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25 April 2009
Anzac Day (April Challenge 24)
it involves moving from A to B)
All morning they march
from left to right of the TV screen
or apparently out from the back toward us
in throngs along George Street, Sydney,
a wide thoroughfare crowded each side
with cheering onlookers waving flags –
like every Anzac Day march I’ve ever seen
since my small-town childhood,
when my Dad knew all the old soldiers by name.
All over the country it’s happening now
as it has, again and again, for 93 years so far.
Many of the aged are still marching
proudly, head erect, chest striped
with rows of medals on coloured ribbons.
Others are wheeled in chairs or ride in open cars,
waving back at the crowd. A few still wear
the traditional sprig of rosemary:
“… we will remember them”.
The young are marching with them,
children and grandchildren of dead heroes.
Some carry photos of those they’re marching for
held against their hearts, face out for all to see.
The banners say Libya, Crete, Ceylon,
Thermopylae, El Alamein,
Wewak, Rabaul, Nui Dat, Long Tan,
Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan….
Some units move through quickly, simply because
there aren’t many of them left any more.
The time will come, the commentator notes,
there’ll only be the banner they carry.
It’s a sunny day. Somehow in my memory
Anzac Day always is. And, as always,
the bagpipes skirl and I thrill.
My mind goes back to another mass of people
filling the streets, marching in thousands –
in Melbourne, protesting Vietnam.
A young man, angry drunk, heckled:
“My mate died over there!” and an old one
with a European accent, demanded:
“Then why are you not marching with us?” …
Today a young father, walking in place of someone
in a group of older men, carries his infant son.
I remember myself watching the march
as a small girl on my father’s shoulder.
The band plays Waltzing Matilda –
the larrikin national anthem,
the one that stirs my heart –
and I turn my mind from the bitter song
that has that name, reminder
of boys returning crippled.
I used to see Anzac Day
as a celebration of war.
I still don’t like war but something’s shifted.
I admit to a real fondness now
for the slouch hat and the badge of the rising sun.
We switch to Gallipoli, the Dawn Service.
First we’re shown black-and-white footage
of the landing, men plunging from boats
through the shallows and up the beach
and falling, most of them, under a storm of bullets.
Then rows of stretchers, the bodies lying perfectly still,
the helpless nurses standing on guard over them.
Fade to now. Thousands wait in the dark.
Turks, Australians, New Zealanders
are sitting side by side. The speakers recall
the words of Kemal Attaturk.
“Your sons are now our sons,” he said.
“They lie in our bosom at peace.”
That gesture, and the mutual respect
of those who fought each other here so long ago
changed enemies to friends.
We watch in tears. In the early cold
they sing Amazing Grace and the 23rd Psalm.
The wreaths are laid, the chaplain prays for peace.
The Last Post. In the reverent two minutes’ hush
as the sun rises, we hear the waves
repeatedly washing the tranquil shore.