Australia day is a bit of a farce in this country. The government have pushed for years to try and get people’s enthusiasm up about the day, and Triple-J even hosts their famous Hottest 100 countdown on Australia day… but the fact is that Australia day represents a kind of nationalism which just isn’t that popular with Australians.
Most Aussies cringe at the flag-waving, fireworks exploding, chest-pounding nationalism that’s popular in many other countries.
If you wanted to find a day where Australians really celebrate their national identity then you’d have to point at ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day is a day of memorial, remembering the Australian and New Zealand troops who fell in World War I — specifically at the horrendous Gallipoli campaign. A campaign that shaped, and continues to shape, much of Australia’s national identity.
ANZAC Day has had its controversies over the years, and has waxed and waned in popularity, but it has remained a day which combines solemn contemplation with humour and righteous fun. The traditions of ANZAC Day, unlike many other memorial days, don’t just commemorate the bravery of soldiers in battle, they also remember the people they were off the battlefield. So each year there’s dawn service, parades by servicemen and veterans, and of course solemn get-togethers.
But each year there’s also righteous piss-ups, sporting events and of course two-up. Two-up was a simple gambling game (you toss up two coins, using a piece of wood, you bet on the outcome — simple) which was popular in the trenches to relieve tension. Usually betting on these sorts of games is pretty damned illegal in Australia outside of really specific venues, except on ANZAC day. Yep, we have a specific, in-law exemption for this specific game, specifically on this one day of the year.
ANZAC day talks to Australians about more than just our military history. It speaks about our relationships with other nations — our unique relationship with New Zealand (we share the same bloody memorial day!), our relationship with England, and the British Empire… and uniquely our relationship of respect with the Turkish, who we fought during those bleak months in Gallipoli.
While many came out of WWI, or WWII with lasting grudges, the Turkish, and the Australians and New Zealanders came out of it with a unique kind of battlefield respect. The Turks weren’t “evil”, if anyone was to be hated it was the British, who are often portrayed as the villains in the campaign — leading the allies on a fool’s mission, led by fools doing foolish things. It’s not entirely fair, but there sure was a lot of stupid going on during the whole damned thing.
Australia’s national character, if you’ll allow me the indulgence of speaking for my entire country, is one of cheerful concealing smiles. If the British are known to face all their troubles with a stiff upper lip (I say “if”, fucking trembling, whiney upper lip is more like it nowadays), then the Australians face their troubles with a grin and a dismissive, “She’ll be right, mate.” It’s hard to encapsulate that attitude, that national feeling with waving flags and chest-pounding patriotism. Aussies just aren’t like that… and the Aussies who are like that are kinda frightenning.
ANZAC Day captures our spirit, our slightly sad, slightly angry, always grinning spirit, better than any Australia Day ever could.
(Plus this year? 5 day weekend, bitches!)