Cultural Adjustment, Global News, Living Abroad

Easter and Anzac Day in Australia

April 30, 2017

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:

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.

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Anzac Day:

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.

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On Anzac Day, they hold a dawn service at 4:30 am, the time when the Anzacs landed at the beach. However, since not everyone can get up at 4:30 am, especially on a day off, they also hold a big parade around nine to noon. Poppies and rosemary leaves can be seen on most people’s shirt. Poppies represent the bloodshed from WWI and rosemary represents remembrance. I was unable to get one, whether because I arrive too late or because I was at the wrong area to buy them.

 

 

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After the parade, they hold a commemoration ceremony at the ANZAC Memorial. Everyone was quiet, as hymns, prayers, and stories were read.

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 Uncounted:

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The Aboriginal Flag painted on the side of a building in Redfern, a suburb in Sydney. You can see the UTS building just behind it, where I attend school.

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.

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There is archeological evidence that dates the Aborigines migration from Africa to Australia all the back to 40,000 years ago. It was a huge migration of people that happened in three waves, one wave walked on the shorelines of Africa, Asia, and then cross a land bridge that used to connect Australia to Asia, creating the Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, and other civilizations. Another wave had people cross the land bridge that connected Russia/Asia to North America, and later became the Native Americans and other civilization established in the Americas years before the Vikings or Christopher Columbus discovered the land.

 

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The start of a small, but more intimate parade, held in Redfern, it is to celebrate and commemorate the Aboriginal servicemen and women.

 

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From left to right: Aboriginal Flag, Australian Flag, Torres Strait Islander Flag. (Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous people of Torres Strait Island, just off of Queensland, north Australia)

 

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Don’t be fool by the pale skin from some of the walkers, they could have Aboriginal blood in them. Due to state policies in the early twentieth century, the government would marry off Aboriginal girls to white men so that the next generation could have lighter skin and continue with each new generation, trying to achieve light skin until the rich brown-skinned color was ‘bred out’ and Aboriginal culture would ‘die out’. In order to fit into ‘civilized society’, family members never talked about their Aboriginal heritage, because they were either ashamed or wanted to protect their family from discrimination by others. It’s only been in the last few decades, in a more tolerant era for Aborigines, that some Caucasian Australians have found out that their great-grandmother/grandfather, grandmother or mother was an Aborigine and have tried to reconnected with their Aboriginal roots.

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.

Cheers.

 

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