A few veterans, and many of their friends and family, took the time to have a “quiet word” in my ear about ANZAC Day.
As one veteran explained, “it didn’t feel right. It was a day where I was remembering the mates I’d lost, and it didn’t seem right that while we were doing that, there was another event going on in town.”
He was emotional, and so were the others who spoke with me. They didn’t want to be mentioned but were happy for me to explain why they didn’t feel it was right and I am humbled to relay their perspective.
Before the ANZAC Day services had concluded across our towns, an event held by the Upper Hunter Shire Council, had begun at the Scone Memorial Airport.
It was not an event organised by or with the RSL, or a local group of veterans.
I heard comments there may have been up to 1000 people at Council’s event, while the services were still being conducted. People expressed to me their disappointment and some their downright annoyance at what they described as disrespect.
I hear them, and I agree.
Nobody proposed the airport event should not have gone ahead, rather it should not have begun until the commemorative services had concluded.
Further, if the approach to the event was putting local diggers first on ANZAC Day, perhaps the Council would have better understood how to do it tactfully, if they spoke to them first.
Veterans typically culminate the day together at a drinking hole, most often the local RSL. They go there to share lunch together, and a few beers. They welcome the whole town to come and commemorate alongside them, and maybe fit in a game of two-up.
It is important to pause and reflect on the significance of veterans welcoming others to share their time on ANZAC Day. Many veterans from WWII told me over the years, that they didn’t always feel welcomed on their return and the Vietnam veterans faced that on a whole other level. Yet, our veterans don’t close their ranks to others on ANZAC Day, they open them warmly to those who have never experienced war, while they do remember the war and who they lost. We should never take lightly their warm open heartedness to the whole community on such a significant day for them.
So on a day when they welcome us to spend time with them, perhaps a better approach by Council organisers could have been to ask what they could do to complement the plans of local veterans.
For example, not starting the event until after the services have concluded. Or offering to run a mini-bus between the museum and the RSL throughout the afternoon, so that people can pop out at any stage to see the planes, with all veterans admitted for free and recognised for their service in some small thoughtful way during their museum tour. This way veterans would feel welcome to pop out for an hour, without feeling they were going to another event, rather a complementary event provided on the day.
It would not have taken long to have a quiet chat during the planning of the Council event, to ensure whatever was run, complemented ANZAC Day activities, and was not felt to detract in any perceivable way.
As much as the warbirds are a wonderful piece of history, the local diggers and their perspectives on ANZAC Day should never be secondary, our veterans will always be beyond measure in value.
Lest we forget.
Cr Elizabeth Flaherty
All of the above are my perspectives, opinions and beliefs as a Councillor on the Upper Hunter Shire Council, are my own, which may not (in fact probably don’t) reflect Council’s position, but which as an elected representative I am supported in law to freely express.