Monday, 28 April 2008

Celebrating in the Scrub

April and May are interesting months in the Australian calendar. Over the span of only a few weeks we have ANZAC Day, Labour Day (in Queensland at least) and Mother’s Day. The first two are public holidays and long weekends. Labour Day coincides with the Marburg Show, centrepiece of local events, which is always the first weekend in May.

For the first time in over a decade, last Friday an ANZAC Day service was held in Marburg to remember those Australians who have fought in wars around the world. Ironically none of the wars have been our own, although it could be argued that defending Papua New Guinea during the Second World War was in our best interests. It seems a very Australian thing though to commemorate wars not our own and especially to focus on Gallipolli, a less-than glorious military episode.

Around 200 people gathered around the historic flagpole in front of the community hall, spilling out onto the road. I wish I had had a chance to take a photograph – the bright blue sky highlighting the trees, clouds scudding along in front of a cold wind, the crowd dressed in everything from neat business attire to jeans and flannel shirts to shorts and thongs. The schoolchildren were there in their green and gold uniforms, as were the local firefighters, a scattering of military uniforms and a priest in vestments. Above all of this the Australian and Turkish flags streamed in the wind. In a typically Marburg touch, a horse float groaned past during the minute of silence.

The service opened and closed with anti-war anthems (“Imagine” and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda– which seemed to fit neatly around the commemorative aspects of the service. People wonder why there has been an upsurge of interest in ANZAC Day. Perhaps it is this shift of focus from militarism and the commitment to remembering why we are a “lucky country.” I even admit to having a tear in my eye as the daughter of our local Vietnamese shopkeeper led us in the singing the Seekers’ “I am, you are, we are Australian” although it might just have been caused by the squally wind.

Not only was it Marburg’s first service in many years, it was actually the first ANZAC service I have ever attended. I am too ambivalent about the value of military action and generally leery of jingoism to attend these type of events. However, the school children were asked to take part so we took them along and it was also a chance for the community to come together in a thoughtful way. And it was indeed a thoughtful and meaningful occasion.

Now we have to gird our loins for the show this coming weekend – a much rowdier, less thoughtful and infinitely more exhausting community event. At least I don’t have to set off days in advance with the cattle and other competitive entries as farmers did in the past.

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