“We are about to commemorate the slaughter of millions of young men between 1914 and 1918.”
So begins John Hirst’s provocative piece on Anzac Day and its place in military history since then. Hirst recommends reading James Brown’s new book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, as well as Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs for an understanding of what this legend really means:
“The hidden history of Anzac is the lives of the men who returned severely wounded and handicapped. The government supported them, but the daily burden was borne by their families.”
Hirst suggests that:
” the second way to sidestep the commemoration of death in battle is to check out your family history for men who served and came home alive, even if damaged. The dead are commemorated in graves tended by the War Graves Commission. The tombstones of returned men usually have no mention of their war service.”
In recognition of wartime’s lost and ruined lives, those who were killed, maimed or psychologically damaged in WW1 and all subsequent wars, I perform a few rituals on Anzac Day (April 25th).
Firstly, I think of my father and his service in WW2. On most Anzac Days, especially in his later years, he marched with his mates from his army regiment, not to commemorate Gallipoli, or the mythical values of the digger, but in memory of the efforts of those who fought in WW2 and to recall the five years he spent in the jungles of New Guinea. Below: My parents during wartime.
Secondly, I play a few important tunes. I recommend that you listen to these, if you aren’t already familiar with them: Eric Bogle’s moving folk song,” And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Redgum’s I was only Nineteen, a lyrical exploration of naive young men at war and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam Vets.
The foundation of historical analysis is interpretation, no less so in the case of war. As a student of Australian History in 1971, during the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia, I became a pacifist like many of my fellow students. Consequently, concepts such as patriotism – and by extension, the Anzac Day march, and military legends surrounding the day- were seen as jingoistic and nationalistic. Latrobe University’s history school was a thriving and intellectually exciting place to be. I vividly recall my father being annoyed and upset at the tone of the final examination questions, and took to my copy of the 1971 examination paper with a forceful pen! My views have mellowed since then, and so did his!
These days I think of the fallen and injured from all wars, including the current war in Afghanistan. And, like many others, I would prefer that more of the Anzac Day budget be spent on the rehabilitation of soldiers ( Have Anzac celebrations become a military Halloween?) and that the huge pool of profit from RSL ( Returned and Services League ) gambling dens be questioned.
And finally, I make a batch of Anzac biscuits, and in this activity I am unbending in the interpretation of the recipe. There will be no added chocolate, nuts or heaven forbid, quinoa!! The sugar is white, not brown. And they must be flat. I make them as my mother and grandmother made them before me.
The recipe below is the one that my mother has always used and comes from the Margaret Fulton book of the sixties, who , no doubt, got it from her mother. My mother, now 91 years old and featured in the first photo above, still makes them this way. Hers are always the best. Her hint for baking great Anzacs? Don’t use baking paper, it dries out the biscuits, and heat the oven to slightly under moderate.
Heat oven to 150c/300 f.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 125 grams butter
- 1 Tablespoon golden syrup ( not maple syrup)
- 2 Tablespoons boiling water
- 1/1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
- Mix the dry ingredients
- Melt the butter and golden syrup over gentle heat, then add the boiling water and bicarb soda. Watch it fizz.
- Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing thoroughly.
- Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased trays. Flatten slightly.
- Bake for approx 20 minutes. (check as they cook for doneness)
- Cool on trays for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely
Store in tins. For another great article on this topic from a brilliant historian, see Don Watson’s article from the Monthly, 2008. If you can’t read it all now, save it for a rainy day.