Flat White

Neither age nor bureaucracy will condemn them: Anzac marches must be on

9 March 2021

1:41 PM

9 March 2021

1:41 PM

Barring further acts of political cowardice, Australians will commemorate Anzac Day 2021 as they have done for almost 106 years.

Almost, because last year’s commemorations were curtailed by an overwhelming government fear of spreading an exotic disease.

Queensland’s first Anzac Day was almost totally the preserve of the state’s bereaved – mothers, widows and children personally affected by the loss of a family member on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

No matter worse was yet to come, that was no consolation to those families whose young men had volunteered in the first flush of patriotic fervour.

The realisation those men would rest forever in foreign graves in lands beyond easy reach bit deeply.

It was not until late 1918 Australian officials would return to Gallipoli to identify those who had died and to bury those who had lain uncovered since they were killed four years previously.

Anzac Day was a chance to grieve with those similarly affected, to share a common pain yet perverse pride in what they had attempted but failed to achieve.

The day was not then and never has been the exclusive preserve of governments, nor ex-service organisations, of which the Gallipoli Legion was briefly pre-eminent.

The RSL assumed that role but has grown increasingly irrelevant as entrenched bureaucratic officialdom – as opposed to leadership – has resisted ceding control to subsequent veteran generations.

With more than 4,000 ex-service organisations, Australia’s veteran community is more fractured now than it has even been.

None can agree on issues or on tactics ensuring outcomes that meet the needs of all affected veterans.

The RSL seems incapable of effectively lobbying parliamentarians to represent the interests of the wider veteran community.

Yet, for the first time in decades, both federal houses have veterans from all three services representing the political spectrum.

None seems to enjoy the camaraderie of early veterans who became parliamentarians, who could put aside political differences for the good of their fellows.

No credible veteran holds a senior ministerial role while experienced individuals sit frustrated on the backbenches or in opposition.

Perhaps sensing the veteran community’s mood, the Queensland government has allowed community Anzac Day services to be held.

A large veteran attendance will reinforce that mood signalling theirs is not a community to be trifled with.

They will parade their people and symbols to show neither age nor bureaucracy will condemn them, let alone some minor medical inconvenience.

Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets DownThis piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin, where an earlier version appeared.

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