Why stop at poppies!

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It was common at the start of the 20th century to speak of ‘ Australian Ideals’. What are our values and ideals today? Perhaps those who so generously supported the 5000 Poppy campaign could use their goodwill to help Australia progress rather than feed its militaristic tendencies. And rather than answer the call to knit or crochet a poppy perhaps these resources could be spent on the many social problems of our time. Why stop at poppies!

 

The ABC news this week covered the story of the 5000 Poppy project, a nationwide grass-roots community tribute of respect and remembrance, which invites all crafters across Australia to make one or more poppies. Thousands of enthusiastic people all over the country have heard the call and are making enough poppies to ‘plant’ a field of over 100,000 poppies in Federation Square Melbourne on Anzac Day 2015.

The Poppy project is one of many undertakings that are planned for the four-year long commemoration of Anzac Day. Between 2014 and 2018 Australia is commemorating the Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War. The Anzac Centenary is said to be a milestone of special significance to all Australians in that the First World War helped define us as people and as a nation. While I feel deeply for the young men who were sent to be slaughtered at Gallipoli in 1915, their participation in the British Empire’s campaign to invade Turkey in order to facilitate Russia’s access to the Black Sea doesn’t call for celebration and hardly an event that defines Australia. Sixty thousand Australian military personnel died during WWI, while others returned home physically and psychologically maimed, only to be abandoned along with indigenous combatants who accompanied them.

So I am dismayed to see how the propaganda has succeeded and that an honest history of these events is ignored or maybe not even known to some of us.

Screen shot 2015-02-11 at 2.54.52 PMThe 5000 Poppy project is all very nice and shows wonderful community mindedness but for the wrong cause surely. We are accustomed to the wearing of the red poppy on Remembrance Day (11 November) each year, as a reminder that red poppies were among the first to flower in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium in the First World War. In soldiers’ folklore, the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground. The poppy project has grown from 5000 poppies to over 130,000 and now sponsors are being sought. For as little as $12 you can have one of these thousands of poppies dedicated to you. I’ll pass!

Apart from a brilliant spectacle, the thousands of poppies will do little to challenge the Anzac myth and the propaganda spreading that speaks of us as a nation formed through war.

In April 2014, the Australian Pax Christi held a public forum entitled “Who is Australia? Who might we become?” I was fortunate to attend and listen to Professor Marilyn Lake speak of the many achievements between Federation (when Australia became The Commonwealth of Australia) in 1901 and the beginning of WWI in 1914.  One of these was the implementation of the world’s first legal minimum wage, an Australian invention passed in 1896. The first decade of the Commonwealth of Australia also witnessed the election of the first labor government in the world, which among other reforms was responsible for the implementation of the maternity allowance. In 1902 Australia was the most democratic country in the world with the extension of full political rights for women. We were also in the forefront of world history in the area of working conditions and decent wages. The state of Victoria was at the vanguard of social reform and women’s rights. ‘This new nation had come to being in peace time, not in wartime’, Lake proudly asserted.

Why aren’t these achievements celebrated? Why aren’t these democratic changes seen as the way to define Australia? Our democratic nation is one we should be proud of and seek to improve upon, not dismantle. Recently there have been reports of our mean conservative government wishing to dismantle the minimum wage.

It was common at the start of the 20th century to speak of ‘ Australian Ideals’. What are our values and ideals today? Perhaps those who so generously supported the 5000 Poppy campaign could use their goodwill to help Australia progress rather than feed its militaristic tendencies. And rather than answer the call to knit or crochet a poppy perhaps these resources could be spent on the many social problems of our time. Why stop at poppies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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