An old maxim has it that one should avoid, at all costs, discussing politics or religion at the dinner table. Thankfully, few take heed of this advice at university colleges, where dining halls serve to appease both physical and intellectual appetites. Yet even a college dinner table is perhaps unfit for the discussion of one exceedingly controversial topic: Anzac Day.
In the press this week, we heard from those who object to the government spending over half a billion dollars on ‘a non-stop, four-year Anzac sound and light show’, those who believe that attention to the ‘Anzac legend’ casts a shadow over efforts of contemporary service men and women, and those who sought to reignite public outrage over Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s infamous tweet last year: LEST WE FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…). It seems that what was once an acronym – ANZAC – has become a highly charged (and sometimes divisive) political term. Here, I take no position on the above issues; doing so would mean diverting attention away from what we ought to be reflecting upon: the sacrifices and achievements of women and men involved in the unquestionably harrowing ordeal known as war. This view seems to have been shared by those responsible for conducting a very fitting Anzac Day Service and lunch at St Andrew’s College.
In his 2018 address, Principal Wayne Erickson took the opportunity to commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in conflicts throughout our short national history. The centerpiece of his address was a history of two Andrew’s students affected by World War I. Drawing upon the historical research of Senior Fellow Professor Ian Jack, the Principal spoke of Arthur and Keith Ferguson, brothers who arrived at Andrew’s in 1912 and 1914 respectively. The elder brother was killed in combat, while the younger returned to Australia with head injuries in early 1918 (though these injuries did not prevent him from going on to have a distinguished career as a Supreme Court Judge). We learned that a bell of the University of Sydney Carillon was donated by the Ferguson family in memory of their fallen loved one. On the eve of Anzac Day, that bell sounded in a concert celebrating the Carillon’s 90th birthday.
In a lunch that followed the service, commemorations were not obscured by mythology or political debates; the day, in sum, served no purpose other than to simply acknowledge to valiant efforts of those affected by conflict. For those in attendance, the meaning of Anzac Day became clear once more.
- Will Cesta, Dean of Admissions