I’ve lived in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs (Melbourne, Australia) for over 25 years. In a former life I did things like manage law libraries, maintain a ceramic art practice, study art curatorship part-time, feed an intense novel-reading habit, cycle everywhere, and dance Argentine tango three to four nights a week. Then I had a baby. Now most of my time is devoted to keeping one step ahead of the-pre-schooler-who-never-sleeps – and writing historical romance!
When I was growing up in the 1970s, ANZAC day was a simple thing, marked by clear rituals. My mother would prune our rosemary bushes the day before and take all the clippings down to the local RSL (Returned Serviceman’s League) to be worn as boutonnieres and in hat bands. On ANZAC day itself, we would make ANZAC biscuits and watch parts of the Melbourne ANZAC day parade on television, comforted by the knowledge that all over the country, service men and women had attended dawn services to commemorate the fallen.
It never occurred to me, as a child, to question any of this. The main hall in the small country town I grew up in is the ‘Memorial Hall’, dedicated to remembrance of war, and the primary school I attended has a good sized memorial obelisk in the playground. In this my hometown is no different to many other Australian country towns, although in some towns there are slight variations—a memorial garden or an Avenue of Honour instead of a memorial hall. These markers and the rituals that surround them were a constant presence in my childhood, a reminder of how the Australian psyche was affected by World War I in particular.
Times change however. Last Monday, my daughter made ANZAC biscuits at kindergarten (preschool for 3/4 year olds). She came home self important in the knowledge that ANZAC day is for making biscuits and remembering the soldiers who ‘died against the wall’ [sic]. That afternoon she drew a picture of a mummy soldier, a daddy soldier, a baby soldier and a shark soldier balloon, marching in a parade.
Notice how everyone is smiling. Except the balloon of course. That would be silly. By the way, the largest soldier is the mummy (I’m all of five foot tall…) As Grandma says, my daughter knows who is boss chook
Almost one hundred years since the Gallipoli campaign took place, we live in a Melbourne suburb with nary a war memorial in sight. The only person my daughter knows who has served in the the armed forces is my partner’s father, a Glaswegian who prefers not to talk about his experiences during World War II. Many of our neighbours are first and second generation immigrants from countries that have no interest in perpetuating ANZAC traditions, some even from countries that Australia fought against during various conflicts. Add to this my unabashed liberal tendencies and suspicion of jingoism, and it starts to becomes clear how my daughter has almost reached the age of four without knowing anything about ANZAC day. Is this a bad thing?
The nature of international conflict has changed significantly in my lifetime. No doubt it will continue to change. I hope that in the course of these changes, that my daughter will grow into an engaged citizen of the world, questioning assumptions about when, where and how it is appropriate to use military force. For now however, she is still only three. This morning, she bounded into our bedroom at 6:30am, shouting, “What day is it today?” I confirmed that it was ANZAC day, and that yes, we could make ANZAC biscuits for morning tea. After breakfast however, she became quiet and thoughtful. “Mummy,” she said suddenly, “I have an idea. Why don’t we make ANZAC pancakes instead of ANZAC biscuits?” Why not indeed.
It’s important to remember the terrible events of the past, but ritual without personal investment is empty. Today I will take a moment to remember lives lost in conflict—and then I will go and make pancakes with my daughter.