Australia’s famous Anzac spirit is under threat just when we need it the most. So, can we get it back?
- Heston Russell is a retired special forces major who served 16 years in the army
- He served in East Timor and Iraq and was deployed four times to Afghanistan
- Russell founded Voice of a Veteran in 2020 and Veteran Support Force in 2021
- He launched Australian Values Party and is running for Senate in Queensland
Since Anzac Day last year, I have been asked to comment on a wide range of Veteran issues.
Proposed changes to our national curriculum to question the "myth" of Anzac Day, and even statistics showing that many young Australians would not choose to stay and fight for our country if we were invaded like seen in Ukraine.
Each year on Anzac Day we reflect on the selfless actions of those servicemen who landed at Gallipoli and fought through what could only be described as hell on earth.
Fighting through the carnage of familiar faces, friends and comrades who fell within the first few ferocious minutes and hours of that battle.
Fighting through to show the character and courage that set the precedence for our national legacy, our Anzac spirit, to be recognised around the globe.
This is no myth, as a matter of fact, the enemy our Anzacs fought against were so inspired by the example of our troops that they went on to erect monuments and still to this day, pause on April 25th to commemorate the heroism of our Anzacs.
This year, I want to focus on what supported and sustained the actions of our Anzac heroes who fought on that day and throughout the four years of World War I.
At the outbreak of the war in 1914 the population of Australia was just 4.9million. Most of our people had never travelled overseas, given the great distances that had to be traversed by slow ships that often cost the lives of some onboard.
We were not connected by the technology of today. Newspapers and public broadcasts provided the updates that were then carried by word of mouth, as everyday Australians stopped and spoke to each other in the streets. There wasn't any social media, internet or even colour TV. Telegram was a signal carried by wire, not an app.
Yet over 400,000 young Australians decided to sign up and serve overseas during what was to be called 'The Great War', to fight for the freedoms and liberties that have been the topics of community conversations and political campaigns over the last two years.
Over 400,000 young Australians, nearly 10 per cent of our population. Made up mostly of young men aged between 18 and 44 years old - nearly 40 per cent of all Australian men living within this age bracket.
They couldn't google Gallipoli or know how long they would be gone for, yet they signed up to serve and left on crowded ships from our shores. Leaving behind their families, loved ones, businesses and lives, with letters home as their only likely communications to be seen or heard from for the years to come.
Over 100 years ago, our country was a place where nearly forty percent of our most fit and healthy men were willing to enter the unknown and fight for the freedoms and liberties that they believed in.
They may not have been supported by all in our nation, but they were by the majority who were willing to also take up the call, to work in the factories, in the fields and fend for their families while their loved ones went away.
Our nation was a place where we valued the courage and conviction of those who were willing to risk their lives to support those we shared common bonds and values with away on foreign soil. Without the ability to pick up a phone and call their loved ones, check in online or snap a smiling selfie for their families back home.
I want to reflect on this because over the last two years we have watched our nation tear itself apart as our politicians and bureaucrats have struggled through the COVID- 19 pandemic. The legacy of leadership left on the battlefield by our Anzacs has been replaced by management strategies based on statistics and spreadsheets that have left families separated, isolated and too often in distress.
Travelling around the country I have spoken with many including current and former serving veterans, along with young Australians with thoughts towards joining our armed forces. Too many have said to me 'What are we fighting for?' They have spoken about not being able to even dream of affording a house let alone build their own home.
Worried about how they would be able to support their families if they, like our Anzacs, were sent away to fight for our country. Many with children or intentions to start their own families spoke of how this would not be possible because their partners could not afford to take the time away from their full paying employment.
These are the realities eating away at the pride and patriotism that once brought our communities and country together. At a time when we need to come together to build our nation and become the best of our potential.
Instead, everyday Australians are being left to fend and fight for their own survival. Fighting for the survival of their families within our own borders, without being in the face of a foreign foe. Further afraid of what else might happen at home or overseas to make matters even worse.
These are the realities not captured in the statistics spun by our political leaders to support their economic statements and campaign slogans. Political leaders that many Australians, young and old, no longer identify with, let alone trust to be able to lead our nation in a true conflict or crisis.
Career politicians need to be replaced with people who know what real leadership is. Leadership that connects and unites people with purpose.
The spark of our Anzac spirit resides in every Australian that knows how to come together and support each other in times of need. The authentic Australian character shown best through actions, not pre-prepared words.
As we come out of COVID and come together as communities in commemoration across our beautiful country, I hope that we can take the time this Anzac Day to remember what can be achieved when people are united with purpose. Not simply in times when we need to send off our bravest to fight in wars or conflicts, but instead to find ways to focus our efforts to build the best future for Australia and all our people.
Let this Anzac Day be a time to pause and reflect on what we can achieve as a nation brought together with purpose. Draw from the courage and commitment of those who went away to fight for our freedoms.
Lest we never forget the spirit they showed, and always remember that they carried it with them, inspired by those they left behind, who stood together as a nation and kept that spirit burning brightly at home.
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