What incredible timing. Just a month short of the centenary of the Anzac landing, playwright Alan Seymour, who gave us ‘The One Day of the Year’, has died.
Of all the plays I studied in high school, that one, which I read aged 14, was the most memorable. My grandfather, a World War II naval serviceman, never missed an Anzac Day service, but I remember having to attend them, as a Girl Guide, and wondering what they were all about. When I was 14, Anzac Day services were venues for protests, attended by peace activists, Women Against Rape in War and the tragic figures of Vietnam vets, excluded from marching by the RSL on the basis they had been conscripts, not volunteers. I could understand the anger and bitterness in Seymour’s play, but I knew how much it all meant to my grandfather, so felt the pain such protests caused, even as I sympathised with the protestors. It was a confusing time, of wondering what on earth we were commemorating on that particular day.
These days, Anzac Day is, as it has always been, a time of sombre reflection. The protests seem to have fallen away, as new generations rise to march alongside, or in place of, increasingly ageing relatives. Anzac Day marches are multicultural too, and include all forms of service. They really have changed from the all-white, all-male, Australian and British services of Seymour’s time, and things are tipping a little too close to celebration for me. Seymour’s play, which I believe is touring again this year, is a good reminder of how much Anzac Days have changed, and that we still need to question the story of Anzac, and the meaning and cost of military service.