What is the point of a holiday? Is it a time to head to the beach, to turn on the gas BBQ, pump music into the air and guzzle grog? Is it a time to throw a line into the water? Is it a time to see relatives, visit ancestral graves or travel to that country town in the hills that you have heard so much about but never had the time to experience? It is all this and so much more.
In the 99th year since the calamities of the First World War, we are, as far as time is concerned, now a long way away and somewhat disconnected. There are none at the Remembrance Day services within whose mind are the captured images of the horrendous scenes that played themselves out on many battlefields far away from home. At the commemoration services there are relatives, and there are those who have no familial connection to the events but who understand the importance of the war on the narrative of the Australian story.
In 1914 Australia’s population was 4 million with just over 400,000 Australians serving over the period of conflict until its conclusion on the 11/11/1918. 10% of our population fought, over 61000 died, about 130,000 were injured and so with almost half of those who served Killed in Action (KIA) or Wounded in Action (WIA) that accounted for about 5% of the nation’s population.
Every family, every street, every neighbourhood, town and city were affected and the ramifications would cause a dramatic change in direction for the nation’s immigration, health, social and economic directions.
I think it is a myth that Australians take public holidays for granted. Easter and Christmas are perhaps the best respected because of their Christian roots. ANZAC Day is fast becoming a day during which we actually think about the reason for not going to work and wake up earlier than many would otherwise. Australia Day has become enthusiastically celebrated and does bring out National pride. The celebrations on the Queen’s Birthday might be less sincere but most would accept we at least think about Australia’s British connections. New Years is often marked by a “to-do” list.
So as we approach the Centenary of this momentous period in our History, surely we should commemorate it by giving the highest recognition to Remembrance Day and mark it with a holiday. It should, for these few years be raised above the status given to days which mark something but are not of enough gravity for us all to take the day off (such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day). Just for five years, just between 2014 and 2018 we should stop work on the 11th of the 11th and think about the ramifications of the events that occurred during these years on our Nations future.
ANZAC day on the 25th of April marks Australia’s landing at Gallipoli during the first World War and this is a day of reflection marked by a public holiday but the very focus and emphasis of this day does not bring to mind the full force and weight of the impact of the First World War. ANZAC Day is a day when we commemorate the nations sacrifice not just during that one campaign of the First World War, but of the sacrifice made by Australia’s Service Men and Women during all conflicts. It is a day that Malayan, Korean and Vietnam Vets along with the soldiers from the recent Iraq, Solomon Islands, East Timor and Afghanistan conflicts are remembered. This all-encompassing embracing sign of respect for all who served which occurs on ANZAC Day must not be diluted.
We need a dedicated time to shine a light on the totality of World War One and its impact on our culture, society and nation. Anniversaries are rare and a long time coming. Anniversaries are a perfect time to reflect and for a period of five years we can learn much about who we are by considering our past.
Should there be strong support, my intention is to bring a motion to the City of Unley Council seeking support from all Local Governments across South Australia at the April Local Government Association’s General Meeting to ask the State Government to make Remembrance Day a Public Holiday.