NOW the patriotic and nationalistic breast-beating has subsided for another year it is worth considering what the annual Australian Anzac Day ritual means for Papua New Guinea.
The place of Anzac Day in the Australian psyche is complex. At its most simplistic, it is about remembering the soldiers who died in our many and often pointless wars.
At a deeper level it is about Australia’s place in the world and how that is expressed.
This level of expression has been changing over the years. It had a good kick along in political terms in the Hawke and especially the Howard years, when the association with nationalism strengthened.
In the beginning Anzac Day was about empire. The British Empire. While Gallipoli proved largely pointless and unnecessary – it was, after all, a military defeat - it was seized upon by politicians to herald Australia’s arrival, not as a nation but as a respected, contributing part of empire.
Australia, by sacrificing more than 8,000 of its young men at Gallipoli and more than 60,000 altogether in World War I, could claim to be doing its bit as part of that bloody empire.
That narrow interpretation slowly morphed into the idea that our ‘blooding’ at Gallipoli had somehow also heralded our birth as a nation.
The previous 120 years of pioneering effort and struggle somehow ceased to be relevant. It was the beginning of the unfortunate militarisation of Australia’s history.
However, the notion of Gallipoli as a focus of our history, patriotism and nationalism has that fatal flaw.
Whereas America has 4 July and France Bastille Day as defining moments in their histories, we have an ignominious defeat; an embarrassment linked to an event that had no significance whatsoever for our march to nationhood.
The only other event, Australia Day, has never inspired the Australian imagination apart from a few hoons driving around flying Australian flags on their vehicles. Australia Day, after all, is about Britain setting up a penal colony. For indigenous Australians it represents something far worse, the beginning of an invasion that cost many lives.
At first contact, it is estimated there were more than 250,000 indigenous people in Australia. When the massacres ended in the 1920, there were no more than 60,000.
This is where Papua New Guinea comes into focus.
Unlike the Boer War, World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is World War II that is considered by many Australians to be a ‘just’ war. In Australia’s case it was about repelling a possible invasion and it involved attacks upon our mainland.
If Australia is intent upon militarising its history and nationhood, the Kokoda Campaign is a more relevant point of reference. Unlike Gallipoli, it was a ‘just’ campaign fought for very tangible reasons.
On top of that, those ‘Diggers’ involved in the battles demonstrated all the qualities that Australia prides itself on: mateship, stoicism, inventiveness, irreverence and a healthy disrespect for authority.
Despite the bungling of the Australian government, those qualities won through and helped save our nation.
Of course, Papua New Guineans were deeply involved in the Kokoda campaign and an indispensable part of it. Without them the Diggers would probably have been defeated by the Japanese.
Defeating Japan in the Pacific was a defining moment for both Australia and Papua New Guinea and it should be celebrated together.
If those flag-waving zealots who converge on Gallipoli each year with little idea of what they are actually celebrating were redirected to Kokoda it would not only bring real meaning to Anzac Day as Australia’s national day but also strengthen our relationship with Papua New Guinea.
It is sad that any attempt at meaning these days is usually couched in economic terms but if it means Papua New Guinea making a few extra bucks along the way so be it.
Throw in an international football match, beef up security and it would be a great day.
Let’s forget Gallipoli and concentrate on Kokoda.