Quintessential values at the heart of the ANZAC spirit

Read the Anzac Address by Year 12 student Neva Mikulic from the 2022 RSL and Schools Remember Anzac Commemoration.

This year, as we commemorate ANZAC Day, I am reminded more than ever that the actions of ANZAC soldiers and the spirit of the ANZAC tradition are in no way removed from our lifestyles and values as Australians today.

Safety, community and freedom without threat are quintessential values at the heart of the ANZAC spirit that continue to play an integral part of an evolving Australian identity which we all contribute to and bear witness to.

It is sometimes too easy for the ANZAC tradition to feel distant from the lives we lead. It is too easy to relegate it to an abstract history far removed from our daily lives – a history we are reminded of once yearly by floral wreaths, sprigs of rosemary and red poppies; markers of loss, but also symbols of a secured freedom which gifts us the potential of forgetfulness.

But for many Australians, the reality and effects of war persist.

Today, there are Australians facing the ongoing psychological impacts of protecting our nation. There are families grieving inconsolable loss from a succession of conflicts. There are Australian servicepeople, including women and First Nations veterans, still involved in peacekeeping now in areas where freedom presents as a fragile right.

In a multicultural nation especially, young people are attuned to this. Many of us have cultures and connections that have been disrupted due to war, or parents who have witnessed or fled from conflict overseas. For some of us, a news headline from across the world can prompt fear for those closest to us or remind us of past decades of tragedy.

There is an intersection between historical trauma and present pain. There are unspeakable, overwhelming losses, and sacrifices that were made in the past that continue to shape lives now, including the contributions of sometimes very young veterans, some of whom still live among us now.

At some point as young Australians, we must consider the meaning of history and our role in it, as participants and custodians of memory, as future policy makers, and as voices in national conversations.

We make choices each day about how to engage in this nation. To meaningfully listen to our fellow Australians, to keep ourselves and each other safe, especially during times of crisis, to learn about our history in its entirety, to respect and, when it is appropriate, to mourn.

This year, in addition to remembering those who served at Gallipoli, we also commemorate 80 years since a number of battles in the Second World War. These include the Fall of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin and the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.

As we reflect on these events and the sacrifices made to protect our freedoms, we are reminded of the link between our safety and the actions of veterans protecting and supporting our community. Of the Anzac values of endurance, courage and the ingenuity to face multiple challenges, as well as the good humour and mateship that allows us to support others through them as well. We witness these values alive and well in those banding together to rebuild after devastating floods and we will continue to see it as we face future challenges that come our way.

Our own continual engagement in an inclusive society evokes the heart of the ANZAC tradition that we live not alone, but alongside those around us and those who came before us.

Each ANZAC day when the Ode to Remembrance is read, we hear the iconic phrase “We will remember them”. This notion, of collective memory, commits us to being sensitive to each individual’s experience of conflict and to commemorating, mourning, and learning together.

This year, whether we are in a school hall, in a Zoom meeting, or gathered with family and community members at dawn services, may we commemorate ANZAC day through our own reflection and commitment to listen. May we, through our shared attention and memory, consider together the legacies of loss.

From the five men who returned from an ANZAC service in Sydney to join a woman laying flowers on an incomplete Cenotaph in 1927, to the 150 people the following year who gathered to lay wreaths for a two minutes’ silence, to the services that have since been organised at this same site, I am reminded that when communities reflect and mourn, they do so together.

Whilst we can never truly know the diversity of all Australian experiences of war, may our ongoing commitment to try, remind us that at the center of this commemoration are real people and real losses. May we commit ourselves to that understanding even in the light of the knowledge that loss can never be fully understood.

Lest we forget.

Neva Mikulic is in Year 12 at Sydney Girls High School and delivered the Anzac Address at this year's RSL and Schools Remember Anzac Commemoration.

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