Wednesday, October 29, 2014

They Are Coming!

Apparently three of the major supermarkets in town have just run out of milk. Petrol is beginning to look scarce and all residents are urged to conserve their water, lest we run out of that too.
Aussie pointed up to the mountain where the town's water supply sits in a huge green tank. "That's it, yes? And what about the sewerage? What will sixty thousand extra poos per day do to our sewerage system? Can we cope with so much poo? Oh my God! Can we cope?""

No, it's not the apocalypse, nor is it an invasion of barbarians. This is a town where men used to kill and dismantle animals the size of double-decker buses, so we have no problem with dystopian scenes and we totally understand those barbarians. The fact that the Prime Minister is turning up on Friday has nothing to do with anything at all.

It's the ANZAC Centenary Celebrations and it's happening here this weekend. The amount of people surging into Albany to participate has been wildly speculated upon, argued about and rumour-milled, until someone nailed that algorithm based on the success rate of grass seed germination in chicken entrails and came up with sixty thousand people.
Sixty thousand people. 

There has only been about a hundred years to organise such an event and for ages I felt rather cynical about the whole thing and decided as a grumpy old woman that come October 31st, like a lot of the other locals, I was going to get the fuck out for three days. You know ... the war thing, the ANZAC thing, how we only embrace our war histories after enough soldiers and nurses are so dead they can't remind us of the reality thing, the 'do I have enough milk because Woolies has sold out' thing.

The 'thing' is, I've been watching the townsfolk put so much energy into our streets, shops and ANZAC centres, that I'm starting to feel terribly proud of them all. Stirling Terrace is the old sailors' precinct; originally the pubs and restaurants presented their welcoming facade to land-sick, desirous seafarers, whalers and fishers as they sailed into Princess Royal Harbour. Since we began travelling by road, rather than by sea, places like Stirling Terrace have been neglected and left to struggle on in an interminable morass of southerly winds. Stirling Terrace was starting to look like those old gone-broke gold mining towns, the memory of boom time reflected in its grand architecture ... all peeling paintwork and tired, leaning verandas..

The last few months, I've watched workers and volunteers pave new footpaths and steam clean old ones. They've replaced verandas, planted Flanders poppies, and sanded back and painted all of the old facades along Stirling Terrace. The place looks absolutely beautiful.

This afternoon, there was a traffic jam as the first influx came into town. Oh Wow.The locals seem a little bit freaked out about how big this 'thing' is, but it was not a lust for revenue that I saw on the street today. It was pride, a gathering excitement and a hope that everything will go okay. The most common comment was "I hope it doesn't rain."

I so hope it doesn't rain.

And a word of advice to visitors ... if you are coming into town:
Buy a rain coat.
Avoid the roundabouts.
Bicycles are so excellent.
Point Possession is a hike but it's the best place to see those warships steam in, and possibly less congested.

Finally, there are no photos tonight but I promise, I'll start posting as it kicks off.


  1. I haven't been to an ANZAC Day celebration -- and they do seem like celebrations these days -- in quite a while. The family still goes to the dawn service. I guess it's a physical, symbolic demonstration that we acknowledge what gets lost in war. What it costs.

    On a typical ANZAC day, someone will put the telly on at some point, and dad will start to get worked up. "See that fuckin' general there with two dozen fuckin' medals hangin' off his chest. Cunt's never fired a fuckin' round in anger. He's certainly never had boiling hot shrapnel from a mortar come down on him, or been hangin' off a helicopter with some prick shootin' up at him, that's for sure. In Vietnam, after we had a contact, and we were clearin' up the bodies, these cunts used to come in, and they'd walk around and have a look, and then they'd piss off and get a medal for service on the battlefield. Those two nogs that ***** was supposed to have killed at *****, that wasn't even him. It was ***** who shot 'em, and they pinned the citation on that idiot. Then they pulled him right away from the front lines and sent him on a speaking tour. See, they had big plans for him, even then."

    I sit with the old man, and we listen to the stories of bravery, heroism, and mateship, and my mind goes back to the stories that come out when servicemen sit in a quiet room together and talk amongst themselves. "So, we ambushed these nogs, and we we dug this hole to bury the bodies, but we couldn't get the bastards to fit, so we ended up just hackin' 'em up." ... "We didn't know what was moving over in the scrub, so we just opened up with the machine guns." ... "There was a curfew on, so as far as we were concerned, women or children, it didn't matter, they were fair game." ... "I see this fuckin' kid pull a grenade out, and he musta only been about eight or nine. I didn't even thing twice, just blew him away". Every so often, one of them would turn to me and say something like "That's what war's all about luv. You can forget all the other bullshit they tell you about it."

    ... what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, good to hear your town's getting a bit of much-needed sprucing up. And you can count on my support in hoping it doesn't rain.

    1. Well said Alex. The word 'celebration' is a strange thing to attach to war memorials. I meant it when I wrote that once everyone who served has died, the myth-making begins in earnest and I guess that's what it is all about, always has been. 'The Rights of Man', a standard, has been played for centuries, of a battle between two clans of fairies, over ownership of a hill, (I think). Don't know what the original fairy fighters would have thought about that rendition. Where am I going here? Not sure ... I just agree with the hypocrisy that you've pointed out ... but the town looks beautiful and it's not raining, yet. :~)

    2. once everyone who served has died, the myth-making begins in earnest

      That's why I think stories, first-hand and untouched, are so very very important. They need to survive and they need to be out there.

      And of course, you need to get people to hear them.

  2. Look forward to reading about Albany's part in the ANZAC 100 year celebration and feel your pride from across the other side if the continent.

  3. I get the community spirit/pride thing Sarah. I just wish they'd all go home. I am such a cynic about all of this war stuff it taints my perspective on these occasions. I respect the people who actually fought or put in service - many probably didn't want to go. But I really resent the following generations cashing in on the glory. And I detest the way fuckwit Aussies are manipulated into thinking they are part of 'Team Australia' by being part of this sort of thing. (Has Abbott actually seen the puppet movie 'Team America'? I laughed my bloody head off.)

    My perspective of the second Great War comes from my Dutch Grandparents who sat it out in occupied Holland - with little food and lots of fear - for 5 years. My Grandfather hid out the entire time. The war psychologically fucked them up and the consequences of that have echoed through the family for decades. Sorry, great blog btw. But fuck war.

  4. I find the Team Australia thing very disturbing. It reminds me of Bush's "with us or against us" shit.

    Terrorism is the new communism. Something so threatening and fearful that it must be hunted out and destroyed wherever there's political advantage or a buck to be made. Whether overseas or domestically. Is there a towel-head hiding under your bed?


    I suspect we may lose a lot fighting this battle.

    1. A lot of shop windows in the main street have installations created by primary school kids. I saw one this morning where they'd reproduced Australian war propaganda from WW1. "Fire Up Boys!" or a map of Australia with 'Australia' crossed out and 'Germany' written in there.
      'Jesus,' I thought. Year four kids creating propaganda posters. Then I realised that their work wasn't without reflection: they'd researched war propaganda, what it represented and its context. And they got it.

      Maybe, just maybe, kids of today have the opportunity to grow up deconstructing the kind of bullshit that is Team Straya. I feel optimistic for them, anyway.

    2. I sincerely hope so, Sarah. Either way, I admire your optimism.

      It'd probably help if those kids got to contrast the WWI stuff with some more recent stuff, like the "Weapons Of Mass Destruction" bollocks from 2001.

      Speaking of which, with the BRICS making tiny steps to push international finance, especially the trade of oil, away from the US dollar, keep an eye out for more American stories involving issues of cyber terrorism, human rights, sovereign territory, nuclear weapons, etc, etc, with Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Iran.

      Also, any country with a pipeline carrying Russian oil and gas into Europe.

  5. I am actually pretty impressed with many of the teenagers I meet as a lecturer. They know way more about politics than I did at that age. I just hope they continue to use their brains - something happens to people when they move into suburban mediocrity - when mortgages and their own kids take priority.

  6. I'm super impressed with them!
    I remember a few years ago talking to Stormboy about the gay marriage 'debate' and he couldn't understand what all the angst was about.
    It's a harder life for them, I reckon, but they are so much better at critiquing media and politics than I was at their age.

  7. As a fairly cynical or neutral feeling Australian, I went to the 75th commemoration at Gallipoli in 1990. My dad had told me I should go. I wasn't even planning to go to Turkey, was flying Melbourne to Athens and beginning my Grand Tour from there. Dad said he'd pay for my ticket Athens to Istanbul. 'You should go to Gallipoli, it will be amazing,' he said. I shrugged and said 'ok.' That's how I was in Istanbul, and met my future husband, a Turkish carpet commission man, four days out of Melbourne. That's also how I found myself on a bus to Gallipoli overnight, and was on the beach, pressed up against a temporary wire fence, waiting for it to be over so I could get back on the bus. I was tired and it was cold, even though I was wearing a borrowed jumper from one of the workers at the pension in Istanbul. But then, when the old soldiers started to arrive, escorted by a young soldier, something shifted in me. The old soldiers walked past, waving their sticks, and the crowd called out things like 'onya digger' and suddenly my face was all wet and I was clapping and it was amazing and fuck, I will NEVER forget it. Was it pride? I don't think so. I think it was the realisation that these old men had been so young and they went to a place and experienced something terrible and awesome and here they were, almost at death, they'd flown over, most of them for the first time since being there as young guys, off to adventure. It was so moving and a real, shocking connection to history. I shook Bob Hawke's hand (limp); I shook Hazel's hand (firm warm grip; she had politely waited for me to disentangle my sleeve, the borrowed jumper had caught on a piece of fence wire as I stretched my hand out. She was under pressure to move on. She waited). I've been back since, not on Anzac Day but at other times, and it's lovely to be there with no one else around, to be able to smell the thyme and sweet breeze of the peninsula, wander and see the cemeteries, and Ataturk's message to the mothers of men who died there. it's not about glorifying war; it's about honouring people who gave their lives. No matter how it happened, or the politics of right or wrong, it's about that I reckon. An enormous sacrifice.

    1. And I forgot to say, in the morning, around nine am, as we were walking back to our bus to leave, after seeing the graves and the this and the that, a bus tootled past, and at the windows, the little old faces of the Australian and NZ ex-soldiers, still waving, still smiling and excited to be back there. Which of course made me cry again. Just thinking about it now I get a prickling in the eyes.

    2. A sacrifice, yes. But was it a great sacrifice, or a terrible one? Were they exceptional men who did something awe-inspiring, or regular men who did something awful? Don't forget, the whole point of their "adventure" was that they were going somewhere to kill people. Aussie troops have terrorized, raped and murdered (including their own -- I'm most familiar with the case of Pedro Allen, but I've heard of others). Many of the ones who came back damaged turned to drink or drugs; some became abusive husbands and fathers; some just couldn't bare living with a headful of nightmares; a few took others with them when they went.

      Don't get me wrong, I like having a day that reminds people about the sacrifice that comes with war; and I like that it's set on the date of a military defeat rather than a victory. I just don't think we do honour to anything when we take the rough edges off history in order to feel proud of it.

      I'm glad you've had such a profound and moving experience at Gallipoli, Jenny. Some people I know camped out there for ANZAC Day a while back -- maybe ten or fifteen years ago. According to them, it was like a B&S ball. Drunk Aussies & Kiwis rooting and swearing and playing music. When the sun came up over the dawn service, there were bottles and cans and shit everywhere, and people still passed out or puking. The only thing missing was hoons doing circle-work in utes.

    3. Jen, I really appreciated your comments. It's always the old blokes who reduce me to tears, something about the frailty of their bodies ... I'll try and coagulate some thoughts for another post tomorrow. The whole event has made me quite wobbly and I'll explain why then.
      Alex, one of the most interesting things that I've found about this whole extravaganza is that it has renewed challenges to commemorating wars, something I haven't really noticed since the 1980s.

    4. Probably because of the sheer size of the festivities.

      I've even seen servicemen on the telly bemoaning the gratuitous commercialisation of it all.

    5. Well said Jen, brought tears to my eyes.

    6. Me too Helsie. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Alex, I know what you're saying and probably agree with all of it, but didn't want to mention any of that in my comment because I kind of think, when it comes down to it, what's done is done (whether right or wrong; in most cases war can be argued to be wrong) and sometimes the only thing you can do (if you can't be arsed picking apart all those nuances, like me most of the time) is to think: men went and fought and a lot of them lost their lives and never grew old. It is a sacrifice no matter how you look at it. All the nuances are important but at a base level, at the most simplified level, it's something like that. I'm not even saying I'm in favour of days of remembrance; and I'm not talking about pride at all either. I'm talking about ignoring those rough edges, and seeing something simple, beautiful and horrible. So a sacrifice? A terrible one. And the types of men? All types - extraordinary and ordinary; men who did great things among the awfulness, and men who did terrible things too. That's what life comes down to. And adventure. Yes, I know. They were going into battle, what an 'adventure' - I'm sure for many of them that word would have stuck in their throats. And I know how things have panned out at Gallipoli since I was there as well. You're not saying anything I don't know, but I just wanted to bring another side to the discussion, one that's often forgotten or people feel they aren't allowed to articulate because the discourse of 'war is bad' and 'war shouldn't be glorified' is so thunderously loud. (And of course, I agree with those statements but they don't seem to leave room for anything else much to be said.)

    Ahem, sorry for long diatribe.

  9. I'm the last person you should be apologising to for long diatribes. Even when I try to be short and to the point, I end up writing giant bloody essays.

    And besides, I should be the one to apologise if you felt like I was shouting you down. I might be argumentative, but that's the last thing I want to do.

    1. I didn't feel you were shouting me down, just that you possibly missing the truth of what I was trying to say, or only focusing on the bloody side of war. But I know you know what I was saying, and I hope you know I know what you were saying. Just sometimes it seems it needs to be okay to be able to be *simple* without over thinking everything, which I always tend to do myself but with this, I just wanted to be reductive and simple and pure for some reason. I am not pro war, quite the opposite. But wanted to say something about the personal, individual level.