Rituals of remembrance

April 25, 2018

Jan Braham's grandfather, Robert Maxwell Sinclair, in uniform.

By Jan Braham

When baking Anzac biscuits today I opened the golden syrup and found myself thinking about cocky's joy.
What great Aussie language.  When was the last time that I heard those words used? I learned the term from dad. If you're wondering, cocky's joy is a colloquial expression for golden syrup; also known as cocky's delight, bullocky's joy and bullocky's delight.  The biscuits turned out well and the sugary syrup smelt wonderful. Bonzer!
Anzac biscuits are probably being baked in many homes this week, as part of rituals surrounding Anzac Day.

For some, eating these biscuits is a personal connection with the commemoration of Anzac Day. The rituals of remembrance and commemoration are varied, and for some non-existent. Our public holiday can be another boozy day off for some. For many in our area Anzac Day is a significant day. As I baked today I reflected on how an understanding of the importance of April 25 has developed over a lifetime. Stories are central to building an awareness and appreciation of Anzac Day.
Like most primary school students in the 1960s I purchased an Anzac pin and wore it on my school jumper. From memory, the Anzac pin design featured the Rising Sun badge and would have been plain silver coloured pressed tin with a needle-like pin to poke through the layer of clothes. I recall Anzac Day back then as being in cool weather. My memory seems attached to a sensory thermometer, cataloguing recollections according to temperature. I can hear poetry recitation, probably “In Flanders Fields” and echoed responses in ceremonies, “Lest We Forget”. Numurkah Primary School has a set of beautiful granite memorial gates and there would have been wreaths laid by the school captains. A wooden honour board featuring gilt lettering sat high in the hallway of the old school building. A Lone Pine still stands tall in the school yard there.

Knowledge of war and death was vague and intangible for a child. Memories of Anzac talk from that time are linked to real people. Stories of the party held the night before my paternal grandfather went away, featured humorous recollections of what happened to the boy living next door, who ate crayfish for the first time and ended up on top of the wardrobe when he experienced a reaction to eating the special occasion food. Other recalled stories tell of war time brown outs in local country towns and the bombing of Darwin, when the war came to Australia. 

My father related his first job, started at the age of eight. While his father was away with the army, dad delivered newspapers in the morning.  He rode from his paper round to meet his new baby brother at the Bendigo hospital on the way to school. Later dad would return to Shepparton, after spending time in Gubatta and Tallimba with various relatives of my grandmother during the World War II years.

Dad recalled seeing Japanese prisoners of war passing in a truck on their way through country New South Wales to Cowra.  My mothers uncles and other relatives were discussed around the table, along with their postings, those who they married and the places that they moved on to. As a little girl I was shown medals stored in a box and had each one explained to me. I don't recall attending local Anzac Day marches, though older family members may have. Both my grandfathers served in the Australian Army but neither talked about those experiences. I knew that the elderly gentleman living next door had been at Gallipoli, but was too young to understand what that meant.

So, family conversations formed the basis of my early impressions of the meaning of Anzac Day.
At Secondary School in Numurkah the sporting houses were named after local servicemen: Hunkin, Grey, Christie and Tweddle. Formal Anzac ceremonies were held in the school hall. I recall hearing the immature giggles as the bugler played the Last Post. By Form Six I was studying Australian History and reading the first-hand accounts of war correspondent Charles Bean, who was present at Gallipoli from the first day. I learned of my great-grandmothers brother, Sergeant Joseph Chester Kerr, who was raised at Arcadia Homestead and attended Kialla West Primary School. Chester was killed in action in France, aged nineteen.
As a teenager I became aware that I was living in a town where many local men had served in both world wars. I rode my bike to school past the memorial park with its magnificent cenotaph. Our hospital was the Numurkah War Memorial Hospital, and sadly that name has disappeared. Local shopkeepers and farmers had been prisoners of war in Asia. School buses were full of kids whose fathers were soldier settler farmers, running dairy farms and orchards on the irrigated blocks. I was taught by men who had served in the air force, including the Empire Air Training Scheme.
No-one spoke much about the wars unless asked, and my knowledge was mostly gained through reading books. There was no internet searching in the 1970s.

Knowledge of the horrors of both world wars grew over those years, as did an appreciation for the suffering that had been caused to local people who had fought and who were left at home. POW (Prisoner of War) reunions were held in Numurkah each year. I was not to understand the range of experiences which these men endured until many of them had passed on. The experiences of the POWs were hard to read.  As a secondary student I was not particularly conscious of the Vietnam War, though I can recall seeing moratorium marches on television news services. An appreciation of the lives of the local returned soldiers was not gained by talking with them, but by reading and viewing about the events which they were part of.

Through my younger adult years I watched Anzac parades on television, read newspaper articles about veterans and watched television documentaries about the wartime experiences of Australians, allies, persecuted people from many places and interviews with those who served or who had witnessed the full gamut of experiences in times of war.

It seems that public interest in telling stories of Australian involvement in the conflicts has picked up pace as the years have passed. Movies like “Breaker Morant” and “Gallipoli” brought the stories to us, along with television series including “Anzacs”. Visits to the Shrine of Remembrance, the Australian War Memorial and various museums contributed to developing an understanding of the far reaching consequences of the conflicts that Australia has been a part of.

Now the internet makes it possible to locate information about specific aspects of conflicts, individual service people and the progression of events. I began to attend the marches and clap the diggers as they passed by.
Over time my awareness of the involvement of women in times of war has grown hugely. Though these stories are relatively under-reported, the work of women at home in war time, of women in the armed forces and about women's experiences following the wars are powerful and are an important part of our history. The television series “Anzac Girls” and “Tenko” tell of the harsh reality of serving women, and literature relates the contribution of womens work in times of war. The stories of the everyday experience of Australian women at home during and after wars will hopefully be told soon more fully in books and documentaries. Numurkah and District Historical Society published “Women of the Settlement”, sharing stories of the wives and daughters of soldier settlement blockies.

It is exemplary reading for anyone seeking to understand post World War II experiences of local rural women. There are only a handful of the original men who farmed those blocks alive.
Since I started researching the story of the Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue in order to write about it, I have set out to learn about local servicemen and to gain an understanding of their experiences. In particular, my quest has been to speak to relatives and friends of those who are commemorated in Fen Woodburn's living memorial along the Goulburn Valley Highway. The trees represent local men who served. Their stories should be told and I hope to be able to do that. This interest stems from being shown the young trees and told about them by grandparents as a young child.
Towns in our area feature a variety of new war memorials. Numurkah Memorial Park now includes the Numurkah Mob memorial.

Tatura is home to the Mactier Memorial Park and Euroa the VC (Victoria Cross) Memorial Park. The new mural for Private Daniel Cooper is on the wall of the Shepparton Art Museum. Most local country towns have a war memorial which will be at the centre of Anzac ceremonies this week.  Our memorials are important places of remembrance and reflection. Newcomers from other countries bring their own memories and stories about war to our district.
This Anzac Day, I will commemorate those who served and sacrificed their lives and their wellbeing. I will honour those who fell and acknowledge the pain and grief of people who lived out their lives lonely and changed forever by their loss or injuries.

When I attend the dawn service here I will wonder at the experiences of men and women who endured those war times, and pray that we will not be experiencing involvement in war on that scale again for Australia any time soon. At the Anzac march in my home town I will feel proud and sad. My mind will swim with the stories that I have learned about war. New speakers will tell new stories about Anzac Day and all that it represents.
When reading a picture book about John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey to young students last week I could not help crying. The story distils the experience of the conflict at Gallipoli into the few short weeks in the life of one young man who was present there. Children can relate to the warmth in the story of the service given by the donkey, and the harshness of Simpsons death is softened because the donkey survives.

Children are yet to develop an understanding of the full significance of Anzac Day. They may recall this story because Simpsons personal tale will connect them with the bigger picture.  The abstract idea of war can be comprehended one story at a time.
References to war and remembrance are layered throughout our lives. Local towns, streets and roads abound with names associated with military conflicts and their geographic locations - Labuan Road, Alamein Street, Dunkirk Avenue and Lemnos are examples. My grandfather, Max Sinclair, built a house in Anzac Street in Shepparton.

Some of his sisters had second names including Anzac and Gallipoli. If you start looking it is easy to locate the layers of connections to war and conflicts which are present all around us.
Consider sharing a story about something significant from your life with someone else over a cuppa and an Anzac biscuit. If you can, tell a child a story that they will remember when they have as much experience of life and understanding about the impacts of war as you do. These stories will assist in building a personal connection to our day of remembrance.
As for cocky's joy, and talk of the wonders of Australian language, that is for another day.
Anzac Day is our national day of remembrance.

Lest We Forget.

Writer Jan Braham lives in Shepparton

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