A digger who missed out on the applause – why we need to cheer louder on ANZAC Day.

April 22, 2011

Dad hid his medals in a drawer.

As a kid, it was the only secret we had. We talked about everything. Shared dreams about footy and cricket. But not what he did in the war. The one subject I knew not to bring up.

I took them out once. And once only. He let me know, quietly, to never do that again. Back in the drawer they went.

We weren’t allowed to watch the big march on the ABC. And that march fascinated me. All these men, proudly wearing their medals. But not Dad.

If I’d turn it on while he was outside, he’d come in and turn it off. Nothing would be said. He just didn’t want to go back there. And didn’t want others to know.

It stayed that way until he died. Way too early. A hidden heart condition the doctors blamed on his service in World War Two. Even Dad didn’t know that secret.

I was 16. Not old enough to have asked the proper questions. Too young to let him know that it was ok to share. That maybe I could have helped.

Years later, Mum told me that she’d tried to talk to him about it. Nothing. He’d seen terrible things. It troubled him greatly. A gentle, funny, loving man, who struggled with what he’d been part of. Easier to dump the memories in that drawer.

When I started work, I was able to soak up the ANZAC spirit that Dad had distanced himself from. I’d cover the dawn service every year. Watching veterans just like my father. Listening and learning from the silence. And wishing I had him standing with me.

I’ve watched the crowds build over the years. People smarter than me talk about a nation growing up. The proof is how we mark ANZAC Day. As the number of diggers dwindle, the numbers watching surge.

It’s my favourite day. Honour those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Heroes. Later, a few beers. That first one at the RSL always tastes special. Have a go in the two up ring. Heads of course. And a punt. Just like they did.

Everyone has their favourite place for ANZAC Day. Hometown memorials are special. But for me, there’s something inspiring about being on the water.

Maybe it’s the link to that Gallipoli beach. Such horrors in the early morning light.

Our family tradition is to attend the dawn service on Surfers Paradise beach. Thousands make their way to the memorial in the pre-dawn dark. The diggers and their families marching. That shuffle of footsteps. The clink of medals. Gets me every time.

Last year, when the service was done, an old bloke remained. He was in a wheelchair, with a chest full of medals. Thick silver hair, straight back, eyes clear. He would have been a strong bugger in his day.

He was waiting for someone to collect him. But there was no hurry. Not today. He smiled at those around him. Not much was said. It didn’t need to be.

Before long, a line had formed. People of all ages, waiting patiently to shake his hand. Some took photos. Kids waved Aussie flags. One man, telling us so much, just sitting there. When I got to him, I simply said, thanks.

The beauty of ANZAC Day is that there’s always someone to thank. If you haven’t been before, find a service this year. Soak up that silence. And take your spot in the line.

Before Mum died, she gave me something precious. Those medals are finally out of the drawer. We have little replicas now. The girls fight over who’ll have them at the dawn service. And I’ll wear them with pride, while having a beer and a punt in the afternoon.

I tell myself that Dad would have worked it out if he was still around. No need to hide them any more. We’re so proud of him. He could have been the bloke getting his photo taken. Thanks, Dad.