Anzac Day is commemorated as an inclusive event, with people of all cultural backgrounds and ages encouraged to attend ceremonies to reflect on the momentous history of that fateful morning on the Gallipoli Peninsula 105 years ago.
Not so in 2020 however, with the social restrictions imposed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic being observed. No gathering of people spilling onto Glebe Point Rd, no prayers, no speeches, no subdued discussion among those in attendance, no wailful cry from a set of bagpipes – just one representative of the Glebe Society respectfully placing a wreath at the foot of the Glebe War Memorial at Dr H J Foley Rest Park on a quiet, warm, sunny morning.
LEST WE FORGET
A reflection on Anzac Day 2020
It was just six o’clock and the blush of first light was spreading across the eastern sky bringing the promise of a beautiful clear autumn day. Then I heard it; the sound of a wind instrument, possibly a recorder, plaintive and poignant in the near silence – strains of the Last Post.
A few moments later two candles appeared on the balcony of a Glebe Point Rd terrace house, followed by a much louder rendition of the Last Post, this time a bugle, undoubtedly pre-recorded. Thereafter further notes erupted in the still air, some near, some far. Others were taking up the relay baton and passing it around town. The good denizens of Glebe were not going to let this national day of commemoration pass without remembering those who gave their all.
By 6.30am vapour trails began to appear overhead, their sky-writing pilot’s plane glinting in the sun’s rays: ‘Lest we Forget’. Shortly afterwards a bunch of flowers, no it wasn’t a bouquet – it came straight from someone’s garden – was carried by, to be seen shortly afterwards on the war memorial at Foley Park, where Ted McKeown was expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Glebe Society mid-morning.
By 11am it was there along with several clearly hand-made others.
The sacrifice of so many in the interest of the whole community was being recognised below and aloft. For those men and women, the enemy was the threat of authoritarianism in the guise of bloody warfare. Subsequent generations fought and overcame other threats to global peace created by Nazism, communism and terrorism.
Today we face another more insidious threat, that of a virulent disease – COVID-19 – which has, in the space of four months, as at Anzac Day eve, caused over 191,000 deaths worldwide. Like the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 it is silent, stealthy and spread by human contact – something nearly impossible to avoid in our increasingly crowded and interconnected world. This time it is not the military that is in the front line either, but the bravery and dedication of the health professions that we acknowledge. It is they who ‘fight the good fight’ and we citizens who are being protected by their work. They deserve our undying gratitude, as do the support workers in essential service industries without whom we couldn’t survive.
When our world shifts again, and we return to some version of the ‘new normal’, will we as a community, society, nation or species have learned the lessons nature intends for us? I wonder if any amount of ‘home schooling’ of our leaders, both nationally and globally while in ‘social isolation’ will persuade them that they must respect our world environment and the limitations it places upon humanity. Or will we return to the situation that led to our current predicament; the unfettered exploitation of the earth’s resources giving the majority of the largesse thus created to the privileged few at the expense of the underprivileged majority?
I fervently hope that a new wisdom is one of the outcomes of this strange era; that the headlong rush to ‘grow’ our economies can be moderated towards a truly sustainable future; one where we don’t have to hope that the incremental growth of knowledge and technology can keep up with and even conceal our avaricious use of and damage to our one and only home – planet earth. Like today’s commemoration it is something we can’t afford to forget.
Community Development Convenor