I’m well into my third month here in Sydney, Australia, thanks in large part to the Gilman Scholarship for funding me on this journey.
Easter is pretty much the same here, as it is in the States, except one major difference: they don’t dye their eggs. Instead, they hunt for chocolate eggs, and while there is still an Easter Bunny, presents are usually just chocolate, with the occasional toy. Appalled by the idea that I wouldn’t get to dye eggs on Easter, I bought food coloring, a liter of vinegar, and had my host family dye their first eggs. They had lots of fun, as it was a new and an exciting experience they hadn’t tried before. Unfortunately, I forgot to get blue and the green didn’t show up as much on the eggs, but all in all, it was a success.
Steve Irwin and kangaroos are not the only treasured thing here in Australia, the country also has two specific holidays that is uniquely their own: Australia Day and Anzac Day.
Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the first British fleet, marking the start of modern-day Australia.
(Indigenous people and others have come to call it ‘Invasion Day’, as it marked the end of their way of life. It is much the same way some Americans have viewed ‘Columbus Day’ as ‘Native American Day’ for the same reason.)
While Australia Day is usually a mark of celebration (again, for certain people), Anzac Day is quite the opposite; it is a day to commemorate those who have died while serving during war time—a tradition that started with the Gallipoli Campaign, in World War I.
On April 25, 1915, Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) were part of a mission to captured the city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), in order to weaken the Ottoman Empire. The Anzac forces landed a mile away from where they were supposed to land on the Turkish peninsula, prompting heavy arterially to fire down upon them. Instead of the Anzac troops advancing on level ground, as was their initial plan, they now had to climb up steep terrain, allowing more time for the Turkish army to call for reinforcements.
This cause a bloody first day of battle, as casualties piled up on both sides. Despite attempts from the Allies to receive reinforcements, it became a stalemate. After nine months of heavy warfare, the Allies evacuated the beaches, declaring a defeat.
Although the battle was a loss, it legitimized Australia and New Zealand as a powerful ally during war time, as this was the first international warfare the countries had faced. From that battle, it was the first time Australian citizens no longer considered themselves as part of the British Commonwealth, but uniquely as their own country.
New Zealand and Turkey also observed the day.
Although America has Memorial Day, we tend to focus on World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the wars of today in the Middle East. I don’t hear much discussion or commemoration of WWI soldiers (in a general sense), either because it was so long ago, was considered more of a European war, or was literally the ‘forgotten war’ by Americans. Only in recent years with the popularity of Downton Abbey and the 100th anniversary of WWI, have I heard some Americans talk about WWI in memorials. I believe it is because World War II overshadowed any involvement with WWI, as World War II was a classic hero v. villain scenario, but nobody really ‘won’ WWI.
The Defence Act 1903 exempted anybody from the military who was ‘persons who are not substantially of European origin or descent’. This meant certain minority groups in Australia could not sign up for service, such as Asians, Africans, and most especially to the Aborigines, the indigenous people of Australia. Although barred from joining, Aborigines did anyway, by lying about their heritage, demonstrating that they weren’t part of a tribe or a community (that they were ‘civilized enough’, in other words), or they were taken in anyway by officers who needed boots on the ground and overlooked the rule.
When they came back from the war, life for them did not change; they were still not considered an Australian citizen, which meant they couldn’t vote, their land was continually taken away from them by the government and other forces, and they still faced discrimination.
Due to it being illegal at the time to sign up, there is not a definite number of how many Aborigines joined the military in the early twentieth century, but it’s estimated that there were 3,000, counting Torres Strait Islanders as well. Mentions of bravery and honor by official records are few, as some had changed their name to join and thus their records don’t exist. Only in recent decades has there been more of a recognition by the government and the country to Aboriginal servicemen and women.
Although life in Australia isn’t all koala’s and sunny beaches, I like to make comparisons to the U.S. on whom does it better, and even though the Australian government had terrible policies about Aborigines since 1788, the Australian government-to some extent-tries to recognize Aborigines and pay respect to their culture during events. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a team called the Washington Redskins and there is still a fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline into Sioux territory. Although, there is still a lot of progress to be made for Aboriginal people here in Australia (and there are a lot of problems to tackle), I think Australia is better about respecting their indigenous population than the United States.