Randwick War Memorial

The sounds of war
Echo across
The oceans of time:
We remember

Our local war memorial in High Cross Park, Randwick. I took this photo earlier today to mark Remembrance Day. The memorial was originally dedicated in 1925 and contains a scroll with the names of over four thousand Randwick residents who served in the First World War. Over time plaques remembering the soldiers of the Second World War, Borneo and Vietnam have also been added. Lest we forget.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2012

Cenotaph at Christmas

Bronze soldiers
Monuments to war
From another time:
We remember

I was in the Sydney CBD yesterday, looking at the Christmas decorations and doing some late shopping. The crowds were awful, particularly in the shops, but the atmosphere was quite festive and pleasant and I actually had a lot of fun walking around, taking photos.

I took this photo in Martin Place, outside the Sydney Cenotaph, where people were leaving Christmas cards and flowers in remembrance. The cenotaph was constructed in 1927 to remember the fallen from World War I; it is used extensively in the ANZAC and Armistice Day dawn services each year, drawing thousands of people.

As of December Australia has approximately 3,000 personnel stationed overseas, 1,500 of which are in Afghanistan. 2011 has been a horror year for Australian casualties; of the 32 deaths Australia has suffered in Afghanistan, 11 have been this year alone.

Please keep all of our soldiers and their families in your thoughts this Christmas.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2011

Lest We Forget

ANZAC Cove and New Zealand Point by Frank Hurley

“When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today.”
Epitaph at Kohima memorial cemetery

Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915. Of the more than 44,000 Allied deaths at Gallipoli almost 11,000 were ANZACs; over 130,000 soldiers died on both sides.

This year was the 95th anniversary of the campaign and Gallipoli is still seen as a defining moment in Australian, New Zealand and Turkish history. The operation was a strategic and military failure but it was the moment both Australia and New Zealand started to emerge and forge our own identities, separate from Britain, in the wider world, and it also laid the groundwork for the formation of the Turkish Republic eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli who became Turkey’s first president.

There is a dawn service held at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli each year to commemorate the fallen and ANZAC Day has expanded over the years to remember all  those who have died and served Australia and New Zealand; from World War I and II, to Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Usually there are services and veterans’ marches in every capital city.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gallipoli campaign but I must admit I have slightly mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. As a day of remembrance and reflection it’s something I value greatly, particularly knowing how lucky I am to live in a free country and the sacrifices many Australians have made in her name. What I don’t like about ANZAC Day, however, is the  way we often overlook New Zealand and Turkey in the commemorations, and particularly the nationalistic fervour that sometimes overwhelms it.

In recent years ANZAC Day has become more like a day of national pride in Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing except sometimes it’s seen more as a national holiday than a day of remembrance and some Australians think if you don’t wrap yourself in the Australian flag and wear green and gold, you’re being unpatriotic. Personally I try to commemorate ANZAC Day in my own way, looking at old photographs from Gallipoli and reflecting quietly on the losses on both sides and what it means to be Australian, but that attitude has begun to intrude on ANZAC Day more and more. It’s got to the point where the role of New Zealand is often overlooked in Australian commemorations and some Australians almost consider ANZAC Cove to be Australian soil, even though Gallipoli is still Turkish territory. I often wonder if we’re starting to lose what ANZAC Day is really about: remembering the cost of war.

Worse, though, is when people seem to have no respect for the ANZAC legacy at all. A war memorial in Sydney was vandalised on Saturday night, with a flag pole broken and garbage strewn around the Cenotaph. Why? What kind of person would do that? There was also a furore recently over the suggestion that because ANZAC Day fell on a Sunday this year, there shouldn’t be a public holiday in lieu on the Monday as it would be disrespectful (something I agreed with). But there was a public outcry against the idea and so the holiday stood. Likewise Kmart and other retailers recently applied to be able to trade on ANZAC Day morning, which RSLs were outraged by. Both cases show that people are beginning to associate ANZAC Day as more of a holiday than a day of reflection, which is troubling.

 

I’ve come across that kind of thing myself. I caught the bus home from Bondi on Saturday and a couple stood next to me, about my age or perhaps slightly older. Their language was vulgar, so much so that I won’t repeat most of it, and they spent most of the trip talking about an all-day party they were having on Sunday, planning to get so wasted they’d need Monday and Tuesday to recover and to “fuck like bunnies” all night. I have no idea if they even knew Sunday was ANZAC Day or not. Worse, though, they were standing in the way of the door and when an elderly woman stumbled into them as she was getting off, one of them called after her, “Fucking bitch. I should hit you so fucking hard for that. I hope you drop dead.”

They really got under my skin. First, I don’t see why such abysmal language is necessary in public. There was a little girl in front of me who heard all of it – and believe me, most of it she definitely wouldn’t have heard before. But much worse was the way they treated the woman. She was old enough to have been a nurse or war bride in World War II; is this the way we talk to our elders? To abuse them the night before ANZAC Day? Who knows what she has seen or done in her life. And what about the party? Getting that wasted on ANZAC Day of all days? Don’t you have any respect?

Maybe I’m off the mark but I think the ANZAC legacy deserves more respect than that. I know the original ANZACs wanted ANZAC Day to be as much a day of celebration as commemoration but I think the very least you can do is to spare a few minutes to think about how lucky we are for all we have on this one day of the year – and perhaps to abstain from getting so drunk that you won’t be able to remember any of it in the morning.

But perhaps it’s ignorance that is the real problem. After all, how can you really respect something if you don’t know the true story behind it? I wonder how many Australians actually know the true story of Gallipoli? Not the legend that has arisen since but what really happened? Somehow I doubt many do. There’s a famous quote by Alan Bond after winning the America’s Cup; his crew had been behind at one stage and he commented afterwards “it was just like Gallipoli, and we won that one”. That is simply wrong (not to mention insensitive). The Gallipoli campaign was a complete disaster from the beginning, ending when the Allies pulled out in January 1916 – yet it’s a misconception I hear again and again. Likewise many young people believe the first ANZACs gave their lives to protect Australia from invasion. Again that’s not true. The Allies were the invaders; the purpose of the campaign was to capture Istanbul (then Constantinople) and provide sea access to Russia, a campaign in a war we joined because of our ties to Great Britain. Also, Gallipoli is often referred to as the birth of our national consciousness, but the Western Front was just as important. Some Australians don’t even seem to know that New Zealand was part of the ANZAC Corps as well: at least one student at Queensland University was “shocked” recently when a New Zealand professor told them what ANZAC really stood for.

I can’t say any of it surprises me. I’m convinced the majority of Australians (and perhaps it’s true for other countries as well) don’t know their own history well enough. If we did there would be more sympathy for Indigenous Australians in particular and figures like Ned Kelly and Jimmy Governor wouldn’t be so notorious. I guess I can understand why; history is often dull and legends tend to take on lives of their own. But I don’t believe you can know who you are unless you know where you truly come from. That’s why I’ve always been interested in learning about the colonies, and Gallipoli, and why I began to research my family tree as well. I think most Australians would be surprised by how different much of our history really is. I doubt many people even know the extent of our deployments outside of Gallipoli, or just how close we came to being occupied by Japan in World War II.

I guess I’m just afraid that we’re slowly losing what is really important about ANZAC Day: remembering the fallen and our troops around the world, and the true cost and horror of war. Instead some people barely seem aware of it; for others it’s becoming more a day of national pride and while there is room for that as well, it shouldn’t be the focus. Each year ANZAC Day is being commemorated by more young people, at their schools and with their families, so that is a good sign at least. It shows they want to remember, to hear the stories and know what happened. If we can pass on the true history of Gallipoli to them, then the real Anzac spirit should never be forgotten.

In any case, I wanted to do a post to commemorate the 95th anniversary but I thought I’d post this on the 26th instead as I didn’t want my views to seem disrespectful. I thought I’d do something special as well, so I’ve put together another photo post, to show what the world and war was really like at that time.

The photos are from the Australian War Memorial, the State Library of NSW, the National Library of New Zealand and the National Media Museum on Flickr. They are all from World War I and II. Lest we forget.

And to all of our troops around the world, stay safe. We’re thinking of you, always.

Click here to see the photos

I Am

I Am Another You

Image: I Am Another You ~ Jeff Robinson

I am many things
A son, a writer, a boy, a man, a friend
I am all those things and I am nothing
On myself, I depend

I am a memory that will be forgotten
I am a face that will fade away
I long to be remembered
But even night must fade into day

I am a student, always learning
I am a child looking at the sky
I seek neither knowledge or power
Just the means to open my eyes

I am a dreamer of great dreams
I am the voice of all sorrows
I live for the simplest of things
A laugh, your smile; gone tomorrow

I am an atheist, asking questions
I am a soldier seeking peace
I do not fear death, or darkness,
I welcome its release

I am the wind howling in the treetops
I am the voice whispering in your ear
My anger can be quiet and unspoken
Or fill your heart with fear

I am the beggar on the street corner
I am the insect crushed beneath your feet
Pity me, for I am no one,
A lost soul in full retreat

I am a chameleon with many faces
I am a prisoner suffering on my own
I struggle silently behind my mask
But cry when I am alone

I am wise and I am stupid
I am a writer lost for words
My past haunts my footsteps
My story is waiting to be heard

I am honest like a true friend
I am jealous like the gods of old
Hurt me with tears and I am forgiving
But words make my heart grow cold

I am the fire burning brightly
I am the thunder and the rain
Everywhere I leave death and destruction
In my wake life grows again

I am a child born at the wrong time
I am the remnant of another age
I long for an end to violence
But war is history’s stage

I am a walking contradiction
I am everything I should not be
Proud; arrogant; ugly; beautiful
I am me

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

You can also listen to the poem at AudioBoo


If you’re wondering what inspired this poem, I wanted to write something different than I had written before. I have been feeling unwell recently and I wanted to write an honest examination of life, with all of its ups and downs.

It’s about me, an exploration of who I am as a person, but it’s also about everyone. I wanted it to feel personal but also to mean something different to everyone who reads it.

I hope you enjoyed the poem and that it means something unique to you, as it does to me.
~ CJ

Quotes for Peace

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

This is a follow up to my last post. My look back at 2008 was quite long; I had a lot to say, particularly as the situation with Israel and Hamas was developing. It has now escalated further and I’ve been extremely disturbed by the violence and the scenes coming out of Gaza.

The civilian deaths yesterday were some of the worst I have seen and have been weighing heavily on my mind today. I’ve been reading through several of my collections of quotes about war and peace and I thought I would share some of my favourites. It is my plea for peace to both sides.

Feel free to share a favourite quote or any you think are appropriate. Let’s hope the violence ends soon. It has cost too much already.

* * * * * *

I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”
~ Eve Merriam

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict – alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.
~ Dorothy Thompson

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.
~ Jawaharlal Nehru

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
~ Oscar Wilde

Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice.
~ Spinoza

Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
~ John F. Kennedy

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
~ Albert Einstein

True power is when we have every justification to kill, and don’t.
~ Oscar Schindler

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
~ Helen Keller

We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace.
~ Jeane Kirkpatrick

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
~ Franklin Roosevelt

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.
~ William E. Gladstone

The Year That Was

war_torn

Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉