quote’ for nothing. I would always ring Bruce Ruxton and, at the height of the republic debate, he knew my views on the republic and the flag and so forth and the conversation with Bruce would always go like this; I’d speak with his ancient and rather put apon secretary who always had a sort of sigh in her voice and you’d ask to be put through to Bruce, who was never out of his office and he’d come on the phone and he’d say, you’d say your name and he’d say, “I hate you, I hate you”. Pause. “Now, how can I help you?”, and again, he was forgiving and he was a character. One of a kind. Now the leadership is much more progressive. Also, because we’d realised the error we’d made as a nation, which was a bad one, in regard to the Vietnam veterans. And it was about that point and to a degree a nationalism became associated with Anzac Day. Also the promotion it received from the Hawke and then Keating governments, also the fact that the Gallipoli diggers were getting older and older and disappearing from us. So Anzac Day, by the early to mid-nineties underwent a huge revival and this pleases me enormously. For the last eight years I’ve been honoured to broadcast the dawn service from the State National War Memorial, which I think is a beautiful memorial, one of my favourites and designed by Rayner Hoff. To stand there every.......I get there about 4am, and to stand there, I stand by the broadcast point and watch, sometimes with almost a tear in my eye and to watch what General Monash called Anzac Day, “ a mighty solemnization” of our nation. It’s our great national day and I watch people of all ages, of all socio-economics, all classes, I watch little kids bringing their parents. It’s not the parents bringing the kids, it’s the kids saying, “C’mon, please take me, I want to go.”, and I watch these faces in the dark and I see the hope of a nation and the hope of a nation is service and sacrifice and the honouring and commemoration of that. I think this has spilled over, it’s not just the diggers, but to everybody. It’s the CFS guys and women, it’s the Ambo’s and the people from the Meals On Wheels. TLP: Is that examples of “the Anzac spirit”? PG: I think it’s something that goes deeper than that. It goes to who we are and who we are is Anzac. And the two things that define us as Australians are, one, we volunteer and in every conflict the Australian diggers, male and female, from the Sudan to Afghanistan has been voluntary with the single exception being Vietnam and conscription. Shocking and unnecessary. Hopefully it will never happen again. The other thing which is part of the Anzac spirit is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and this is what the English found, very soon when they were dealing with the colonial forces for the very first time. Untried forces, the ‘bushies’, the tall urbanites. I always think, the dreaded General Sir Ian Hamilton, the Commander-in-Chief at Gallipoli who was a lousy General but not a bad poet, if only he’d ...he’d spent a lot of time on his battleship, out of fire and
went ashore exactly once, but he said something which is very valuable. He said of the Australian soldiers that they were “gladiators with the eyes of children” and that’s a beautiful thing. And that’s what they were. TLP: When did your interest, or how did it come about? PG: I suppose my interest in all this begins when I visited Anzac Cove and the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1994 on a very hot day. Of course, you stand at Anzac Cove and most people cry and on this day the wind was so hot the tears just salted on your face. And when you stand at the top of those ridges at Lone Pine and you look down and you think, how could English commanders done this and pushed these men with 30......what was it, 70 pound packs, up these perilous cliffs. There’s an argument for the republic, the Turkish guides always say that it was the English, not us, who were the enemy. TLP: Well, that’s something the Turks have said. PG: Yes, and it’s the campaign summated very well. I became fascinated by Gallipoli and went in 1996, by a roundabout way I ended up working in Istanbul for three years teaching drama in a University. Gallipoli was four and half hours down the road, so I ended up going there 18 times, including two Anzac Day service’s and everything else. So I was there many times and sometimes completely alone. I was there once for two weeks, staying at a funny little resort hotel on the other side of the Dardanelles. I’d go across every day in a hire car on the ferry and on many days during this hot summer, I was completely alone and I has this sense of ghosts and at the same time a sense of it being a living place, a place of great peace and understanding. Also, a great sense of what Alan Morehead writes in the greatest book written on that campaign, Alan Morehead’s ‘Gallipoli’ from the fifties. Les Carlyon writes in his book on the subject that Gallipoli “has become the Australian religion”. And it is that. I felt, on those times that I was alone there, as Morehead writes so beautifully, that lizards scuttle over graves and time passes as though in an endless dream. I’d also, while I was there, stayed at one stage at the Commonwealth Rest House which was a prefabricated building built in the 20’s I think, down by North Beach, a couple of kilometres from Anzac Cove. It was built for the gardeners of the war graves. The Commonwealth War Graves unit does a superb job and we should be very grateful to it. Any Australian war grave throughout the world is exquisite kept. TLP: You were saying you swam near there on those hot days? PG: Yes, you wouldn’t swim at Anzac Cove, that would be irreverent. Incidentally, the Turks say that every Australian and New Zealander that comes to Anzac Cove picks up a pebble or rock from the beach and brings it back to Australia and they say that, sooner or later, Anzac Cove will be back in Australia
and New Zealand! Ha. I like that. Anyway, on this particular day, I went for a swim at North Beach and, you have to step in over rocks and once you step in, it’s this exquisite, crystal clear Aegean Sea. Beautiful. The odd dolphin. You think too, of where the Diggers swam. I once trained a soccer team to swim on that same beach, which is another story, maybe if we’d only played soccer with the Turks and not tried to kill them. Anyway, as I stepped in over these rocks, I stepped on a sea urchin and received 17 splinters in my heel, which was agony. Olive oil from the local grocer fixed it up. TLP: You were in East Timor too? PG: Yes, flash forward a couple of years and I was sent by my paper, The Sunday Mail, to Dili in East Timor. Just after the takeover by the United Nations and the sacking of the Indonesian government there. It was Christmas 1999 and I was reliant on a RAAF Hercules to get me there. They were taking us as they could so there was a lot of hanging around the Edinburgh Air Base in Darwin so I was almost too late for the concert. I had to run through the main street of Dili in order to get to the concert in time and, klutz that I am, I fell over and gashed my knee and so I spent the whole concert with my knee up, being attended to by a medic. This, Greg Ross and The Last Post readers, makes me the only Australian to be injured at both Gallipoli and East Timor, theatres of war divided by some 85 years. TLP: With the dawn service and your regular appearances there. PG: it gives me great satisfaction to do the dawn service and I like to help the veterans wherever and whenever I can, particularly Vietnam Veterans. It’s very important to my spirit to be part of Anzac in ways that I can help. Meeting and greeting or just supporting and going along. I go to the Long Tan Day concert each year with Big Pretzel, they say I just go there to eat the sandwiches but I go to support the Diggers because I love them. And I’ve been treated so well by the returned service people. Two things happen to me when I deal with the RSL or service people and perhaps society could learn from this. One, you’re always thanked and secondly, and most importantly, you’re always fed! So you can always rely on getting a meal and I’m the sort of person who never knows where their next meal is coming from! TLP: A sausage sizzle. PG: They have everything and I appreciate that very much. This country’s really run on the sausage-sizzle. TLP: Thanks Peter. PG: It’s a great honour Greg as it is to attend the dawn service and help out where I can. Bill Denny, the Director of Veterans SA is one of the most honourable people I have ever met so it’s all positive. It’s also profound because it doesn’t matter if you go or not, if you watch it on TV but what ever happens on Anzac Day, as an Australian, you feel it. I love your magazine and all power to it and to the Digger.
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The Last Post magazine - Autumn 2012 - Anzac Day Special