“And the young people ask, what are they marching for?
And I ask myself the same question…
But as year follows year, more old men disappear.
Someday no one will march there at all”
The concept of the ‘Anzac’ is shrouded in controversy not because of what it represents or asks the nation to commemorate, but because of the inherent forgetfulness that accompanies the tradition and the way in which it is manipulated to serve political agenda. The Anzac is long entrenched in Australian history – associated with notions of ‘Aussieness’, the fighting spirit, mateship, honour and it is suggested to be core to the Australian national identity. The question that must be asked is how did these traits become associated with the idea of Anzac? Therein lies the revelation of the controversial nature of Anzac – the concept is manufactured to serve a certain purpose. Inextricably linked to the evocative “Lest We Forget” is a deep irony as the nature of Anzac commemoration orders the forgetting of important racial, gendered and class-related contributions. Simliarly, it raises questions about the synonymy of ‘Digger’ and ‘Anzac’, as well as the notion of the Great War as the ‘birth of the nation’.
The nature of commemoration is at the core of the Anzac tradition. Over time, the nature of ceremonial remembrance has shifted and altered, reflecting the contextual attitudes regarding gender, race and class. There has, however been a perpetual focus upon the white, Protestant male as the universal symbol for ANZAC. There are three predominant images of the typical Anzac[…] The first image, the archetypal one, is that of the golden-brown, blonde youth[…] The second is that of the tall, lean, sun-bronzed and slouch-hatted man of the land[…] The third is that of the larrikin battler, a cheeky, laconically cheerful, improvising, determined man of endurance – both an effective soldier and survivor
The mention of the word ‘Anzac’, in the majority of cases, immediately conjures up thoughts of one of those three stereotypes. But what of the nurses who witnessed the long, excruciating deaths of wounded soldiers for whom nothing could be done? And the men who returned home from the war emotionally battered, were unable to hold down a job or lead a normal life, and in some cases committed suicide? Or the bereaved families? And what recognition was given to Indigenous men who fought, and found that their ‘sacrificial’, nation-loving involvement in the war served them no social change and were still treated as outsiders? For women, their roles were clearly prescribed[…] They were nurses, ambulance drivers, home-front workers, mothers and sisters of soldiers. These non-combatant roles frequently relegated women to either the periphery or absence in the strongly masculinist representations and observations of Anzac Day
In the 1930s, returned nurses who had previously marched were prohibited from marching in Brisbane, following the restriction barring women from the Dawn Service in the 1920s due to their loud wailing. Surprisingly, an article in the 1934 The Courier Mail quoted the president of the Nurses sub-branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) as having no objections to their exclusion. While this has changed over time, it is reflective of the gendered nature of the Anzac legend, which delegates the ‘nurturing’ roles of the nurses and families to the masculine side of war: Values of mateship – the almost biblical story of Simpson and his donkey. Values of compassion – the decision of both the Australians and the Turks to lay down their arms for a day in order that both might bury their dead
Ultimately, Anzac Day is primarily a celebration the male soldier who fought, or died heroically. This notion is reinforced by the absence of the mental and emotional scars of war within Anzac memorial. Following the Great War, “Some 2,000 men were...