Lego towers are something my kids love to make and un-make. I’ve never looked at them as anything else, until recently. I’ve learnt some things about Australia’s history that have unnerved me; moved me and hurt me. I started looking at our history as a multicoloured tower, layers representing our history. Oddly, it’s a history that so few of us have learnt, yet it has shaped us all.
One of these layers of history is Australia’s efforts and commitment in the World Wars. For years I have stood in the ANZAC Day crowds and heard the Last Post, reluctantly trying to imagine what those people endured and sacrificed. Truths that I don’t even have the courage to hear, yet alone live. But this is the first year that I’ve really thought what those wars have meant for today’s generations. How did those events shape not just Australia, but Australian families. The isolation, the strong upper lip, the loss, the poverty, the change in roles, the grief, the level of empathy and sympathy available. How did this pass on within our own families? What traits are still evident? What hurts are still felt, without really realising why?
ANZAC Day was lived over 100 years ago, but it’s brutality is infinite. The hard truths, however awful, cannot be denied if those who served are to be remembered honourably. But, as families of young people, it’s tricky to acknowledge it. Sugar coating it seems disrespectful, but the truth is too much for adults, let alone our children.
What we choose to tell our kids is individual, but ANZAC Day can be an opportunity to understand why we are ‘we’. How our own families were impacted, and maybe trying to understand gaps, rules, behaviours and values that we have grown up with. Ask the older people in your family for their stories; their memories. Learn how they felt. Consider your life in the shoes of those going to war, or being left for war. Because having insight in to any of that, may make us understand the distance that some families keep, or the height of expectations or patriotism that some families hold; and the generations of struggle. Hopefully, it would make you reach for your loved ones more and hold them tighter. That is what those who came home from war first did, and of all the lessons that war teaches, learning to hold people tighter and declare love more often, would have to be the greatest, though least acknowledged, lesson that there is.
Our history is made of many layers and many colours, and if we take the time to acknowledge how the hardships can resonate in generations, we can see that ANZAC Day actually represents ‘us’ and is entwined in our own structure, more than we’ve really known. As time goes on, it’s not just a matter of Lest We Forget, but knowing more in the first place — knowing just how great the impact of war really is.
by Deborah O’Ferry