Recognising the forgotten wars, necessary for peace


p2627 Lament 1By KIERAN FINNANE
In the quiet after dark on Anzac Eve a different kind of remembering took place on Anzac Hill in Alice Springs: it did not exclude a commemoration of the service of Australian men and women in military conflicts abroad, but went beyond it, to lament the broader violence, suffering, loss of life and property in war, including the Frontier Wars.  And to pray for peace.
That peace was given definition: not ‘merely the absence of war, peace is the nurture of human life,’ as Jane Addams had put it in the midst of the war that was supposed to end them all, known then as the Great War, becoming the First World War when the second broke out.
Sue Woods, from Campfire in the Heart, a Christian community on the outskirts of Alice Springs, organised the ceremony and it was she who quoted Addams. I had heard of the organisation she helped found, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which celebrates its centenary this year, but didn’t know anything about her.
p2627 Lament 2An American, she believed human beings were capable of solving disputes without violence and campaigned against the US joining the Great War. With a group of other women she went on to tour the warring nations, advocating for peace, and was awarded the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. She died in 1935, so didn’t live to see the next terrible descent into global war.
The gathering in Alice was small, a group of around 35, starting out from the soldiers memorial at the base of the hill, where candles were lit, before Sue and David Woods led the procession to the crest, stopping at each memorial plaque that names and dates the international conflicts in which Australia has taken part, to remember their terrible costs.
As they walked from plaque to plaque, the group sang the peace song,  ‘The Vine and Fig Tree’, with David playing the guitar. The words, adapted from the Bible, go like this: “Every one ‘neath their vine and fig tree /  Shall live in peace and unafraid. / And into plowshares turn their swords / Nations shall learn war no more.”
The spacing of the plaques rather ominously leaves room for new ones before you reach the top of the hill. Beyond the last, dedicated to ongoing (military) peacekeeping, Sue stopped to speak: “There’s not one here yet, but we need to acknowledge the Frontier Wars from 1788. The legitimacy of our national identity is genetically faulty unless we recognise and remember the whole story in the celebration of what it means to remember all that fell in the birth of the land we now call Australia.”
p2627 Lament 3As the group drew nearer the crest of the hill, a solo cello could be heard – Nic Hempel giving beautiful expression to the idea of lament, “a passionate expression of grief and sorrow”, as Sue put it after he had finished.
The word ‘lament’ is underused in our language, she said, as is its practice: “I’ve felt for a number of years we as a people, a nation and our world need to lament a lot of the suffering and violence and care that we don’t take of the earth and the people.”
That was what the group was doing, on Arrernte land, as she acknowledged, a sacred site, Untyeyetwelye, long before it became Anzac Hill in 1934.
She said others around the country were also lamenting, especially in Canberra, where people gather on top of Mount Ainslie and walk in procession to the Australian War Memorial, keeping a peace vigil through the night.
She reflected on what is missing from Australia’s commemoration of Anzac Day, which is giving rise to these peace events:
p2627 Lament 4“In Australia and New Zealand a great empathy with returned soldiers and the war dead is growing as we remember the Anzacs landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The seed beds in which our governments are cultivating this respect are the memories and traumas of war which are carried from generation to generation in nearly every family, military and civilian, Indigenous and migrant.
“Yet a silence remains in our country’s public commentary. We do not hear about all the people who have been hurt by war, we hear little of the lamentation and past yearning for peace that would sound if we expressed the private anguish that is always crying for wartime’s losses.”
Songs were played and stories were told about this “private anguish”. There was a song, for instance, about the Catholic chaplain, Father George Zabelka, who blessed the air crews just before they dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Haunted by the slaughter and its fundamental conflict with his Christian belief in the sanctity of life, he later become a pacifist and dedicated his life to non-violence.
Sue then asked Simon Moyle, a visitor from Melbourne, to speak about acknowledging the Frontier Wars. A Baptist Minister, his name is well-known in the peace movement, including for taking non-violent direct action at military installations.
p2627 Lament 5He spoke of his Anzac Day practice over the last few years – going to Canberra to participate in the Frontier Wars actions led by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. They want to acknowledge, and have officially acknowledged, the First Nations people of this country who “fought to defend it from colonial invasion.”
“Each year they march in the Anzac Parade,” he said, “at the end of the parade, and each year they are prevented from going into the forecourt at the Australian War Memorial with all the other soldiers.They do this as an act of protest and also to raise awareness of these terrible events.”
“Australia needs to acknowledge the Frontier Wars. It’s a part of who we are. It’s what it means to tell the truth about our history.
“Historians like Professor Henry Reynolds from the University of Tasmania argues that Australia’s first combat needs to be recognised as a war. He says more was at stake for Australians in that conflict than in any other war, because it was being fought in Australia about Australia before it even was Australia.”
p2627 Lament 6He cited new research that suggests that 65,000 people were killed in Queensland alone during the Frontier Wars, “making the total more than any war Australia has ever fought overseas.”
This is not something we can put behind us and forget: the blood of the Frontier Wars dead “cries out from the ground”, he said, while there is still no memorial or national commemoration of these conflicts and their enduring consequences.
“Australians of diverse origins and creeds are facing up to the once hidden hypocrisy of blood on the wattle.
“Our coming of age as a nation means boldly remembering both the 102,000 military deaths and recognising the deaths of potentially three times as many First Peoples on this soil.”
Simon’s speech was followed by inter-faith prayers, and finally Sue Woods distributed olive branches, symbols of peace – reminders, as she had said earlier, “to grieve our history of war and violence and to call for truth and justice in our country, to be motivated to action and to work as peace-makers.”
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  1. I remember ANZAC Day! Served in Alice with the first group of Yanks in 1955-56 and have held the Aussies in high esteem since. Good on ya. Lest forget!


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