Remembering and Remembrance Day

Brisbane’s main Remembrance Day service was held as usual at the Shrine of Remembrance in the city. I attended a small function held near my local World War I memorial at Windsor.

One of the sad ironies of Remembrance Day is that probably one of the things some veterans of war try to do more than anything else is to forget. I suppose the very least the rest of us can do is to regularly try to remember why that is.

The event was organised by the local Windsor and Districts Historical Society, a local group based in the old Council chambers of the former Windsor Town Council (which was abolished when the greater Brisbane City Council was formed in 1925). I think it’s very valuable to keep the history of small localities alive, particularly when they are areas that have become swallowed up in the vastness of a modern city, and these local historical societies play rarely recognised but immensely important part in making that happen.

Prior to 11am, a short talk was given about the life of one Queensland soldier who signed up under age, went to the war and was killed in the heavy fighting near Ypres. Focusing on just one person’s story, and the people directly touched just by that one person’s death, is a way of pulling the horror of war back to the comprehendible, individual level.

The Windsor Memorial is a nice sandstone shrine, built in the 1920s by the former Town Council in a park across the road from the Chambers. The park is now a large island in the middle what is now a very busy main road (which may become a somewhat smaller island if a proposed new Busway goes ahead). Speaking of busways and war history, it was interesting to read that construction of another busway currently underway in the city has been halted by the discovery of an abandoned underground World War II air raid shelter.

It is curious that while Anzac Day services have gone from strength to strength in recent years, the focus on Remembrance Day has remained fairly muted. I’ll leave others to speculate on why that might be.

PS: I have done posts on Remembrance Day in the last couple of years too. You read can my 2004 post here, and my 2005 post here.

And here’s a good short and sombre post over by Hamish over at Webdairy.

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20 Comments

  1. Lest we forget

    the many Kalkadoon warriors who fought to the death for their country against a foreign invader.

    It is estimated that 900 Kalkadoon people were killed during the six years that they fought to protect their land, culminating in the famous battle of Battle Mountain in 1884.
    http://www.mountisa.biz/history/kalkadoons.php

    Al Grasby’s book “Six Australian Battlefields” devotes a chapter to the Kalkadoon war.

    In 1972 Bob Katter Snr. named an army helicopter “Kalkadoon” at a ceremony with Kalkadoon people in Mt. Isa. in recognition of their fighting spirit.

    Qld. Senator Margaret Reynolds tried to get a Kalkadoon memorial at the Canberra war memorial but I dont think she succeeded.

    (Perhaps the senator might consider investigating possibilities for taking up her cause if she did not succeed)

  2. John:

    The idea is floated from time to time about a specific memorial to Indigenous Australians who fought and died defending their country against the colonial conquest – either at the official War Memorial in Canberra, or on Anzac Parade.

    I am almost sure I read someone from the RSL relatively recently expressing support for the idea, which surprised me. However, I can’t remember who it was or where I saw this and I can’t find a record of it at the moment.

    I can’t see the current government supporting it, but they won’t be around forever and building up support for the idea in the meantime is a good idea.

    (Anzac Parade is the wide boulevarde that leads down from the War Memorial containing a number of specific sculptures and memorials to specific conflicts and groups of service men and women. The axis of the Parade runs in a line through the centre of Old Parliament House and up the hill trhough the middle of the existing Parliament House, which is capped by the widely recognised flagpole.)

    I’m very supportive of a major memorial to recognise these underacknowledged but fundamental battles on our own soil, although I’ve always been in two minds about whether the National War Memorial precinct is the right place for it. I wonder if a memorial at the top of Mt Ainslie might be better – it’s the hill behind the War Memorial which is where the axis running from Parl House up Anzac Parade and through the War Memorial goes to. Sort of overlooking it all, linked to, but not fully part of it.

    Anyway, wherever and whatever it was would need to have wide support of Indigenous Australians, and if they supported it I’d support it.

  3. I support a general indigenous memorial, but the generality of such a thing can only teach future generations the generality of the issues. History needs too be taught including specific stories like the battle of Long Tan, the Eureka Stockade, Gallipolli and the battle of Battle Mountain.

    The war museum would be a good place for a Battle Mountain exhibit. Not a seprate memorial in a token indigenous section separated from the “real” history.

    The Kalkadoon wars are not unique, but unlike most battles in the frontier wars it was documented by white authorities and allready has a profile as a national story through the work of historians in the 70’s and 80’s.

    There are 2 issues here. One is Australia’s racism and issues of sovereignty, which on this unique issue I believe should be swept under the carpet. Same with all the reasons for all the wars – Vietnam, Korea, Japan etc – transcend the politics of war. The second and primary issue is to touch the real sadness and spirituality of those who have laid down their life for their country.

    It is now common to see memorials between diggers and their previous enemies commemorating together. I understand there is now turkish involvement in Australian Gallipolli memorials. I reckon this should be the spirit of Aboriginal war memorials too, to identify the common bond of humans and their preparedness to fight for their country and acknowledging their contribution in future generations.

  4. p.s.

    A memorial commemorating the frontier wars is a very different thing to a memorial for indigeonus service men and women which is also needed in Canberra (if there is not one already)

  5. I agree that a memorial to Aborigines who fell defending their home would be a good thing.

    I have been idly toying with the idea of a presentation on ‘The battles for the Brisbane Valley’, documenting the story of the war that was fought to establish today’s European control on the ground I’m living on today.

    One problem I’ve had is that apart from Al Grassby’s book, there seems to be very little easily available history.

    I think a study of these wars would be very useful. At the moment, there is a vague yet persistent feeling among non-Aboriginal society that acknowledging the history of our rule means taking on an enormous amount of shame and guilt.

    I think opening discussion of the war as a war – in the same way that people discuss, say WW II, would interest people who like discussing war. That is a large audience, and one that is often resistant to talking about injustice to Aborigines – but would be interested in a discussion of how colonial war was fought 100-200 years ago.

    Also, dicussion of clever tactics and bravery of Aboriginal warriors could possibly provide Aborigines with newly popular cultural figures who symbolise pride and strength.

  6. Re comment #4:

    according to this page, there is an Aboriginal memorial plaque on the side of Mount Ainslie.

    Some other good sources of information about Indigenous service men & women can be found at this link and this link.

    I was interested to read this part:
    “Oodgeroo Noonuccal (a.k.a. Kath Walker) joined the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942, after her two brothers were captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Serving as a signaller in Brisbane she met many black American soldiers, as well as European Australians. These contacts helped to lay the foundations for her later advocacy of Aboriginal rights.”

  7. Andrew Bartlett, you said
    “It is curious that while Anzac Day services have gone from strength to strength in recent years, the focus on Remembrance Day has remained fairly muted. I’ll leave others to speculate on why that might be.”

    Well, despite strenuous efforts to politicize it and manipulate it for the advantage of one clique or another, Armistice Day or, as it is now called, Remembrance Day has always been a time for reflection on real people – usually family members or friends – who died in or after war. Even though there were formal services conducted, it was always very personal and low-key; it is a day when quiet comforting words are appreciated but flowery or fiery speeches are not..

    It was because this day, unlike ANZAC Day, was so personal, whenever those who flit from one fashionable cause to another disturbed the solemnity of the day for their own purposes, it was so hurtful. The show-offs could never see that, when they kicked up a fuss, they did irreparable damage to their cause by upsetting ordinary people who had lost a father or an uncle or or a fiance or a good mate in war.

  8. It might be my schooling, but I always remember Remembrance Day (don’t know it as Armistice Day – why did they change it Graham?) and have my minute’s silence wherever I am or whatever I am doing – but Anzac day seems like just another festival or pageant.

    I’m sad that Remembrance Day is not honoured in workplaces anymore.

  9. I’ve worked in some public service jobs (notably Emergency Services) where the building’s PA system notes Rememberance Day and requests a minute of silence at 11am.

  10. I find it interesting as one Brisbane born and bred, that Remembrance Day has waxed and waned in importance over the years.
    As a child I was impressed by the solemnity of Anzac Day, but this was coloured by the progressively worse drunkeness that I saw in my parents friends and acquaintances the rest of that day. As well,an uncle had been a POW in New Guinea and for many years we kids had to be extra quiet on Anzac Day in his presence.
    Remembrance Day was only marked by that one minute – the 11th hour on the 11th day thing.
    I shall be glad of a time when Anzac Day will is subsumed into one Remembrance Day for all people.

  11. If there’s a memorial for aborigines fighting against Europeans, then others will want a memorial to Europeans who fought against aborigines. The latter doesn’t sound enticing to me.

  12. Deborah:
    I have no idea when Armistice Day became Remembrance Day but when I was a kid, all the grown-ups called it Armistice Day. I don’t think there was any political correctness in the change as there was in changing VJ Day into VP Day (a change that puzzled the Japanese, by the way).

    The underlying reason Remembrance Day is not honoured in many workplaces in Australia is that, unlike in the United States, most managerial-level people here avoided military service and do not appreciate being reminded of that.

    Lesley de Voil:
    Take heart. There are quite a few war veterans too who are disgusted at the drunken loutish behavior of those with only tenuous links to service life or who bludged their way through many years of dubious service in the Forces.

    John Tracey:
    The fight by some Aborigines against the incursions of white explorers and settlers is an integral and important part of our shared History.

    It cannot be swept under the carpet – nor should we allow it to be manipulated to set Australian against Australian.

    However, the planning, building and maintaining those Memorials would have to be done with the utmost care, tact and patience of ALL concerned – regardless of race or political stance – so as to avoid doing more harm than good.

  13. David Jackmanson [post 5]:
    Quite a bit has been written about how various bands of Aborigines fought to protect their homelands against the strangers.

    The stories are scattered but they are there and they do need to be retold; they are an essential part of our shared history.

    However, many the elegantly-written, citation-filled publications churned out by academics are nothing but twisted, self-serving propaganda – not much better than the racist rubbish of their opposite numbers – and as such are next to useless for our understanding of this long conflict on Australian soil.

    There is a crying need to look with fresh eyes at the whole history of how Aborigines were dispossed of their land and of how they reacted.

  14. I think descendants of Aboringinal veterans who died defending Australia marching on Anzac day with their ‘medals’ would be a good statement. Someone could come crucified on the ‘Victoria cross’; another on the ‘George cross’; Cam-pain medals could include: Nulling terra nullis, Search and rescue of the stolen generation, Mabo cam-pain medal.

    Anzac day has already been made into a political circus, it is time it was turned on its head. Rememberance day can keep its’ serious face.

  15. Graham, I agree about the need for care, tact and patience for an Aboriginal memorial. Just like other memorials the families and descendents of the warriors should be the prime focus, not the political leadership. Same as what I think you were saying about the political dynamic with RSL, ANZAC day and Rememberence day

    I am often uplifted by military services because they are amongst the few examples of reconciliation. I understand there are Turks marching at ANZAC day now and participating in Australian Gallipoli services. I have seen a number of documentaries on television with ex soldiers who were once enemies commemorating war together. Just recently was an Australian fighter pilot who was welcomed and embraced at a ceremony by the Japanese descendents of a pilot he shot down.

    Ex soldiers seem to have found a common humanity that transcends nation, history, revenge and politics that the general population is not so capable of. A unity through sadness perhaps.

    I first heard of Katter Snr. calling a helicopter “Kalkadoon” by a kalkadoon elder who was very proud of the fact that the government had recognised them. Aboriginal ex service personell I have spoken to have all been proud of fighting for their country side by side with white prople. In Qld. many people joined the army as a way out of the protection laws. In the army they not only got regular pay and food for the first time but, so I have been told often, they were treated as equals by the white soldiers.

    I can obviously see the potential for insensitivity leading to offence from all parties. However this is just a question of working it out properly by honest discussions of all involved. Not just impose something that some politician thinks is a good idea who then tries to rope in a few Aborigines and soldiers for the photo opportunity. The discussion of what an appropriate memorial should be would be perhaps the most important part of the process.

  16. John Tracey:
    You are right about cameraderie of veterans when the smoke and dust of war have gone away.

    The late and much respected migrant, Ludwig “Louis” Schaumuller, a former German paratrooper, marched alongside British and Polish paratroops on ANZAC Day – and why not?

    The Turkish Military Attache was guest-of-honour on ANZAC Day 1990 at the old Australian Embassy in Beijing – naturally.

    When the blokes I served with get together we do sometimes talk about things we went through together; we know one another, our strengths and our weaknesses. Only if really pushed would we even consisider what was the other fellow’s race or ethnicity or religion or social status. I suppose it is the shared experience of sudden imminent death that gave us a sense of equality…….

  17. putting up a mamorial to conflict whatever it was is comendable.
    but i have an idea
    why not set up a trust instead that would suport the ppl whoever they may be.
    that hold the real history to go to the schools and share there knowlage.
    there is one example of one sutch personon this blog.
    Oodgeroo Noonuccal (a.k.a. Kath Walker)
    both of my children had the privalege of listining to her storys.

    ( i like real history what ever it may be.
    australias history started 40.000 yrs ago not 200 yrs and its about time it was taught in the schools ( good and bad) .)

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