‘In the heart of the land they loved’: The Anzac centenary in the locality of Reedy Flat, Victoria

“It’s a bit out of the way; do you need directions?”, the local RSL sub-branch president asks. It’s the night before Anzac Day and we’re ringing to confirm arrangements for the dawn service. New to this part of Gippsland, five hours east of Melbourne, we gladly take the directions, and a good thing, too. They require a left-hand turn at the pub, veering right at a fork, turning left onto a No Through Road… Our destination in the early hours of 25 April 2015 is the Reedy Flat war memorial, which bears the names of 33 townsmen who served during the First World War. The town is gone, but the names remain.

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Some descendants remain as well. In a fitting speech, Carey Mudge sketches the stories of six of his relatives listed on the memorial. Three died and three returned. Mudge thanks the members of the nearest RSL sub-branch, Ensay-Swifts Creek, for their efforts to retore the memorial and hold the first service in living memory here: these men, too, are remembered today. Early media reports this Anzac Day suggest record attendances at the central capital city services, especially at Martin Place in Sydney, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. But how many other war memorials, I wonder, stand alone?

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Russell Adams, the Ensay-Swifts Creek RSL Sub-Branch President, says at the end of the service that he’s ‘overwhelmed’ by the turnout. The sub-branch has only about 20 financial members, and they’d expected fewer than a third of the dawn service attendees at the end of this No Through Road. Later, as indefatigable country women cook sausages, bacon and eggs in frying pans at the Ensay war memorial hall, he worries he’s frightened people off by cautioning that the breakfast may be under-catered. “It’s alright,” he’s reassured. “Everyone’s probably just having a chat out there.”

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Chatting they are: about the great-uncles and grandfathers and great-grandfathers listed on the memorial; about school; about the weather. A community that has offered its quiet contemplation, and now goes about its day.

 

The title of this post is drawn from CEW Bean’s words about the Australian War Memorial:  “Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.”

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3 thoughts on “‘In the heart of the land they loved’: The Anzac centenary in the locality of Reedy Flat, Victoria

  1. Ash, I read this after reading James Valentine’s piece in today’s Sunday Canberra Times about Anzac Day overload and can’t help feeling these two pieces go together so very well. James’ point was that, whilst each, individual memorial/remembrance/gathering was important, the overall effect of them taken together was proving to be overkill for many people, himself included. There has been too much coverage making it difficult for people to remember on a personal level. The Anzac Day dawn service you and Andrew attended seems to me to be absolutely the best way to commemorate and celebrate both Anzac Day itself and the servicemen and women who come after. I use the word celebrate quite deliberately because what Anzac Day should be is a celebration not of the deaths that happen in war but of the lives of those who lived on, what they achieved and what we owe them, not in a big Anzac=Australia way, but in the personal. We didn’t attend any Anzac Day services this year, but we watched the service in Canberra and then at Gallipoli and Lone Pine. We were bombarded (is the only word for it) by the media with ‘lest we forget’ remembrances, all well executed, well intentioned and far to much in reality, and were decidedly Anzac’d out by evening. I think you and Andrew probably had the best Anzac Day experience going yesterday, certainly one of the most meaningful.
    Penny

  2. P.S. Thinking about it, perhaps the most telling comment came from one of the ABC reporters at the Lone Pine memorial. During one of the crosses the anchorman for the ABC (actually on the beach at Gallipoli) mentioned the personal connection that the reporter had referred to earlier in the day and how had that affected his own participation in the services. The reporter’s response was simple “I’ve spent so much time telling other peoples’ stories I really haven’t had time to think about my own.” How sad.

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