This year, no public events will mark Anzac Day. The COVID-19 pandemic has done what only a world war has previously accomplished, when the event was cancelled in 1942.
These random coincidences remind us that today, as then, Australia has been fighting a war, in fact, several wars. The disastrous bushfires of 2019-20 and the Corona virus pandemic, have taken on some of the characteristics of mass conflict. They include the language of war, emergency coordination between the Commonwealth and the states, deployment of the defence forces and a range of restrictions on personal and civil liberties and activities.
Like all wars, these have produced heroes.
Over a summer of flame, ash and smoke, tens of thousands of firefighters, mostly volunteers, battled infernos in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, as well as in other states with fewer serious blazes. Some – ‘the fallen’ – lost their lives. Many of the survivors will have ongoing health issues due to burns, smoke inhalation and trauma. Heroes.
These brave men and women were supported by emergency services of all kinds and by doctors, nurses, paramedics and all other hospital staff. Neighbors and strangers also performed acts of dangerous generosity, saving properties and people. Heroes
Then, just as the fire wars were easing, an insidious virus began felling people around the world and in our country. Once again, medical and hospital professionals, police and other services were called to the front line as infectious passengers were unfathomably allowed to depart cruise ships and others jetted in from foreign parts. As often happens in wars, there was a shortage of equipment – masks and gowns, as well as ventilators and beds – but they went to the fight, regardless. They are at the front as I write this. Heroes.
The mostly volunteer diggers of World War 1 and World War 2 were the founders and bearers of the Anzac tradition, subsequently carried by Australian soldiers up to the present. Whatever else Anzac might be about and whatever your personal views of it might be, there is no denying that it is the predominant bearer of Australian notions of heroism. It happens that these ideas were formed in war, but it now seems that the same ideals – glorified and mythologized though they often are – have become attached to ordinary men and women just doing their jobs, or as civilians volunteering.
So, let the ‘silent Anzac Day’ of 2020 be dedicated to the unique recognition and long remembrance of our new heroes.