Last Post for Anzac Day
25 Monday Apr 2016
25 Monday Apr 2016
24 Sunday Apr 2016
Unfortunately I haven’t had time to pen a blog on ANZAC Day this year. My aim is to write about how Sir John Monash won the First World War for the allies.
Instead, I reproduce my article from last year, the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.
For the last ten years I have written an editorial on ANZAC day (and sometimes on Remembrance Day). Just a small piece seeking to make these days/events relevant to a modern (young) audience.
If you don’t like reading editorials or opinion pieces turn off or delete now.
Gallipoli was perhaps the first time that Australians did anything as Australians on the world stage. A debut. The nation was relatively new. Our population was a little under 5 million. The Federal Parliament still sat in Melbourne.
It turned into a tragic debut.
On 25 April 1915, 12,500 to 16,000 Australian troops landed at Gallipoli. In the days that followed, 860 Australians lost their lives and about 2000 were wounded. Ultimately, 8,709 Australian lives were lost during the Gallipoli campaign. A staggering 61,522 Australians died in the First World war.
This ANZAC Day I believe we should reflect on the unique character of the Australian soldiers. While Australians fought for the King and British Empire they were not British. They had grown apart from the traditions of Europe. They had established their own nation based on the democratic principles of universal suffrage for men and women. This and other concepts were foreign to the British and other Europeans and set the Australians apart. We should look at the early formation of the Australian identity.
I have identified 5 characteristics. Different people will produce different lists but here is mine.
2. Affinity with New Zealand
The first characteristic is mateship. I know the term is well worn and unfortunately become hackneyed. However, there is no other description for the strong bond that was forged between the Australian soldiers. It was a bond that saw them fight courageously in hopeless situations. It was a bond that saw them die for each other.
These soldiers were volunteers. They were young men and women, a number in their teens. They fought in difficult conditions against a determined foe seeking to protect their homeland. The carnage was palpable. The experience of war was mind numbing.
They were far from home chasing an adventure that had turned into a nightmare. Their cause was ambiguous. What did the British want with Turkey, anyway? Australians from different States and different backgrounds became mates. They depended on each other. In these conditions, close and permanent bonds were formed.
The depth of feeling between the men could be seen in how they responded to the (surprise) decision to withdraw. The Australian reaction is recorded as unique and different from that of soldiers from other nations. Some Australians made crude wreaths for their fallen friends. Others attended their grave sites and straightened their crosses. A sense of guilt gripped many soldiers as they were leaving before any military objective was achieved. Some questioned what purpose was achieved by the death of their mates. Some carried this guilt into their twilight years.
This mateship or bond made the Australian units quite formidable in battle. There were many attempts to split the Australians so that each Allied division contained Australian soldiers. They were viewed as tenacious and courageous fighters. It was hoped that their attitude would infect the troops from other nations. But it was Australians fighting with Australians that promoted this bond. Dividing the soldiers would have broken this spirit.
Has this mateship survived a century of change? Do we care for our neighbour? How far will we extend ourselves for the sake of others?
The second feature is the affinity between the Australian and New Zealand soldiers. Australians should never forget that our New Zealand friends form the other half of the ANZAC equation. Australians and New Zealanders alike distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. While many Australians were honoured, the highest award was bestowed on New Zealand’s Major General Russell who was knighted. Some 2,700 New Zealanders were killed in the Gallipoli campaign.
Not many people know that in the 1890s, New Zealand was invited to join the new Australian federation. New Zealand representatives attended the first two federation conferences. However, New Zealand politely declined the invitation. The Australian Constitution still contains references to New Zealand.
In the ANZAC spirit, isn’t it time the two countries reviewed their respective positions on consolidation/merger? Isn’t the future, shaped by grand schemes and big ideas? How grand would it be for these two countries to come together? Over the last weekend, one commentator was speculating on what would happen to the world economy if the 12th largest economy joined with the 54th largest (and fast growing) economy? 30 million people, two locations, one country.
The third feature is innovation. The Allied forces at Gallipoli were at a distinct disadvantage.
Faced with these difficulties, they had to think quickly and innovatively.
The Australians were responsible for self-firing rifles that created the impression that the Allied soldiers were still in occupation, when in fact, they were in retreat from Gallipoli. These rifles were connected to empty buckets that filled slowly with dripping water. When the water reached a certain level the rifles would fire. And the process would then start again.
Grenades were made from empty tin cans.
On the European continent, Monash became famous for his innovative strategies. He pioneered the quick assaults on enemy positions by a small group of soldiers. These soldiers carried no equipment and moved quickly. Their lightning fast forays caused confusion in enemy ranks. Their small victories reduced German morale.
Monash used (harmless) smoke bombs to create the impression that the Allies were launching gas attacks. The Germans resorted to their gas masks which reduced their vision and made them vulnerable to attack from their flanks by Allied forces not wearing masks.
Monash was among the first to see the benefits of tanks in any land engagement. Even though the first tank models were abject failures, Monash pressed his views until later models began realising the potential he had predicted.
Even today Australian innovation regularly places us on the world stage. Unfortunately, too often, Australian ideas are not developed here. Foreign investors have the vision and capital that we lack.
The next feature is humour. In the face of adversity, Australians will always find some humour and wit. Despite the trying circumstances Gallipoli was no exception.
For example, the beach at Anzac Cove was dubbed Brighton Beach. Australians produced plays and sketches to boost their morale. There was often a joke at the expense of an officer
Humour was evident among the ANZACS in the Second World War. I’ve just finished reading a history of the Outram Road Prison, Singapore. During World War II, Outram Road was a high security (generally) solitary confinement prison that Changi prisoners were sent to if they “misbehaved”. Many reported that Outram Road made Changi look tame. Few Australian prisoners survived their stint at Outram Road.
At Outram Road, Australian prisoners had nicknames for the prison officers. One was called “Prune Face” not because of his wrinkles but because “he gave you the shits”.
One (brave) prisoner once interrupted the beating of his mate, (and probably saved his mate’s life as a result). For his courage he was flayed (with a whip and the flat of a sword) to within an inch of his life. After a few hours, of “punishment” he was returned to his cell and greeted by a new cell mate who was shocked and appalled at his bloody condition. Despite the torture he had just experienced, the prisoner turned to his new cell mate and said (with a smile) “Welcome to the luxury suite at Outram Road…”
Some Australian humour was directed at authority. A cynical view of our leaders and politicians remains a strong trait in the Australian make up.
Finally, the Australian contingent at Gallipoli were set apart by their sense of inclusion and equality. Despite a national White Australia policy, the Australian Army at Gallipoli comprised soldiers from a number of different countries, as well as indigenous men. No better example of inclusion was Monash himself. He was an outsider on many levels. Monash was a German with Jewish heritage. He was also a reservist. He had not served in the regular army until Gallipoli, at age 50.
Monash would never have reached the heights he did but for the culture of inclusion in the Australian Army. By contrast, the British Army was structured along class lines. This cultural divide created a number of issues. In preparation for the war on the Western Front, Monash sought to promote a regular to an officer’s rank. The British protested. They maintained that you couldn’t have working- class men leading businessmen and those with university degrees. Monash prevailed.
Is Australia an inclusive society today? Is our decision making and policy formulation guided by prejudice and fear or equality and a “fair go” for all?
The Australians and their unique character saw them win many victories on the Western Front. Most notable was the Battle of Amiens (France) when on 8 August 1918, five Australian divisions, together for the first time under Monash’s command, began an offensive that turned the direction of the war.
If 25 April 1915 is remembered for its tragedy, 8 August 1918 should be remembered for its success in breaking the resolve of the great German Army. Here was an Australian standing head and shoulders above his contemporaries. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery said of Monash;
“I would name Sir John Monash, the best general on the western front in Europe”
Such was the brilliance of Monash’s planning and attack that King George V, knighted him on the field of battle. This was the first time in 200 years that a British monarch had bestowed an honour in this manner…. but perhaps more of that story on Remembrance Day.
This ANZAC Day we needn’t glorify war to honour those who died for this country. In fact, Gallipoli should remind us that war is not the answer to international disputes. As well as honouring those that died, let us remember the Australian character they brought to the conflicts in Europe. A unique character for a fledgling country. Has their legacy been preserved?
Lest we Forget.
24 Sunday Apr 2016
My son’s school in conjunction with another college have just successfully concluded a production of “Hairspray”. It ran for four sessions over three days. We were very proud of what the students and teachers achieved.
Hairspray is set in 1962 during a period in US history where the country was divided over the question of integration of African Americans into mainstream society.
The scene is Baltimore, Maryland. Every afternoon teenagers sit in front their TVs to watch a teen music show called the Corny Collins Show featuring “The nicest kids in town”. The show is sponsored by a hairspray company, hence the name of the musical.
During the musical we learn that Corny Collins is quite progressive. He is keen to open the show to “negroes” and kids of all shapes and sizes. However, the villain in the piece is the show’s producer, Velma von Tussle. She is a bigot, a cheat and has no intention of broadening the scope of the show. Her only interest is promoting her daughter as the next Miss Hairspray 1962.
The hero of the story is Tracy Turnblad. Tracy is an unassuming, slightly dumpy, American teenager who loves rhythm and blues music. She is a a huge fan of the Corny Collins show. In her innocent way, she cannot understand why whites and blacks cannot dance together on television and why fat people never appear on the small screen.
The musical has some strong messages about race and body image, messages as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. It includes some moving performances by the African American cast members.
So the question arises how do you stage a musical with “black” cast members, if you don’t have any “black” students/actors.
The writers and producers of Hairspray anticipated this issue and their production notes include the following message, that was reproduced in the program.
“”Dear audience members,
When we, the creators of HAIRSPRAY, first started licensing the show to high schools and community theatres, we were asked by some about using make-up in order for non-African-Americans to portray the black characters in the show.
Although we comprehend that not every community around the globe has the perfectly balanced make-up (pardon the pun) of ethnicity to cast HAIRSPRAY as written, we had to, of course, forbid any use of the colouring of anyone’s face (even if done respectfully or subtly) for it is still, at the end of the day, a form of blackface, which is a chapter in the story of race in America that our show is obviously against.
Yet, we realised, to deny an actor the chance to play a role due to the colour of his or her skin would be its own form of racism, albeit a “”politically correct” one.
And so, if the production of HAIRSPRAY you are about to see tonight features folks whose skin colour doesn’t match the characters (not unlike Edna has been traditionally played by a man), we ask that you use the timeless theatrical concept of “suspension of belief” and allow yourself to witness the story and not the racial background (or gender) of the actors. Our show is, after all, about not judging a book by its cover! If the direction and the actors are good(and they better be!) you will still get the message loud and clear. And hopefully have a great time receiving it!
Marc, Scott, Mark, Tom & John”
24 Sunday Apr 2016
It’s a long weekend in Australia, so that means three posts.
23 April 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of, Shakespeare’s death. All over the United Kingdom, there are celebrations commemorating this great man, whose contribution appears never-ending.
Here are some interesting “facts” about the man himself. I put the word “facts” in quotation marks because there is so much we do not know about him. In fact, what we know about his personal life can be found in only a handful of documents, the rest is speculation.
FACT NO. 1
We don’t know when Shakespeare was born.
We know he was christened on 26 April 1564. Given it was the practice that babies were christened a few days after their birth, it is likely he was born on 23 April, being the same day that he died. It is difficult to tell. We know at the time of his birth that England was ravaged by the plague. Many babies died. Baby William survived. His christening may have been delayed as everyone stayed indoors during the frequent outbreaks of the plague.
Shakespeare was 52 when he died. This was a relatively advanced age for his time.
FACT NO. 2
We don’t know how to spell his name.
There are many different spellings of his name in the records. Shakespeare himself rarely signed his name the same way twice.
It was printed using a wide range of variations including “Shapere” and ”Shaxberd”. This explains why we know little about his personal life.
It is estimated there is about 80 variations to the spelling of his name.
No wonder that William Shakespeare is an anagram for “I am a weakish speller”.
FACT NO. 3
We know nothing about him during the so called “missing years” of 1585 to 1592.
Some speculate that he studied and practiced law during this period. This may explain the many legal references in his work. Some say he travelled around continental Europe. This would explain the exotic settings of some of his plays such as Denmark and Verone and Venice.
FACT NO. 4
At age 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was 8 years his senior and 3 months pregnant.
The banns of marriage were rushed and the proposed wedding was only advertised for one weekend rather than the obligatory three.
Anne gave birth to Susanna 6 months after the wedding and later had twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet died of an illness at age 11.
It is difficult to gauge how Shakespeare reacted to the death of his son and heir. We have no evidence of Shakespeare having written any elegies or eulogies for his son. But we shouldn’t assume he was devoid of feeling on this issue. After all if any writer captured humanity and what it is to be human, it was Shakespeare.
In King John written at the time of Hamnet’s death he introduces a cameo role of a mother who grieves the death of her son. Perhaps her words reflect Shakespeare’s grief at the time.
“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well! Had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head
(Woman pulls at her hair)
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord, my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!”
FACT NO. 5
Shakespeare left no heir.
His daughter Susanna did have a daughter Elizabeth in 1608. Elizabeth married twice but had no children from either marriage.
FACT NO. 6
Shakespeare was responsible for reshaping the English language with the introduction of many new words and expressions that have survived to this day. Terms introduced by him include “heart of gold”, “wild goose chase”, “faint-hearted”, “break the ice”, “in a pickle”, “forgone conclusion”, and words such as “eyeball”, “lacklustre”, “sanctimonious” and “fashionable”.
He is credited with introducing a staggering 3,000 words into the English language. His vocabulary was an amazing 17,000 to 29,000 words which is about double the number of words used by the average conversationalist.
FACT NO. 7
Shakespeare, or at least his family were probably recusants.
A recusant was a Catholic who refused to surrender his or her faith during this strict Protestant period in English history. Recusants were subject to fines, imprisonment and sometimes death. Hence recusants led very dangerous lives.
Shakespeare’s father was fined for missing too many Protestant services. After Shakespeare’s father died, some forbidden Catholic texts were discovered hidden in the roof of the family home.
William Arden, a relative on his mother’s side was arrested for plotting against the Queen.
FACT NO. 8
Two of Shakespeare’s plays, “Hamlet” and “Much Ado about Nothing” have been translated into Klingon.
“taH pagh taHbe” in Klingon is “To be or not to be”
FACT NO. 9
Suicides occur an unlucky 13 times in Shakespeare’s plays.
FACT NO. 10
Shakespeare never published any of his plays. We have them today because of the efforts of two fellow actors John Hemmings and Henry Condell who recorded and published 36 plays in the First Folio many years after Shakespeare’s death.
It is difficult to say what would have happened to these works if Hemmings and Condell didn’t go to the trouble of collecting and recording them for posterity.
FACT NO. 11
The Royal Shakespeare Company sells more than half a million tickets a year to Shakespeare productions at their theatres in Stratford-on-Avon, London and Newcastle. An estimated 50,000 people see their first live Shakespearean play in these theatres each year.
FACT NO. 12
It is said that Shakespeare was a homosexual or bisexual.
Of his famous sonnets, 126 of the love poems were addressed to a young man called “Fair Lord” or “Fair Youth”.
Yes he was married and had three children but his marriage was odd indeed. I have already explained that he married Anne Hathaway in unusual circumstances.
He spent most of his adult life living away from her in London. When he died he bequeathed her his “second best bed”.
FACT NO. 13
Shakespeare wrote the epitaph on his grave which reads:
“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
Charles William Wallace is a famed, but often misunderstood Shakespearean researcher from Missouri USA.
From 1907 to 1916, he and his wife moved to London and spent every waking hour at the Public Record Office of London poring over all available records for the period of Shakespeare’s life.
Their task was daunting. There was a large volume of written material generated by the English public service. Most of it was written on vellum (calfskin). Because such writing material was in short supply, the relevant recorders used every square inch of the page on which to write, sometimes in very small print.
To give you an indication of the task facing the Wallaces. A modern conservator familiar with a particular piece of vellum and its contents, will still take a full 5 minutes to locate a particular reference on that vellum, even though they know where it is!
Another issue was the variable spelling of Shakespeare’s name.
Because of the intensity of their efforts, the Wallaces found a few references to Shakespeare in all this material over all these years. Their findings have proved valuable.
They discovered samples of Shakespeare’s signature, an address at which he lived in London, information about his financial interests and the Belmott v Mountjoy case at which Shakespeare was a witness.
Wallace’s extraordinary efforts and revelations were not well received in England. He was viewed as a foreign interloper intruding in the life of an English icon. Wallace’s paranoia did not assist matters.
He stopped his work abruptly and returned to the US. He entered upon oil exploration and in his very first venture “followed a hunch” to strike it rich. He died a disappointed and dismayed billionaire.
Facts courtesy of nosweatshakespeare.com, independent.uk.co and myself.