ANZAC Day, and everything it represents, touches the Australian cultural identity.
Our defence personnel have built a legacy upon which Australians, at least in part, define themselves. For this, and many other reasons, ANZAC Day is centred on the Defence community and there is rightly much to be proud of.
Honouring sacrifice and service is not confined to defence circles, however. The ANZAC spirit is alive and well in ’those that serve’ all across Australia, even though you will often find them wearing slightly different uniforms – some in blue, some in yellow, others even in orange, yet whichever they wear we all instinctively have faith they will appear seemingly out of nowhere to help when things go wrong.
I’ve been a proud participant in over ten ANZAC Day parades. Many as a part of the Australian Army Cadets, a youth development organisation promoting the values of the Australian Army, both as a young cadet and later as an adult leader. You only have to take a close look at who is carrying the banners at parades, manning cenotaphs and vigils to see our cadets in action. I have also attended in a purely individual capacity, feeling a sense of belonging which was at once both deeply personal and disarmingly public. However it is undoubtedly where I attended as a member of the Victoria State Emergency Service (VicSES) where I experienced first-hand what ANZAC Day has come to mean to our community.
VicSES, along with similar sister agencies across Australia, provide emergency response capabilities for most natural disasters including flood, storm and earthquake, along with being the largest provider of road crash rescue capability. Our personnel are visible during floods, including the Queensland floods in February, but also supporting other large emergencies including Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.
Unequivocally, the sense of community resilience and local cooperation is never more obvious, or necessary, than during these large and devastating events. Equally though, I have responded to hundreds upon hundreds of requests for assistance at a seemingly micro scale – especially from those who cannot care for themselves. Stopping water dripping from down lights, repositioning awnings after a storm, patching up old and broken washing machine hoses, and to help organise emergency accommodation where living conditions are unsafe.
An enduring memory is assisting an elderly couple to isolate a fast running water leak on their property caused by a fallen tree and making temporary repairs to the gaping hole in their roof as the tree came down. After four hours work, in the early hours of the morning with a crew of five volunteers, their reaction was nothing short of elation (and relief). What may not be considered to be an emergency to some is certainly an emergency to others, and as a volunteer I am constantly reminded that service comes in many forms.
Acknowledging service comes in many different ways yet a familiar nod coupled with a warm smile (and sometimes a gentle pat on the shoulder) is impossible to misinterpret.
The first time I attended an ANZAC Day service in my VicSES capacity I admit I was surprised nobody questioned my group’s presence in our best bright orange overalls. We stood like beacons, attracting many eyes but few words. I soon realised that it wasn’t just a sense of perceived authority which I like to call the ‘clipboard and hard hat’ effect – it was, in fact, acceptance. Acceptance of our place in societal support that we all rely on in times of need from the community which we voluntarily serve. This acceptance is part of the continuing evolution of ANZAC. A humble realisation of the service of others.