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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Australiana #20: How much of history shall we remember and how much can we forget?

I finally visited Melbourne, the cultural capital of Australia. The area that is now called Melbourne was explored in 1835 by Batman. Yes, you read it right! Jon Batman negotiated a purchase of 600,000 acres with eight elders of the Wurundjeri tribe, a tribe that had been inhabiting the land for around 40,000 years. So Melbourne was born and with the discovery of gold in Victoria, grew into a huge port and a bustling metropolis. If there's a city in Australia that might remind you of Mumbai, it's Melbourne.

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne (Pic by: Eisha Sarkar)

While taking a tram down the St Kilda Road, I noticed a pyramid-like structure rising from manicured lawns. It turned out to be the Shrine of Remembrance. Unveiled in 1934, the Shrine of Remembrance was established to commemorate the soldiers from Victoria who had died in service during the First World War and is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war. The sanctuary contains the marble of Remembrance, upon which is engraved the words "Greater love hath no man".

What captured my attention was this ode Rudyard Kipling had penned down on 11 November, 1934:

"So long as memory, valour, and faith endure,
Let these stones witness, through the years to come,
How once there was a people fenced secure

Behind great waters girdling a far home.

Their own and their land’s youth ran side by side

Heedless and headlong as their unyoked seas,

Lavish o’er all, and set in stubborn pride

Of judgment, nurtured by accepted peace.

Thus, suddenly, war took them, seas and skies

Joined with the earth for slaughter. In a breath

They, scoffing at all talk of sacrifice,

Gave themselves without idle words to death.

Thronging as cities throng to watch a game

Or their own herds move southward with the year,

Secretly, swiftly, from their ports they came,

So that before half earth had heard their name

Half earth had learned to speak of them with fear;

Because of certain men who strove to reach,

Through the red surf, the crest no man might hold,

And gave their name for ever to a beach

Which shall outlive Troy’s tale when Time is old;

Because of horsemen, gathered apart and hid,

Merciless riders whom Megiddo sent forth

When the outflanking hour struck, and bid

Them close and bar the drove-roads to the north;

And those who, when men feared the last March flood

Of Western war had risen beyond recall,

Stormed through the night from Amiens and made good,

At their glad cost, the breach that perilled all.

Then they returned to their desired land,

The kindly cities and plains where they were bred,

Having revealed their nation in earth’s sight

So long as sacrifice and honour stand,

And their own sun at the hushed hour shall light

The shrine of these their dead!"

Poppies to mark the fallen heroes (Pic by: Eisha Sarkar)

Outside, there was a field of poppies (artificial) as a mark for those soldiers who laid down their lives during World War I and a few lines from a poem by John Alexander McCrae called Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amidst the guns below...”

The ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are celebrated in Australia on 25 April and 11 November respectively.

Back in Brisbane, I met my aboriginal friend, Marda Pitt, who shared the story of her ancestors' first contact with the white man. Marda hails from remote north Queensland, from a village populated by 300 aboriginals who continue their hunting-gathering lifestyle as their ancestors had done for 40,000 years. 

About 200 years ago, Marda's ancestors came in contact with Dutch merchants. The Dutch grabbed the aboriginals' lands, raped their women, killed their children and brutalised the men into subjugation and slavery, with the aid of the police and missionaries. It's not a history that is taught regularly in schools in Australia. 

Brisbane Times' coverage of the aboriginal protests during the G20 Leaders' Summit on 15-16 November 2014 

During the recent G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, hundreds of aboriginal activists gathered to protest against custodial deaths of their people and threats to their land rights. The protests garnered some coverage in the media, but it waned quicker than Tony Abbott's shirtfronting threat. Someone asked Marda whether the indigenous people could forget the wrongs that were done to their ancestors. She defiantly asked, “You bleed, we bleed. Are we not the same?” I get her point. If we can never forget what our soldiers went through during a war that took place 100 years ago, we shouldn't expect Australia's indigenous communities to forget their ancestors' brutal history.

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