The Anzac march in the inner-city suburb of Burchett Hill took place this week under severely restricted conditions after the Burchett Hill City Council refused to issue a permit for a march through the streets.
Such an event would be “provocative” to citizens “who do not share the Anglo-imperialist glorification of war,” said Councillor Les Rhiannon, the Mayor. “There are many true-blue Aussies from places such as Turkey and Mesopotamia who have lived in Burchett Hill for weeks or even months or longer who have not only suffered the horrors of violence in their earlier countries of abode but who emphatically reject the Judaeo-Christian-Fascist agenda that gave rise to the military adventures of the twentieth century,” he said. “Council has a duty to protect their sensitivities.”
The march, for those few residents who could be bothered with it – for in addition to true-blue Aussies from Turkey and Mesopotamia the municipality’s demographic includes large numbers of well-to-do Green voters who reject the Anzac “myth” as “not in the spirit of world government”- had therefore to be relocated away from public space. The march took place indoors at the RSL Club with arrows posted around the principal rooms to indicate the route the marchers were to follow. From the assembly point in the Tabaret, the route ran through the club’s Hungry Digger Bistro (“Seniors’ All U Can Eat Menu, $12”), into the bar and the Old Mates Memorabilia Room with its dusty flags and weaponry and fading photographs, and on to the Tobruk Lounge (“the Ideal Venue for Weddings and Celebrations. Ask to see our rates. You’ll be pleasantly surprised”) where “They shall grow not old” was to be recited.
There was some confusion during the earlier stages of the programme. The Burchett Hill RSL, its membership sadly depleted, depends for its survival on the income from its bistro, bar and Tabaret, which are let out to commercial management. Due to an oversight the bistro franchisees, a Mr and Mrs Gupta, had not been informed that the march had been relocated and were busy serving early lunches to two coach parties of Japanese tourists when the marchers came through. Several of the more ancient marchers, hearing numbers called out for meal orders and seeing facial features dimly familiar from earlier years, fancied they were being recalled to their regiments and marched, as closely “at the double” as their years would permit, past the servery into the kitchen, from which they were ejected by various Gupta male relatives. One elderly veteran ended up in the “food waste only” wheelie bin; another found himself among the frozen “today’s house-baked” gourmet pies in the walk-in freezer. Other marchers, seeing the tables and crockery, thought it was a scheduled break and sat down to order “a nice cuppa and a bit of fruitcake” (a nice cuppa and fruitcake being about the last things you can get at the Hungry Digger, which prides itself instead on its “great coffee” and “Mediterranean-style grazing”). Several marchers were found to have been left behind in the Tabaret, one complaining that he’d “lost his shirt”.
It having been discovered as the march set off that the space between the gaming machines, tables, chairs and other fittings was too cramped for the band to carry its cumbersome instruments, the marchers were musically unaccompanied except by croaking renditions of “Hitler Had Only One Brass Ball” and “Pack Up Your Troubles” from a few of the older diggers, some in wheelchairs. The Last Post was sounded on the synthesiser on the dais of the Tobruk Lounge, used for discos and dances.
The council ban on a public march did not mean that there was no official Anzac commemoration at the Burchett Hill War Memorial in Chavez (formerly Civic) Square. “There is no reason,” said Councillor Rhiannon, “why this traditional celebration of mateship should be hijacked by a lot of old rednecks”, nor that it should reflect “discredited class conflicts that Australian working people were dragged into by the skin of their teeth”. For this morning’s council-sponsored “inclusive” Anzac ceremony, the memorial was tastefully draped in the rainbow and Aboriginal flags. There was no march (“a militaristic anachronism”) and the speakers were drawn from among what Councillor Rhiannon described as “the voices excluded from Anzac Days of the past”. Aboriginal “Auntie” Lorraine-Louitja Bromberg-Heiss, representing the Tomandjeri nation on whose land or ngurumbang, states a plaque, the War Memorial stands, made a ringing plea for “the European occupiers of the Australian continent to pay accrued rental with compound interest for their use of army camps and barracks around so-called Darwin and elsewhere on the pretext of defending the country against the ‘yellowfella’ Japanese, who,” she reflected, “might otherwise have expelled the whitefella invader.” Marriage-equality activist Deirdre Hogg said she spoke “for all lesbian, gay and differently-gendered people” in demanding an instant apology “with punitive damages” from the three branches of the defence establishment for “the blatant homophobia of Forces’ humour” as exemplified in the kind of jokes she had heard from her grandfather and his army friends. “As a child I was brutally subjected to vile references to gay men with Irish surnames and someone called Patrick fitting Gerald and vice versa. There were sneering whispers of ‘backs to the wall’ when my Uncle Neville, who lived with his mother, came to visit, as well as highly unacceptable comments about ‘butch’ members of the women’s defence forces and ‘scissoring’,” she said.
Greens councillor Dave McStir, a shop steward at the Burchett Hill Town Hall branch of the Municipal Workers’ Union, delivered an eloquent condemnation of the coal industry for its contribution to “the war machine”, though the full force of his remarks was unfortunately lost on account of his Glasgow accent. Then came a musical interlude. Grade III children from Burchett Hill primary school, coached by their teachers, chanted the popular 1970s refrain, “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh / We shall fight and we shall win”, a great favourite at moratoriums and campus sit-ins of yesteryear. This brought a nostalgic tear to many an ageing eye.
Local churchman and Argus contributor Canon Owen Featherhead was about to conclude the ceremony with a prayer asking forgiveness for “the misguided Allied powers for their lack of charity towards nations with a different worldview” when there came the sound of slurred swearing and a party of Vietnam vets from the RSL, refreshed by their post-march “reunion”, lurched into view with an armload of supposedly spent anti-tank shells abstracted from the Old Mates Memorabilia Room. These they proceeded to load into the historic cannon that stands on the steps of the War Memorial, swivelling it on its creaking base towards the official party. A roar like thunder, a flash of light and a wide rent in the rainbow flag indicated that someone in the memorabilia room had blundered, but Councillor Rhiannon was no longer around to ask who, or to demand the usual full-scale inquiry.
First published at Argus-online