Military medals on display for ANZAC Day

Today is ANZAC Day, (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). For Australians and New Zealanders, it is a day of commemoration. Originating in 1916 after a bungled skirmish at Gallipoli, ANZAC Day has waxed and waned. The ANZAC part of ANZAC Day fell out of favour for a while. People certainly took full advantage of the public holiday, especially if it lined up with the weekend to create a long one. Two-up turned pubs and RSLs (Returned Services Leagues clubs) into noisy gambling dens. In contrast, the serious, non-drinking part of the day – the commemorative services and street marches, were mostly attended by old folk who had actually fought in wars. Veterans of the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Timor etc etc etc. Too many “etcs”, unfortunately. Crowd numbers were fleshed out by school kids, marching bands (who actually got a legitimate gig) and service clubs like the Lions or Rotary. The spirit of ANZAC was too ghostly, too irrelevant and too war-like to reach the “man-on-the-street”.

Times they are a-changing.

Over the last decade, things have begun to turn around, especially since the centenary celebrations in 2015 – 2018. Age has certainly wearied the troops. There are no WW1 vets left to march, the youngest WW2 service people would be 95 at least, those from Vietnam close to 80. As the number of these older people dwindles they are replaced by a smaller number of people who have been involved in more recent conflicts. Conversely, the audience of non-Vets has swollen dramatically, many wearing the medals of their grandparents or perhaps even their great grandparents. In country towns like Armidale, there is still a parade that will close off the main street for an hour or so. There will be people cheering and waving – remembering.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service

This morning I got up before dawn to attend the Dawn Service at Central Park, Armidale. I donned my orange SES (State Emergency Sevice) kit and headed out into the violet morning. The eastern border of the sky was just beginning to lighten as the crowd assembled around the memorial fountain. Rainbow lorikeets were making a racket in the trees, and people spoke quietly in small groups.

I estimated the crowd to be around 1500. There was the usual contingent of old fellows in suits or uniforms with their medals shining, chatting with their friends. For the most part, the remainder of the crowd consisted of families with kids and groups of young adults.

The Service, while not religious per se, follows a very set sermon-like formula. The catafalque party marches in first and stands at ease close to the memorial, this is followed by a couple of short readings and messages from various ex-service people. Next comes the Ode, which includes a call and response from the crowd. People then lay wreaths at the memorial, followed by the rouse and Last Post from a bugler, a minutes silence (or in the case of the Dawn Service a two-minute silence) which is broken by the Reveille. The Australian and New Zealand flags are raised from half-mast. Last but not least, comes the National Anthem. Not many people sing. The crowd disperses, no doubt some straight to the RSL for the aforementioned games of two-up.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.”

Laurence Binyon

Calls for peace

The focus of ANZAC Day is war. The speeches call for peace. Today, the Reverend who gave a short homily, asked God to help people turn their hearts to community and not conflict. The RSL President hoped that we would cease to need war. The crowd agreed. Perhaps some people, like me, were thinking of the needless conflict in Ukraine. I don’t understand wars and why we need them still (why we ever needed them).

My thoughts have turned to George Orwell’s 1984 and the continuous war which kept the lower classes in a state of anxiety and distress and blinded them to the motives of the ruling elites. Is that what is happening now?

Peace be with you people of the world and especially to those in Russia and Ukraine. We shouldn’t be waiting for God to turn our hearts to community.

The images in this post were taken in Broken Hill in 2014

Floods and fires

The eastern coast of Australia has been on the wrong side of nature’s umbrella since the beginning of the year. The drought that had given us the tinder box which ignited into devastating bushfires in the Black Summer of 2019-20 was replaced by floods of near biblical proportions in March 2022.

Communities in the very south of Queensland and the far north coast of NSW (Big River Country) have been inundated by record breaking floods. Further south, areas around Sydney and Wollongong were also lashed by the East Coast Low – a quaint term for a cyclone-like event that occurs south of the areas cyclones are supposed to stick to.

Waiting to be rescued

My new town of Armidale was not affected by flood. The thirsty paddocks around here soaked up the welcome rain. It got a bit boggy but given nearly everywhere is downhill from Armidale, there is no risk of widespread flooding. Not so for the residents of towns like Lismore and Woodburn. The news was filled with heartbreaking images of families huddled on the roof of their two story homes with water lapping at the gutters waiting their turn to be rescued. Some of them waited for days. The demand for rescues exceeded the capacity of the emergency services and everyone with a “tinny” (a small aluminium boat) joined the effort to deposit soggy, hungry people on drier land.

The rains continue

A month later when recovery efforts were well underway, and widespread tidying up in full swing, another East Coast Low dumped more rain. Less than the previous event but because the ground was already sodden it did not take much to over top the levee again and people were evacuated for a second time. This time there were few rooftop rescues, mainly because those families were yet to return to their homes and because of swift enforcement of evacuation orders. 

Lismore’s future

Flood is a frequent visitor to Lismore. There is a levee around the town which is meant to protect them but this year the flood was a full 2 metres past previous records. Climate change? Probably.

I listened to an interview many years ago, when another bad flooding event had submerged the town. When the ABC reporter asked the hydrologist what could be done to protect the town, she drew a sharp breath and said “Move it”.

Move the whole darn town. Sounds crazy but not that crazy. With the the millions of dollars that are spent in fixing things after flood every couple of years, it seems like a good long term strategy. When you add in the personal cost, the trauma; the loss of household “stuff” and the fatalities, it seems like an even better idea.

Will it happen? Probably not.

I wouldn’t like to be trying to insure my home there though.

Here to help.

I am here in the disaster zone, helping out as an SES volunteer. My role is a small one. Working in the “back room” logistical side of things at an airbase. The helicopters are busy dropping food and supplies to people and animals. Today I helped load a chopper with sleeping bags and air mattresses for people still stuck in an evacuation centre.

I’m not getting wet and I’m not getting dirty, but I’m here and doing my bit. Just like hundreds of others of my orange colleagues and those from other agencies like the Rural Fire Service, the Police, the Defence Force and NSW Fire and Rescue. Some get paid, but for others (like the SES and RFS) this is a labour of love. For me it’s all part of my personal strategy to improve my life. Volunteering is one of the things that contribute to your own positive mental health and happiness.

Remember this!

To get here, I drove through the towns worst hit by this 1 in 1000 year flood. The scene was horrific. I found it hard to keep driving. I wanted to leap from the car and help the family I saw sweeping mud from their home. I wanted to hold the hose for the firies (fire fighters) who were sluicing out the shops. I wanted to take photos of the mud on the roofs, the caravans tipped sideways; the cars randomly wedged against trees; the bits of furniture stuck in the branches 10 metres above the ground. The piles of books and furniture stacked outside on the street waiting for collection. I wanted to record and share it all. But that seemed disrespectful. Disaster tourism. It didn’t seem right.

Or is it a chance to share an historic moment in time when Australians once again pulled together to help a community in trouble. A time when we decided climate change was here, and now.

Fellow Australians, It’s only a few weeks out from an election. Remember this. Which party has our long term interests at heart? The planet’s?

Remember that handshake during the fires? Where is he now?

There are no photos for this post. Maybe I’ll take some on the way home.

Losing Face (book)

silver iphone

Originally inspired by a friend who has had a complete social media detox for the past several years; I decided to do without Facebook in February. I have a week to go. February is a good month to do a month-long challenge, especially in a non-leap year. Why 28 days seems eminently more doable than 30 or 31 is a mystery, after all, it’s only two days shorter. 

It turns out that I have also more or less given up Instagram as well. I have “allowed” myself a peek at one crafter’s daily-ish embroidery post because I am copying their work. (Full disclosure I let them know, and they were cool with that). YouTube has been restricted to how-to videos.  I have been keeping in contact with friends and family via the Facebook Messenger app and I have been posting here. I don’t class this blog as consumptive social media as I am creating the content. A blog post triggers an automatic Facebook post on my Old Chook Enterprises account, so if you’ve seen that, I haven’t been cheating! 

Filling in the time.

While it has not been a complete social media freeze, it has been a very sizable reduction in hours spent scrolling with little purpose. I have filled the time with the aforementioned copied embroidery task, craft activities including making some little notebooks and crocheting some reusable dish cloths and going for extra walks after dinner. After dark, I have watched Netflix and read. Netflix is probably not a good replacement in terms of reducing screen time but heh! All in all, I have found it easier than I expected.

Some free-form embroidery

Fun Factors

My inspiration also came from Catherine’s Price’s new book The Power of Fun. This book delves into the differences between true fun and fake fun. It roundly criticises the “fun” that social media portrays. This sort of fun; comparing ourselves to others, buying stuff we don’t need and generally immersing ourselves in an unconnected world, is no good for us. Catherine suggests we look for experiences that offer us (real) connection, flow and playfulness. Only activities that combine these three fundamentals will be “true fun”. 

Catherine asks you to look back on the last time you had REAL fun and examine if these fundamentals (or fun factors)  were present. Then she recommends you try to incorporate activities that elicit these same feelings into your life. For me, the last time I remember being in true flow and having a blast was during the bookbinding course I did last year. I was absorbed, I was with other people and I was playing with making stuff. I should look for these sorts of activities to boost my fun meter. By that, I don’t just mean bookbinding courses, but rather broadening it to activities with the same sorts of features. For me, that would be learning a new skill, in a group, to produce something useful.

Reducing the number of apps vying for my time.

Reducing phone use in general. 

Catherine’s other book How to break up with your phone in 30 days, is also a good easy read and once again offers lots of sensible insights into the insidious nature of phones and how they steal our attention. I know I am overly dependent on my phone. I get palpitations if I leave it at home. This can’t be a good thing. Although it’s not sensible or even possible to return to a completely analogue world on my own, I decided it was time I reduced my dependence on my phone. While I was in reduced social media mode, I deleted a whole bunch of apps I don’t use (or rather don’t really need) and restricted the home screen to twenty apps which I deemed essential. I reasoned that if I could get the information another way or use an analogue version, the app would be relegated to a less accessible screen or deleted entirely. For instance, I hid the Wallet app because I could use my card instead. I moved the Safari and Chrome apps because if I really want to look something up, I can go use my computer instead. The idea was to reduce the number of times I reach for my phone without really thinking about it. There may be some reintroduction of apps I deemed nonessential like the Shopping List app. I originally thought I could just use a bit of paper and write a list, but I left that at home! 

What’s next?

Will I go back to Facebook in March? Yes, probably. My friends are spread out around Australia and the world and it’s the best way to keep in contact. My return will come with some caveats which may be difficult for me to control. I’d like to say I will restrict myself to posts from people I actually know. But Mark Zuckerburg has other plans for my time.

These days you have to wade through so many posts from people/companies trying to sell you stuff. Pages and pages!  And even then I am not seeing posts from all my friends, only those I am allowed to via Facebook’s algorithms. (Speaking of algorithms,  if you haven’t watched Social Dilemma make sure you do!) 

Ergghhhhhh! It’s a trap! Perhaps March will be social media free too!