Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Quiet of the Dawn

We’ve just had ANZAC day here in Aus. It’s always a day of remembrance, being thankful for our beautiful, free country and the men and women who gave their lives to keep it that way. There’s always a BBQ or just a day of relaxation. But this year was a little different.

This year I made the pilgrimage (dad has dubbed it so) to Gracemere, just West of Rockhampton to watch my Grandad march in the ANZAC parade. Now, Gracemere is a small country town with a pub on a hill (the very same pub Grandad got busted for being drunk in when he was 18 years old when the legal drinking age was 21), an RSL, a chicken shop, a bakery, a newsagent, a post office and a school. It appears to be a sleepy little place but in the cool dawn of ANZAC day hundreds of people descended upon the main street to watch the assembly, seemingly out of nowhere.

3:30am was our wake up call but I’m fairly sure Grandad doesn’t sleep much any more and was over excited to have our company. As a result the house was roused at around 2:30am for ‘green coffee’ and Vegemite on toast. As other family members rocked up we made our way out the front stairs and into the cool dawn to the shrill of the bagpipes cutting crisply through the dark air; a call to action as Grandad said, a call to assemble, a call to war. And as an aside, bagpipes are usually loud sqwarky things to me but on this occasion their clean, strong sound was moving, haunting.

As we took our positions to watch the beginning of the march I saw my Grandad, his medals glinting, performing his Parade Master duties gathering everyone together and giving the order to march. I wondered then at the memories this stirred in him. What it felt like to actually be staring at your life down the barrel of a gun, the men next to you, the enemy in front of you. He has seen so much and in that moment I felt it, I felt for him, I felt grateful for him, I felt proud of him. He is what we are thankful for. Men just like my Grandad who had the sheer courage to fight for the freedom we enjoy in this moment. For our freedom of speech, our freedom of choice.

The service was succeeded by rum and milk shots at 5am (a shot of courage before you storm the battlefields I’m told) at a little old shed type structure they call the RSL with wall to wall war memorabilia, photos and a captured German machine gun in a glass case above the billiard table which Grandad reckons is still in working order.

Gunfire brekky, beers, bush tales, war tales, sunrise, beer, more beer, crown and anchor, bush songs, bush flies, the coal train, 29 degree sun, beer shared with “China”, “The Captain”, “Uncle Win”, “Prez”, “Jack Russel” (yes, short legs) and the “Miracle Baby” (Grandad: “you could fit a bloody wedding ring over its leg when it was born!!”) and us the folk from the city. Exactly what I expected.

ANZAC day has taken on a different meaning for me now, I feel in tune with its purpose. Each year I will make the pilgrimage up to see Grandad march in his quiet, solemn reverence and each moment I will enjoy the greatest gift he has given me; my free life.

Lest we forget.

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