Right across regional New South Wales, indeed the nation, communities paused in reverent solemnity on 25 April in recognition of an event 101 years in the making.
ANZAC Day is the most important of our national days and its significance is commemorated the world over as Gallipoli left an indelible mark on more countries than just Australia and New Zealand.
Violent and deadly though it was, rather than leave a permanent stain on Australia’s psyche, that fateful first day at Gallipoli is now revered as the moment in time when our country courageously earned its nationhood.
Each and every one of the 650 or so Australians who died that day and the 8709 in total who lost their lives during the ultimately unsuccessful 8½ month campaign on that rocky Turkish peninsula was loved by many family and friends back home.
Cenotaphs and war memorials in large and small country towns, with row upon row of names chiselled faithfully into the stone, indicate just how heavy a price the regions paid when the call to arms was made … in the Boer War, World Wars, Malaya, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf and recent conflicts.
Modern campaigns involving Australians in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought home the awful reality of 21st Century warfare as graphic footage is beamed almost as it happens into our living rooms on a 24/7 basis.
In faraway days such as The Great War of 1914-18, black and white, often grainy images (those allowed by war censorship officials) published in the newspapers of the era could not even remotely give a glimpse of the mass killing horrors, often hand-to-hand combat, which unfolded at ANZAC Cove or subsequently in the bloody and muddy trenches on the Western Front.
Numbing casualty tolls – 61,516 dead according to the Australian War Memorial’s World War I Roll of Honour – and the row upon row of graves in Europe’s “silent cities” are a stark reminder to us of both the folly of war yet also how it shaped our history and kept us free.
As we commemorate ANZAC, may we be eternally thankful that so many were so prepared to lay down their lives in order for us to be able to enjoy the democracy and relative peace we now all too often take for granted.
The Hon Michael McCormack MP
Federal Member for Riverina
Assistant Minister for Defence