage, yet they fought.

There was never hope for victory in ANZAC Cove in 1915, but the tenacity of the doomed Australian troops fighting uphill against a local enemy that heavily outnumbered them saw the death of 8,700 Australian soldiers, and the birth of the ANZAC spirit.

Here is why I believe the ANZAC spirit, galvanised on the beaches of Gallipoli, is at the core of Australian people, all Australian people.

The Value of being Australian

It was Gallipoli and the reported indifference of British command to the slaughter of Australian troops on the cliffs of Turkey that drew a line in the sand about the Australian identity.

Sure, we had Federation by then but we were a very young nation and hadn’t fully cut ties with our British parents. After Gallipoli, we mattered – as Australians. Never again would Australians be considered resources of the empire.

The Value of Sacrifice

John Simpson, a private of the Australian Army, was one of the thousands of Australians in ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915. Without a weapon, Simpson (along with his Donkey), spent his time in Gallipoli trecking the cliffs and transporting wounded Australian soldiers from the front lines, back down to the beach.

The next month of his life is the aspirational bar for all Australians and his legend came not from fighting in one of the most intense theatres of the war – but from activities of peace and service in that most dramatic backdrop.

The enemy at the top of those cliffs was insurmountable and it is important to remember that victory was never in sight. Selflessness, and courage, and tenacity in the face of adversity – Simpson teaches Australians what it means to roll up sleeves and help others.

The Value of Peace

ANZAC Day, and specifically the Battle of Gallipoli, is not about the glory of war, it is about the price of war that is paid for peace. It is a reminder for us, not to fight, but to preserve the peace that was brokered by Australians in every theatre of war to bring about the modern Australia that is a shining example for the world of peace and tolerance.

This ANZAC Day, lest we forget the men and women who paid that price and acknowledge those who are prepared, today, to follow the peacekeeping example of Simpson.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their 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 faraway 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.” – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

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