Address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple
at the Anzac Day Hyde Park Commemoration
25 April, 1999
Anzac Day has become a paradox. Anyone would have thought the day would die out with the passing of the Gallipoli veterans. By now hardly anyone is left who had personal experience of World War I. So if personal involvement were the criterion, Anzac Day would by now be a shadow of itself, a stubborn relic, a mere curiosity.
Of course, there are still many World War II veterans. But they too are not getting younger. Their ranks are diminishing. Even those who were in later conflicts are now middle aged. For all these latter-day Anzacs this is still a proud moment. But life moves on. The intense personal link between Australians and this day will move into history.
Yet the day is actually getting stronger. Far from its last rites, it is seeing a rebirth. Younger generations, born after all of Australia’s wars, have discovered it and observe it with interest, fascination, even pride. Anzac Day. it seems, is back. Anzac Day is alive again.
So what has happened? Use a word that has emerged onto the agenda this year and you have the answer. Anzac Day, metaphorically speaking, is a preamble. It is the preamble to the making of modern Australia.
It has given us a sense of being a nation standing on its own feet. A nation bonded with its land, whether the spiritual bonding of land and indigenous people, or the spell the land weaves for all later Australians. A nation based on mateship; without this word, how would you sum up our good-humoured tolerance? A nation with a sense of generosity when there is a crisis and others needs support. A nation with an irreverent sense of larrikinism. A nation that feels good about itself.
Why do nations needs preambles? In order to go back and be reminded of first principles, reliving the legend and re-dreaming the dream.
Anzac is a good preamble, in ethos and aura.
For today we have a problem. Dream and reality seem to be drifting apart. Principles and people are not as comfortable with each other as they once were. Who in late-century Australia can be proud of the politics of prejudice, for example? Inter-community, inter-ethnic tensions… older Australians prejudiced against newer, or newer against older… Aboriginal Australians denied dignity… migrant groups importing old-world conflicts?
And what about our growing insecurity? Suburban streets that are unsafe to walk… peaceful homes that are almost fortresses… Australians frightened of other Australians… Yes, of course other countries are far worse, but who needs these manifestations here? The Anzac ethos stands for fierce pride in your comrades, not trying to run them down or ruin their lives.
That ethos also stands for doing something for your country, exerting yourself to celebrate it and enrich it. Instinctively, lovingly, proudly. Today few offer military service, but how about voluntary service – finding a good cause and working for it with enthusiasm and loyalty?
And with integrity. Rorting the system must be out. Doing something for your country does not mean becoming part of the problem. Doing something for your country does not mean becoming part of the problem. It means bringing your talents, energies and interest to the solution of the problems, promoting national ideas and creating a climate of good citizenship.
Above all, we need to get back to the idea that all Australians are entitled to a place in the sun. That’s a good first principle, but it seems soured and shaken when little battlers struggle on, often deprived of hope. They watch the upwardly mobile who have money to burn, and they wonder why poverty, homelessness and hunger do not arouse more interest. In rural areas they wonder why Australia’s borders have seemingly shrunk to the coastal strips.
Yet when you go overseas as an Australian you come back feeling good about Australia. It is not only that here there is space and sunshine. It is because we have created a way of life unequalled anywhere. Countries are defended by armies; a way of life is defended by attitudes. That’s why we need Anzac Day to remind us of the attitudes that are Australia’s first principles. We need Anzac Day to tell us that we have something precious here and we have to preserve and protect it. We need Anzac Day to tell us that no-one must be allowed to undermine Australia and Australianism.
That’s what the ex-service community has always tried to remind us. All credit to their service in war and in peace. That’s what Anzac Day is saying to all who rediscover and observe it. May God bless us as we re-dream the dream, and strive to unite it, and ourselves, with the reality.