Thursday, 24 April 2008


Had a good little giggle today (24/Apr/08) when a lecturer of mine asked one of the girls in my tute whether she knew what ANZAC Day was all about. I think it should be noted that both the lecturer and the student in this story were Americans, and that my knowledge of American historical events are equally as sketchy.

So the student answers approximately like this:
"No not really. Something about Australia and New Zealand got into a fight or something and then Australia kicked ass. I don't really know all the details though so I don't really know any of the specific battles and things."
And well, bless the lecturer, he had more self-control than I did. He replied that that wasn't really right and explained the bare-bones historical outline of what happened and concluded with:
"So even though thousands of Australians and New Zealanders died they just kept fighting and fighting, even though they never actually got to take over the Cove - and so that's why it's really important to Australians."
At this point I actually jumped into the conversation. The student was really impressed by the lecturer's synopsis of the event but I felt it was a bit too macabre and didn't fully capture why such a futile loss of life and a crushing defeat in our early military history is so important to us. The following isn't actually what I said. What I said was much shorter and (I think) much more eloquent. But I wanted to retell it for the people who didn't know, and to remind the people who did already.

ANZAC Day isn't just about remembering some guys that died because of some really huge military stuff-ups that the British made while commanding our troops. It's actually the event that we (both Australia and New Zealand) look back to as the beginning of our separateness from the United Kingdom and the beginning of being nations in our own right.

Technically, in Australia, we got this on the first of January 1901 with Federation, but even then our national identity was directly modeled on that of the British. ANZAC Day was the start of new, separate national identities for both Australia and New Zealand - when it became okay to be 'just' an Aussie or Kiwi.

So that's why Australians make such a big deal out of the whole thing. Screw Federation - that's on New Years and there's other partying to be done! Unlike the United States we didn't have violent beginnings to our governments. I would argue, however, that we did have a violent beginning to our nations and our national identities. It's a day to remember war dead from all the conflicts Australia (and New Zealand) has taken part in, but also a day to display a bit of patriotism.

Ps: Apologies to any Kiwis who might read this (although according to my blog counter no one from New Zealand has started reading yet) I couldn't find an ANZAC symbol that included New Zealand as well (or the actual word, ANZAC). I know this day is as much yours as it is mine, but I had to use the Australian Rising Sun badge instead!


  1. You know I've never heard or seen any one draw a conclusion similar to yours.

    I struggle with ANZAC Day. I get overwhelmed by conflicting messages about war.

  2. It's not my conclusion. That's the gist of all the speeches they make during ANZAC Day services.

    ANZAC Day doesn't celebrate war, so there's nothing to feel conflicted over. It commemorates it and the personnel who died, which is totally different.

  3. Actually I kind of understand what JoJ said...

    I understand that ANZAC day commemorates the people who gave their lives in service to our country. On the other hand, I'm angry that we were involved at all.

    So there is stuff to feel conflicted over, I think...not terribly unlike supporting the troops but hating what they're being sent to do with this current Iraq situation.