Sunday, 17 April 2011 00:00
An edited version of Bob Larkin's Anzac Day speech was published on the ABC's online blog, The Drum.
ANZAC Day Address. Delivered and written by Bob Larkin. President Caulfield RSL.
City of Glen Eira Commemoration 17 April 2011. Caulfield Park Cenotaph.
More than 96 years ago Australian and New Zealand troops congregated in a convoy of ships that were gathering off the coast of Western Australia, they were from all states and New Zealand, they were all volunteers. In late 1914 Australia had only been a Single country for 14 years, before that it had been a series of Colonies. Many of the men considered themselves Queenslanders or Victorians rather than Australians, Even though they were designated the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps it probably meant nothing to many of them. They were taken to Egypt for training for what they thought would be a desert war with their horses. But then they were dropped over the side of ships to land on a beach to fight in a country they thought was home to a nation of itinerant shepherds. They had come equipped from Australia to fight on horseback, not there, but in the fields of France and Europe. Instead their horses were in Egypt, and here they were, landing on the wrong beach to fight an unknown enemy in a campaign they knew little about, having been told they would sweep through Constantinople.
Bob Larkin. President Caulfield RSL.
Having landed they had no options but to make do, to compromise or die.
And they did that digging trenches and tunnels, modifying their rifles so that they could shoot over the top with periscopes without getting their heads blown off, and making do with what they had. In fact they became known as "Diggers", a term of endearment that exists today. The divisions between the states disappeared as they were really one brotherhood of man, all fighting to survive
They saw their mates shot by expert marksmen. They saw incompetence in the upper ranks of the Allied Army, where officers could still buy a commission.
They learnt to respect their enemy; and when months later they were evacuated having not achieved what their British commanders wanted, they had learned a valuable lesson.
Untested officers had learned to lead, and quiet country boys had become heroes. They had become ANZAC's Some returned home to Australia or New Zealand, some continued on to fight in Palestine as it was then, and then to Europe on the Western front.
They took with them a sense of purpose, and their own ideas of how war should be fought. Many Australians were not popular with the British. The English said ANZACS had no respect for discipline, they did not like dressing up or wearing fancy uniforms, and whilst Anzacs respected their own officers, they sometimes went out of their way to disrespect the English officers they saw as pompous. If you read many of the histories of World War I that have been written you will see that some British could not understand the Australian attitude to life, Whereas European life was generally regimented with social levels respected, the Australians would have none of that.
But our fighting men were respected, and especially later as Australian officers took positions of power in the running of the war. They saw our ability to take on new methods, to have respect for the life of the men, rather than use them as cannon fodder. And as history has shown, Australian input had a big influence in shortening the war.
So what! You could say, that is all very interesting, but it is 90 odd years ago, what has it got to do with me here and now?
Some would say nothing because we've got computers we've got modern communications, there was nothing back then.
Well I believe it did have, and continues to have an effect.
It is that mythical thing they call the Anzac spirit.
What is this and how do we get it?
Do you have to be born here, do you have to have a relative that fought in the war. Who knows? And what is it?
The reality is you only have to look around at this country that we live in, here in the State of Victoria and even in this city of Glen Eira to find it.
When the Australian and New Zealand men and women returned from the war they brought back with them a passion that this part of the world would grow differently to Europe and the rest of the world. They were no longer members of individual colonies artificially bound together by a political system, they had becomes true Australians. They had seen the problems on both sides where the so-called ruling classes sent men to their deaths almost on a whim.
They saw the problems with no organisation and the lack of facilities for the wounded. The disregard for human life, and they were determined that Australia would be better than that.
They came back and put in place systems to support the families of men who died. To provide support for those who were wounded, to change the way wars were fought and troops treated.
So what, you say. What has that got to do with me here and now in Caulfield Park in the City of Glen Eira?
We have all heard of the Legacy organisation. It still cares for the families of Australians killed in war. What you may not know is the man that established legacy, Stanley Savige lived in Murrumbeena. His organising committee came from the regiment that he had served with. Many of those men were from Caulfield. That same organisation is still with us today looking after younger generations and the model of care that he adopted is widely used both here and abroad by other organisation to look after people in need.
He also became prominent in the Scout movement and promoted scouting as a way that boys could become disciplined in the ways of the world with skills not readily available elsewhere and while we used the model devised by Baden Powell it was adapted for Australia and as I look at the scouts here today I know that it is still working.
One of his committee, who was also a President of Legacy, became chief Commissioner for scouts in Victoria. That man's name was Harold Cohen; he also was a Caulfield local. And if his name is familiar it may be because he is still commemorated by the scouting movement in the Cohen shield that scouts compete for every year. And in real Australian style he owned a winner of the Caulfield Cup. Those men had the Anzac spirit
The Department of Veteran's affairs as we know it now did not exist after W War I. The government followed the British precedent where there were no pensions for returned soldiers, there was no health care after the battle, and our Government believed there was no need. The RSL movement was formed as a lobby group to make the government look after the returned troops.
You may not believe it now but it was government policy to make widows and mothers return any wages that they received after their husbands or sons died. At that time, between a soldier dying and the dreadful telegram coming to the front door, it sometimes took six months for a woman to be told that she had lost her partner or son. This was possibly because of the numbers that died or bodies not found. Having been told, she would then receive a letter telling her how much she had to repay. The RSL made the government overturn that policy and institute a pension scheme for widows. That was the Anzac spirit of looking after their mates, even in death.
That scheme was adapted to become what we now know as our aged pension scheme, which whilst it is not perfect is still a lot better than other parts of the world,
And so the community benefits today.
There are many things we take for granted every day, we turn on the lights and don't even think about where the power comes from, oblivious that we have a wonderful grid of power that extends right across our state, with space to expand it if needed.
It was an Anzac who saw what needed to be done, based on his experience on what was lacking in Europe. He pushed the government to allocate land, and rights of way throughout the State, even in places that no one wanted to be at the time, to allow for future expansion of the power Grid, Some in the Govt. could not imagine that people would ever want to go to live in the country. But almost single-handedly he had the reservations earmarked for future development.
Michael Danby at the 2010 ANZAC Day commemoration in Port Melbourne. The 100th anniversary commemoration of the Gallipoli landing will commence in October 2014 in Port Melbourne from where many Australian troop ships left during the first World War
This man was a General in war, a civil engineer by profession, and member of a minority; the governments were frightened of him, because of his popularity. But he saw what Australians could do. Now people use his name and probably don't even know who he was. It is 80 years this year since his death. His remains are only 3 kilometres or so down the road in a very simple grave.250, 000 people lined the road on the day of his funeral. His name is John Monash.
He had the Anzac spirit, and his methods are still taught and studied today, and they are so commonplace that most of us don't even notice. As we travel out of the city over a bridge designed by this man before World War 1.perhaps on our way home we look at the Iconic Shrine of remembrance and take it for granted, but we should remember that the government of the day wanted to build a hospital to commemorate World War I, and leave the land where the Shrine now stands as parkland. If it wasn't for Monash with support from returned soldiers and the general public the government would have had their way, because of his goading, they were forced into reconsidering and committing funding to build the Shrine. And it was Monash that coerced the government to declare Anzac Day as a holiday, where industry said they would all go broke if the workers had a day off. It was Monash that pushed for apprentice training and a formalised system for tradesmen instead of the haphazard System that had previously existed. Given the lively nature of Australian politics we are certain his part of the ANZAC spirit is alive in us all today.
As a nation we are now very much used to our athletes in all sports competing and winning all over the world. After World War I the only international sport that Australia took part in seriously was cricket. We sent athletes to the Olympic Games but with minimal support and in minimal numbers as we know it today.
It was a Victorian who swam in the 1908 Olympics, served in the first war, swam in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics and decided that Australia could do it better. He headed a delegation that went to London to bid for the games. He asked the State and Federal government to support a bid to win the Olympic Games for Australia. They offered minimal support. So in true Anzac spirit he did it anyway. The result is now history. The 1956 Olympics were renowned the world over as the friendly games. His name was Frank Beaurepaire, and I am proud to say that he was associated with Caulfield, through his membership of the RSL.
If you get out the history books and do some research you will find that much of the organisation and in fact the running of the games was done by men from Caulfield.
World War I veterans, who knew what Australia was capable of.
That and the Anzac spirit of can-do are still with us today. As parents and grandparents and children, we just know that we can win,
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we hadn't had the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
The government of the day were even reticent about letting television into Australia; it was only the Olympics that forced their hand. Would today's sporting teams be as prominent and organised if it wasn't for the foresight of those men.
With deference to those members of government amongst us today, I believe most Australians still have a healthy disrespect for government. The fact is that in almost any election (in Victoria anyway) about 48% vote one way, 48% but the other way, and 4% make or break the ruling party. And that hasn't changed from many years. Perhaps that is the Anzac spirit saying, be prepared to do it yourself and don't rely on authority to do it for you.
In the 1930's the RSL were warning the then government that war was coming in Europe, the government did not believe them, and so the RSL did something unprecedented since Federation, they formed their own militias and trained them to defend Australia. The government protested, but in 1939 when war was declared those same militias became the base for our army.
We all know about the legend of Kokoda and the bravery exhibited by the 39th and 2/14th Battalions. For those men, much of their experience and training was done as militia members, some possibly here at Caulfield Park, as at least 60 of those men gave their addresses as being within Glen Eira. Caulfield RSL had its own Militia unit which included some of those men. One of those who died at Kokoda was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross; he had transferred into the 2/14th Battalion to be with one of his mates, he had been one of those militia men. They all had the Anzac Spirit
Today many of the Australian troops serving overseas are in fact reservists. If you look at our colour party today and wonder where they got their medals, ask them, you will find that many of them have served Australia well in the last few years, Carrying on the spirit that was put in place by the original Anzacs and the troops since.
To the younger people here today is not just about honouring the dead; it's about learning the lessons and understanding the dream.
24 hours a day we can watch on television or the Internet the troubles that are happening in the rest of the world, and we can say, "Aren't we lucky". But is it really luck? Did Australia just stumble along and happen to miss out on all the trouble that is happening everywhere else, or is it part of a master plan that was put in place many years ago.
Personally I believe is a master plan.
Our forefathers saw what was happening in the rest of the world and came back determined that it would never happen here, perhaps unconsciously they put into place attitudes that give us a different slant on life. Even if you or your parents are first generation Australians, you can appreciate the multitude of nationalities and the diversity of the community around us. We accept and rejoice in the fact that at one end of Balaclava Rd (named after a war in Russia) you can eat sweets served by an orthodox Jew and at the other you can eat noodles at an Halal café served by a Muslim student studying at a University named after a Jewish Soldier, and within 500 m of this place you can eat food from Thailand, Lebanon, Russia, China, Italy, perhaps even Australia.
And we all take that for granted.
It is all part of the Anzac spirit, looking after and supporting your mates regardless of where they came from, rejoicing in the fact that they, like you consider themselves Australian. As you travel the globe, you will know you're an Australian when you find yourself in a remote part of the world, perhaps in a little bazaar or shop or jungle trail and you hear an Australian or even a New Zealand accent coming from somewhere, and you say g'day, and straight away you will know instinctively you've got a mate. Even though you've never met them before and may never meet them again. You share a little bit of that spirit that puts us apart from the rest of the world. Or perhaps some shopkeeper will ask you where do you come from, and when you tell him, he may say, my cousin lives in Coburg, or Springvale or perhaps even Caulfield, and he will treat you like family because of the way Australia has looked after his relative.
For want of a better word, we called it the Anzac spirit, and when you feel it more than once in your life, as I am sure you will, take 30 seconds to remember the fallen and those who built the Legend, the legacy they have left us, and the pride that you too are one with them, because you are an Australian.
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