Sunday, April 26, 2009

Anzac Day 09

We awake slowly from sleep in the spare room. Unsure of the time (it’s so dark) I visualise the clock, guesstimate – 4am. I hold my own private dawn Service in my head, still foggy from a dreamless night’s sleep.

Finally we both answer the call of nature and to our surprise, it’s 7am. So much for an early start, but I am thankful of the sleep-in. It’s Anzac Day, and we are in Clunes, a small township south-west of Byron Bay; the welcome sign boasts “Welcome to Clunes – proudly retaining Village Life”

A few cups of tea later, and we walk to the local park around the corner. They are holding their very first Anzac Day ceremony and we will be there to join in the spirit of what is to come. Zizi stays behind to cook our breakfast. We each have a job to do. Mine is to witness everything, so I begin to people-watch and take notes in my head.

A small crowd are gathered. The old women outnumber the old men. In the middle of a roughly mown paddock, stands a short stone monument beside a white flagpole. We stand in the shade of a huge Poinciana tree, gazing upwards I can see the spread of its branches, like a huge leafy umbrella.

Various men stand next to the monument, fiddling with a stereo system. There is no band, or drummer, but to my left there are five or so soldiers; beautifully dressed on their slouch hats and golden ‘rising sun’s badges.

People chat amongst themselves. Two school children - in white and red uniforms – rehearse their speech and mum fusses over her son. “He’ll need a chair, get him a chair” until even I turn to her and say with a smile “oh, he’s got young legs, he’ll be right!” but this isn’t enough, and she’s off, a helicopter mother in full flight, carrying her son in Year 7, a bloody chair so the poor boy can sit down. It must be a weight for him to hold his piece of paper, and wreath.

The sky is magnificently blue and clear; gazing over the far-away hills to the east I can see forever. Fat trees and knee-deep grass, lush after the recent rains.

Then we begin. To my disappointment, there is no hymn ‘Abide with Me’ but there is a small prayer, and I try not to note two spelling mistakes and one whole paragraph gone walk-about off the page.

The flag begins at half-mast; is raised and then lowered again for the Last Post. The bugler reads his music – holding a sheet of music out in front of him with his left hand - and manages to hit B-flat several times. We wince, and try to look respectful.

A minute’s silence is punctated by magpies warbling softly in the tree beside me, the bright red-roof of the cottage to my right grins cheerily as if to say “She’ll be right mate”. A semi truck roars past this huddle of strangers, the back reading “It’s cool” and I know that life does indeed, go onwards.

Later; at the pub, I watch the televised Dawn Service at Gallipolli; and then France; and note that their Bugler is so intent on playing his mournful piece so beautifully, his eyes close for the entire performance. When the last notes have played, he slowly opens his eyes, and then closes them again. He swallows hard, twice. He is in his own world remembering some time past. He blinks once, twice, and then retreats. It’s a beautiful moment, but for now, I am back in the paddock, with the sun beating down and the school children about to lay their only wreath. An old woman stands stiffly in front of me, her walking stick poised to support herself. Uh-oh I think, but when duty calls, she rises to the occasion with a stiff back and a quick gait. I am surprised!

We then sing the National Anthem, and then the thankyous begin. These seem to take almost the same amount of time as the entire Service.

The MC says in his strine voice “ Sterlo, thanks for the music – not!” and also includes the lawn-mowing men in his praise. “Gees good thing this paddock was mown, two days ago it was knee-high and looked like the bloody Vietnam jungle, if it hadn’t had been mown, I would’ve freaked out!” We all laugh, but I can’t help but wonder what he has been through.

Later, I chat to the remaining four soldiers and have my photo taken with them. A lone man stands beside the monument, reading the wreaths. I take his photo from a distance. Just him, the sky, the land, the green, the blue, the flag, the thoughts and memories, fresh and half remembered.

Lest we Forget.

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