Speaker by Various Artists

Anzac Day

by Greg Wood

Sorry I'm late. I got most of the way through a long, involved and actually very funny blog about Singapore taxis and how they suck, before I realised it sounded really rather spoilt and vacuous. I'm sure it'll be fine for next week, but for now, here I am, six hours from dawn parade, wondering how the world works.

I've just returned from Boys' Night, the weekly sanatorium of like-minded antipodean and not-so-antipodean blokes gathering round a couple of beers and a stick of satay. And while we were sitting there bemoaning the social skills of Singaporeans, US foreign policy, the boy-racer wheels on Graeme's new BMW, Wayne's lack of dog-avoidance skills while riding on Batam last weekend and whether the pope still has his goolies fondled by a cardinal before taking the pontifical throne, I had a vaguely epiphanic feeling that I really really liked these guys.

I put it down to my overly emotional nature (I'm one of those creative types), the proximity to Anzac Day, and the fact that one of the topics of conversation was how the Cricket Club was handling the dispensation of money raised following the bomb in Bali, which killed eight of 17 SCC rugby players. (Apparently it's being handled badly; a sad fact of life for much post-anguish fundraising).

So there I was, sitting with this crew of adventurers, all of us far from what used to be home, all of us having become friends while in a country other than our own, talking about how to handle proceedings following the death of a friend, and I came over all very Band of Brothers. I felt protective of and protected by this motley bunch of kiwis and poms. And I wondered, if it really came down to it, just how far I'd go (and how far I'd have to go) to protect a way of life that involves this much laughter and consideration and discovery and intelligent debate, and self-deprecating humour of such high quality.

I'm wondering, because tomorrow is Anzac Day. Apart from the people killed during the abortive battle for Singapore, nearly 20,000 Allied men died in captivity here during WWII. And yet here I am, free as I want to be, sweating under a jackfruit tree, drinking San Miguel, and as I look around the table and wonder, as someone who feels bad and sad even just killing a fish, what level of sacrifice would be required should the shit ever really hit the fan, I feel very confused.


Anzac Day. I go to Dawn Parade with Chuck and Simon. We follow the Australian High Commissioner up the Bukit Timah expressway past the site of the fight that killed the founder of the Hash House Harriers. He's late so we're flying and when we get there it's warm and still and the Malay pipers sound much further away than they are. I'm wearing a suit for the first time in six months, and Simon hasn't been to bed yet. Small sacrifices compared to those of the guys who are buried under our feet.

There's a small gathering of Australasians and representatives. Someone's invited the Turks, but not the Japanese. Perhaps the Turks are good old blokes who were just doing a job, like our guys, while the Japanese are mad. My Nana used to think so; Mum says she kept an axe behind the door in case the buggers ever turned up while Pa was knee-deep in leeches in the Solomons. Still, she seemed to accept our whole bunch of grandkids studying Japanese and even moving to Tokyo for a while. (While there, Vanessa and I stayed with an elderly couple who were unimpressed when I came home one day and announced I'd eaten a fried cricket for lunch; old Mitsuo remembered the war and how poor Japan was – they had to eat bugs to survive, and I was just thinking it was wacky. Later that evening he broke down in tears while talking about Pearl Harbor, asserting that Japan would "never, never, never" attack unannounced: "We are honourable warriors! We expect to die!").

The light slowly arrives, as do my senses. I take in the white-suited sailors laying wreaths, and plain-suited others do too. And here's where the confusion really gets me: there's a Defence Secretary, a couple of Defence Advisors, even a Minister for Defence. Where are the Offence people? The ones who start all this shit that kills all these brothers and friends and lovers and sons and cousins and husbands and neighbours and workmates? I'd like to talk to them. Perhaps they could help me understand.