Self Indulgence : The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is Australia’s national memorial to the members of its armed forces and supporting organisations who have died or participated in wars involving the Commonwealth of Australia, and some conflicts involving personnel from the Australian colonies prior to Federation. The memorial includes an extensive national military museum. The Australian War Memorial was opened in 1941, and is widely regarded as one of the most significant memorials of its type in the world.
-From Wikipedia.

Situated in Canberra, our Capital, the AWM draws thousands of international and domestic tourists each year. Aussie’s have an uneasy relationship with Canberra, being the location of Parliament and with a very high percentage of Public Servants. Personally I love Canberra. Our bush Capital is a Foodies Delight, with an abundance of wineries, magnificent gardens and reserves, and there are so many interesting places to visit. With Remembrance Day only days away here are a few of my favourite photos from my last visit to the AWM.

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From the AWM looking towards Parliament House. The avenue is full of touching memorials and makes for an interesting walk.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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The Pool of Remembrance. Every evening at 5 pm there is a Closing Ceremony on these steps, including bagpipes, which includes a memorial to a nominated exservice person.

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Afghanistan Memorial. Each of these marble sculptures represents a young life lost. You have to walk past them to exit the building.Talk about emotional!

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Time for a coffee at Poppy’s Cafe.

There is also a well stocked military bookshop which gleans money from me each and every visit.

The grounds are full of bronze sculptures and the odd tank, as well as local wildlife. It is suggested that a minimum of two days is required to see it all. Exhibits change on a regular basis. I’ve never had time to work my way through the naval displays and try to avoid the RAAF area because it is just too easy to get distracted.

The AWM is a Must Do for any visitor to the ‘Berra, and Entry is at No Cost. Pick me up along the way……….

A Minutes Silence and Poppies

This is going to sound really odd, but I am really looking forward to Remembrance Day this November. Does that come across as a bit ghoulish? Compared to the skeletons and headless bodies fighting for space in the supermarket aisles for Halloween, I guess not.

Sunday, the 11th of November, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War (1914–18). On this day, as per usual, Australians will observe a one minute silence at 11 am, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.

This year a special commemorative service will be held at my local Anzac Centenary Park. Prior to the Service a specially decorated Troop Train will arrive at the local Train Station carrying soldiers from Enoggera Barracks (on the other side of Brisbane) who will then march up to the Park to participate in the Commemorative Service, along with veterans. The march to the service will also include a contingent of horses as a nod to the Australian Light Horse.

Designed by the local Returned Services League (colloquially known as the Rissole), the train will feature the distinctive lone soldier and red poppy, symbolising the lives lost on the Western Front during World War 1. Unfortunately, all the Poppies I planted for a display in my garden have since been replaced by lettuces – not quite the look I was going for…

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It’s probably the timing that has created more interest in this date this year. With the Invictus Games in Sydney closing last night, thoughts of our service members, past and present, are fresh. And why not ? What a wonderful display of sportsmanship, goodwill, compassion, good fun and OPTIMISM – something we all seem a bit short of lately. Was that a better spectacle than the Commonwealth Games or what! ( Except for one thing. David Beckham. Please explain…….And forgive me for being churlish, but who the hell stops at a Cafe for a grated carrot?)

Young Harry Windsor and his ongoing interest in 98 year old war widow Daphne was another beautiful thing. Daphne’s husband was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in WW2 and his medals displayed proudly on her chest is what brought the two together.

On a more personal front it’s good to have the son in law back on home soil, and my warmest thoughts are directed to the three hundred who headed off to Baghdad last week.

And Trick and Treaters : heads up, the only thing I will be handing out is Kalamata Olives and Camembert Cheese on Crackers.

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ANZAC GIRLS by Peter Rees

In Primary School days, way back in the 60’s, one of the things that made the annual Anzac Day Ceremony so special was that you could wear your Cubs or Brownies uniform to school. My sister and her friends wore their white aprons with red capes and little hats bearing a Red Cross. My Annie Oakley outfit and cap guns were unacceptable.

Tragically, throughout my entire schooling, there was never any other mention of the magnificent work of the nursing services during either World War 1 or 2. Florence Nightingale was it.

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I read Anzac Girls after watching the 2014 ABC Mini series of the same name, as well as attending a one act theatre production called The Girls in Grey, both of which were based on Peter Rees’ book.

Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps and the wards, and the tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battle fronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these compassionate women to shine through and to enrich our experience.

This is a brilliant read. Forgetting about the courage, strength and humanity of these magnificent women amid all the expected carnage, there were some other factors that made this such a fascinating book.

Firstly, Rees cleverly wove other stories into the fabric of the Anzac Nurses which fleshed out Australian history and highlighting the time line and providing perspective. This included references to Banjo Paterson, poet and war correspondent, as well as C J Dennis, another poet who immortalised a “situation” regarding the AIF and brothels in Cairo in his poem , The Battle Of The Wazzir. http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/denniscj/gmick/wazzir.html.

There was little recognition for these women at the time. Despite working in a theatre of war for over four years there was no financial assistance for housing, although soldiers were entitled. Some nurses had to work their passage home attending to soldier’s wives and children on board, and others had to depend on their families paying the passage home even though the British Government was paying the costs for transporting war brides. Woeful, absolutely woeful.

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Lastly, and what I found particularly inspiring, is that many of these women went on to do magnificent things in civilian life regardless of the terrible things that they had endured. They were indeed trail blazers.

Best read for the year, and I will just add that I made a much better cowgirl than nurse.

There’s a Rose that grows in No Man’s Land,
And it’s wonderful to see.
Tho’ it’s sprayed with tears,
It will live for years
In my garden of memory.
It’s the one red rose
That the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s Hand;
In the War’s great curse stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of No Man’s Land.
(American song)

More To History Than What Is In Books…..

Still driving around the island of Tasmania, waking up each day with absolutely no plans. Some travellers allow only a few days to discover the essence of Tassie. This is my 7th trip and I always stumble upon new places and things on each and every journey.

This holiday I seem to have focused on war memorials in country towns as well as the infamous Tasmanian Scallop Pie. These monuments to the memory of previous generations provide such a rich history of townships, in many cases documenting the deaths of multiple members within families in both World War 1 and 2. 

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Avoca, in the Midlands (meaning that it is between Launceston in the north and Hobart in the south, and in the very guts of the island) is rich grazing land. With a population of only 123 at the 2006 census this is the township’s memorial, with a tree planted for each of the fallen. More trees than residents nowadays……tells a story, doesn’t it?

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A little south is the town of Ross, another farming community with sandstone buildings dating back to convict times. On the crossroads of Church and Bridge Streets there is a field gun from the Boer War and the war memorial is a central part of the intersection, as was popular in many country towns. This crossroads area is humorously referred to as the “Four Corners of Ross” with each corner having a label:

▪Temptation: the Man O’ Ross Hotel

▪Recreation: Town Hall

▪Salvation: Roman Catholic Church

▪Damnation: Jail (now a private residence)

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Jericho, slightly off the main highway, where mud walls built by convicts in the early 1800’s still stand, is the resting place of John Hutton Bisdee, the first Australian born recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Travelling south to the East Coast it was fascinating to locate a memorial to all sailors in the services at Triabunna, including the name of one of Tasmania’s better known sons, Teddy Sheean.

More on Scallop Pies next time……

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Cork Trees, Russell Crowe and WW1.

I’ve spent the last few days catching up on newspapers and changing hair colour.

An item that piqued my interest featured artist, Beverley Teske, who is creating an installation out of bottle tops to be staged at the local museum.

Teske is collecting 61,555 bottle caps with each bottle cap representing an Australian soldier who died in World War 1. To date, Ms Teske said she had collected about one-third of the number of caps required and asked interested people to drop their caps at the museum before and during the installation.

The exhibition will also feature three large paintings, with one entitled Under Clear Blue Skies they Came to Die also representing  the 61,555 soldiers with hand drawn crosses. Another painting also has 130,845 crosses representing all soldiers who died at Gallipoli.

Teske is quoted as saying, “The original piece was inspired when I saw Russell Crow in The Water Diviner. It really moved me that all these people died. I wanted to do something to acknowledge that”. World History via Russell Crowe. Don’t you just love that!

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Can’t help with bottle tops, though I do have a few corks hanging around.

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On my recent travels I visited a Cork Tree which was brought from England in a jam tin in 1861.

Known as the Wishing Tree in English folklore, it is said that the trees are surrounded with a strange power to bring good luck to those who observe certain rituals dating back to the time of the Great Plague of London 1665. At that time, people came from all parts of the country to walk around the tree three times and as they walked, to make a wish. Some came for better health, some for better fortune and others for a wife or husband. It was said that few were disappointed.

Fortune Favours those who see
More in me than just a tree
Look at my cork
And three times walk
Before my girth for all to see

I had visions of re-enacting mystical Druid rituals underneath the moon light. Unfortunately, the shade of this magnificent tree is also home to numerous Shetland ponies, and they are not one to share their environment.063107F6-045A-40CC-A59E-B79872758D68

Holy Guacamole and Other Things.

Flags Of Our Fathers by James Bradley, the son of John “Doc”Bradley, one of the six flagraisers at Iwo Jima, was co-authored with Ron Powers. The photo of U.S. servicemen raising the flag on Mount Suribachi became an iconic symbol of victory to a war-weary nation, and the image was used as propaganda to sell war bonds.

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I saw the Clint Eastwood directed movie of the same name before reading the book, and loved it. Having finally read the book I can advise you that the book is so very much better.

Doc Bradley never talked about the war and it wasn’t until he was in his mid 60s that information about the part he played became known to his family. “The real heroes of Iwo Jima were the guys who didn’t come back”, he said.

The dissemination of this information is what makes this book such an interesting and heartfelt read.

So, of course, I’m about to read Letters from Iwo Jima by Kumiko Kakehashi, telling the story of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view. This too was made into a movie, again directed by Eastwood, and I remember being dumbstruck after watching it, having never previously considered the opposing view.

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Talking propaganda, my youngest foisted a DVD onto me which I had been ignoring for weeks. You have to understand that this child of mine collects singing Bing Crosby dolls.

Their Finest, starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy takes us back to the 1940’s in London. It tells the story of a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz using the input of the female voice.

What a surprising little flick which alternatively had me smiling and crying. I even enjoyed Bill Nighy’s performance( I apologise for doubting you, my gorgeous one. No, I still don’t want to watch your Police Academy collection).

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You’ll be pleased that for a change of pace a girlfriend has lent me her dog eared copy of Open Your Mind To Prosperity by Catherine Ponder.

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Holy Guacamole. I may just have to make that a Gin and Tonic evening to give myself any chance of surviving this one…..

The Missing Man by Peter Rees

I know I said I wasn’t going to throw any sickies with the final curtain call looming, but it has been the coldest July on record. In subtropical Queensland we don’t own heaters, nor do many of us have carpeted floors. And sometimes it is simply appropriate to spend a mental health day at home. With lots of coffee.

On the invitation of a good friend who shares a common interest in military history – her Dad was a Prisoner of War in Changi during WW2 – I was fortunate to attend the official book launch of The Missing Man by Peter Rees.

I was quite familiar with Peter Rees, the author of Lancaster Men: The Aussie Heroes Of Bomber Command – my own personal area of interest – as well as Anzac Girls, the story of Australian WW1 nurses.

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I was not familiar with Len Waters, nor the parkland in Inala named in his honour, in which this function was held.

Who was Len Waters? Essentially Len Waters was Australia’s first Aboriginal fighter pilot. He was born on an Aboriginal reserve, left school at 13, and was flying Kittyhawks over the Pacific during WW2 less than ten years later as part of 78 Fighter Squadron.

You know what was really amazing about this? Australia’s indigenous people were only formally recognised as Australian citizens in 1967. In that year 90.77 per cent of Australians voted ‘yes’ in a constitutional referendum to improve indigenous rights and award citizenship to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

After the war, Len settled in Inala and raised his family. He had plans to become part of Australia’s emerging commercial airline industry, after having broken through race barriers during the war with such a distinguished flying career. These plans were thwarted on five separate occasions, and his application to join the Occupational Force during the Korean Conflict was also declined. Instead of flying, Warrant Officer Leonard Waters became the Missing Man in our wartime flying history.

This function included representation by several generations of the Waters Family, some travelling from interstate, as well as representatives from the Royal Australian Airforce. It was particularly pleasing to see uniformed Airforce Cadets listening and learning from various speeches, as well as the Aboriginal Police Liaison Officers mingling amongst the crowds.

Several Government officials of different levels spoke at the event sharing information about Len Waters and how the parkland, including aeroplane propellor, evolved. The applause when Milton Dick, MP, Federal Member For Oxley, announced that there was an agreement to purchase copies of books for inclusion into all local school libraries as a teaching resource was heartfelt, and I must admit to shedding a tear.

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Well done to the organisers of this function, to the Government officials for a total lack of bickering and point scoring, as well as to Peter Rees for telling a story that needed to be shared. Yes, of course I bought several copies. That’s my Christmas shopping done and dusted.

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Bomber – As Mad As A Cut Snake

I always wanted a Mercedes Sports car. My father, a child of the Depression, always said that “nothing is handed to you on a plate, Girlie”. The only car he ever gave me was a Matchbox Toy. It was a Mercedes, however. My daughters had to buy their own cars too and both held down part time jobs throughout High School and Uni in order to do so.

My eldest, a slip of a thing, was a tea trolley girl at the Repatriation Hospital where she met some very interesting characters, including Tony Bower-Miles, a Vietnam Veteran. In the Australian vernacular, Bomber, as he is affectionately known, would be best described as rough as guts and as mad as a cut snake. He would also give you the shirt off his back. My daughter grew up surrounded by some hardened old men which meant big, burly Bomber with his beard and six earrings didn’t phase her one bit. In fact this scary looking bloke would assist my daughter to negotiate the wards full of men, mostly vets, many who were in not such good shape.

I’ve recently read Bomber : From Vietnam To Hell And Back. Co-written with Mark Whittaker, who provides the history, time fames and context, Bomber’s running commentary is full of colour, profanities and brothels.

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Bower-Miles is one interesting fella. He likes a cold beer on a hot day, is not fond of authority figures, and is as courageous as they come. In Vietnam, where Land mines, in particular US made M16 anti-personnel mines, were one of the major threats faced by Australian troops, much of Bomber’s work involved cleaning up their aftermath. They were often positioned by the enemy and later used to great effect against Australian troops.

“A quarter of all the 504 Australians killed in Vietnam were killed by mines and booby traps. And of those, 55 were killed by M16 mines which were almost all lifted from the Australian minefield.” 

( True story. There is a line in Redgum’s Song “Only Nineteen”, which goes : Frankie kicks a mine the day that mankind kicks the moon. Private Frank Hunt was seriously wounded on 21st of June, 1969, along with 18 others, with another killed, by an Australian land mine.)

Bomber’s commentary is raw, and in no way prettied up, and is both a fascinating and terrifying read. After Vietnam he was transferred to Singapore for a time, and nearing conflicts end, returned to Australia via Darwin, to assist with the cleanup after Cyclone Tracy, which absolutely decimated the northern city. This too gives a different perspective to what we know about this catastrophe – hearing it from someone on the ground assisting with the rebuilding.

His return to civilian life was not a happy one including a marriage breakdown, and Bomber spiralled downwards into a world fuelled by alcohol and violence, exascerbated by pain from injuries that occurred from having been thrown off tanks on several occasions by bomb blasts in Vietnam. Throughout this period he maintained his friendships with fellow veterans in a self styled support system.

And this is where the true measure of the man comes to light.

In 2001, Bomber returned to South East Asia, putting his minefield breaching and clearance skills to work in the task of locating and destroying some of the 4 to 6 million land mines that still contaminated Cambodia. This trip was self funded as were the others that he later took. 

On a shoestring budget, Bomber established the Vietnam Veterans’ Mine Clearing Team. The men were removing mines planted by Pol Pot about 30 years ago as part of his battle for power. The Vietnamese planted mines during their invasion of Cambodia, and some farmers even used the mines to stake their claims.

The problem is none of these are recorded on maps, and walking around Cambodia can be life threatening. It’s anticipated there are about 40-thousand amputees in  Cambodia as a result of land mines. In early 2008 the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia Inc was registered as an incorporated entity in Queensland. (IA:36313) and registered with the Australian Government Business Register . 

Now that Cambodian Self Help Demining has official status, they work within the rules and that means Bomber and his mates must confine themselves to fund-raising. Interestingly, each of the mine detectors purchased through fundraising for the de-mining operation has a plaque attached in honour of one of the Engineers killed during the war in Vietnam.

Yes, Josie, you are quite right. Bomber is a larrikin and unsung hero, and most certainly, as mad as a cut snake.

 

 

The Bulldog Track by Peter Phelps plus some

Another book launch at the local though I’m not attending this one. That’s a definate – no if’s nor buts. On a work day and I’m reluctant to take any days off until my final curtain call in coming weeks, plus I overdid it at the charity Bookfest last weekend. Take a peek….

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Peter Phelps is an Australian actor who made his name in some truely dreadful Australian soapies back in the late 70’s. You know, the kind that gets lapped up. He has recently written a book about his grandfather, Tom Phelps, who seventy five years ago survived the other Kokoda Track, the Bulldog Track, in PNG.

Never heard of The Bulldog Track? Neither had I! Back in the 1940’s work was scarce in Australia and many of those men who were too old to go to war, found work in the goldfields of New Guinea. Of course, no one was expecting the war to come to the Pacific, but it did, and the Japanese took the northern cities of New Guinea.

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As word of the invasion and the atrocities being committed spread, Tom and his fellow workers, men of differing nationalities, trades and professions, were caught in the middle of it all. After the airfield was bombed, the Australian military told them to get out via the ‘other’ Kokoda Track. They set off through the jungle into the unknown.

The Bulldog Track is some one hundred kilometres due west of the famous Kokoda Track and crosses some of the most rugged and isolated terrain in the world, combining hot humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and endemic tropical diseases such as malaria. Bulldog Track was longer, higher, steeper, wetter, colder and rougher than Kokoda Track.

Peter Phelps shares the story of Tom’s escape via foot, canoe, raft, schooner and rat cunning which were documented on Tom’s pith helmet in indelible ink that he wore during the duration.

Phelps Junior as a young man was in an Australian movie which made a huge impression – and yes, partly because of his poor acting. The Lighthorsemen is a 1987 film about the men of a World War I light horse unit involved in Sinai and Palestine Campaign’s 1917 Battle of Beersheeba. The film is based on a true story in which 800 young Aussie horsemen obey the order to gallop their horses across three miles ( that’s longer than the Melbourne Cup!) of open desert into shell fire and machine gun fire. Of course they succeed. There wouldn’t be a movie otherwise. They break through Turkish defences to win the wells of Beersheba.

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In all this blood, guts and way too much mangled equine flesh to mention Phelps has a romance with an Aussie nurse, who was played by Our Sigrid, who was the belle of the ball before Our Nic. Talk about stuffing up a good yarn.

So, no, I won’t attend the lunch, though I’ll probably order a copy of the book.