There is nothing quite like April…and Anzackery

There is something about April which inspires poets around the world – Chaucer, Browning, Emerson and Eliot and others all had something to say about it.

Chaucer and Browning focussed on the natural changes which came with the Northern hemisphere Spring while Emerson and Eliot (“the shot around the world” and “the cruellest month”) gave more sombre or politically uplifting messages. The blog has to confess it had forgotten about Emerson and April but came across it serendipitously while checking a line from another poet online so threw it in because it leads on to that defeat heard around the world – well at least in Australia and Turkey.

The blog has written before about the way propaganda and Anzackery is working to create the belief that the Anzac Day Gallipoli commemoration is the defining thing in Australian history. For all the obvious reasons this is bunk. But this April we ought to be remembering other things which have probably shaped our society far more than Gallipoli.

The obvious one is the birth of Oliver Cromwell on April 25 in 1599; the execution of a king; the paramountcy of Parliament (although he did sack one); the rule of law; and the introduction of a measure of tolerance such as through the re-admission of Jews to England (although not all of them had gone when Simon de Montfort expelled them) and it was a convenient propaganda victory for him and Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel to claim they had brought it about.

Interestingly, in a thought bubble then Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, talked about how schools needed to pay more attention to the British (he called it English) Civil War and its role in the birth of democracy. About the same time the blog ran into Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs who told it that this had to be a new emphasis in education and would be an IPA focus. Sadly neither Pyne nor the IPA followed up the thought bubble which is rather a pity. Perhaps they found out that it led to the execution of a monarch and decided that wasn’t what their supporters really wanted to talk about.

Equally obvious is the death of Shakespeare on April 23. Where would English, drama and quotes from politicians wanting to sound erudite be if not for Will? And of course, because of some confusion about dates and the calendar in different countries, it was always thought that Cervantes had died on the same day. Cervantes and his characters are a good guide to Australian politics as our leaders attack both imaginary and real windmills.

Finally it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Bronte. The blog visited the Haworth parsonage, in summer many years ago, and left depressed by the sense of inevitability of the fate of most of this talented family (not Bramwell naturally, only the women) in this cold, dank, bleak and tubercular environment which even the horde of Japanese tourists in bright clothes couldn’t enliven.

It is easy to forget how radical much of Charlotte Bronte’s work was – particularly Jane Eyre. Claire Harman’s new biography, Charlotte Bronte: A Life, is a good reminder of this and a useful antidote to some of the more melodramatic film and TV adaptations of the book. Harman, in contrast, gives due weight to the line: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me.”

Meanwhile back in Australia we had faux outrage over Channel Seven interrupting the playing of the Last Post with an ad which seems consistent with the commercialisation of Anzac Day shown by the use of the millions of dollars the Department of Veterans Affairs gave to Camp Gallipoli. The blog happens to think the Last Post should be treated with some respect but tends to think media non-observance of this is more a product of general media ignorance than disrespect.

We also had hundreds of descendants of veterans organising their own march because they weren’t allowed to lead the Parade in Melbourne. The RSL in between running their poker machine empire justifiably told them to go away but, it should be admitted, the descendants delusions about their entitlements have been encouraged by the RSL and government Anzackery.

The blog has, perhaps unsurprisingly, never actually marched on Anzac Day. It took the children to one and on the Anzac 75th the blog’s father marched for the last time and the family stood in St Kilda Road to watch. The blog also once attended the local service on the beachfront having been browbeaten by a local to clank down in its medals so that the crowd could see an actual veteran.  Moreover, having worked on a voluntary basis for the Australia Remembers campaign, the blog thinks the local community-based celebrations are a good thing – not nationalistic, under-stated and community focussed. The March in Marysville after the worst fires in Australian history, led by the blog’s former Vietnam comrade Nick Jans, was also an example of what Anzac Day should be.

But perhaps the best comment on Anzac day (well not actually on Anzac Day) might be derived from Kyle Sandilands comments about the shock jock and Murdoch-media confected outrage about the University of New South Wales language guidance for history students. The blog has no brief for all the nonsense about ‘safe places’ and pulling down statues of dead white racists like Rhodes. Universities are places where, other than physically, you ought not feel safe but it is legitimate to open up new ideas about how language and nomenclature – such as the difference between invasion and discovery – shape what we think about history. As George Steiner said – “to read well is to take great risks (since) it is to make vulnerable our identity”.

But Kyle isn’t Steiner and he said: “get over it, it’s 200 years ago.” Perhaps it’s time to say: “get over it, it’s 101 years go….. and Anzac Day is not the most important day in Australian history.”