Like so many other Aussies, today we made an early start. The unusually busy roads in the pre-dawn dark attested to that. We made our way to East Evelyn for the dawn service held there. There is no township. The small cenotaph sits out in a cattle pasture a kilometre or so from the road. A set of cattle yards sits close behind, pretty much as it has always done, apart from the galvanised iron posts and rails gradually replacing the old, weathered timber.
Behind the cenotaph, and its neighbouring cattle yards, the pastures roll away and there is a scattering of gum trees. This is pretty much how the ANZAC Day commemoration started and looked way back, not long after the end of WWI. Small, simple memorials were put up in little country towns and rural areas, using local funding and willing volunteers.
The numbers swelled after we got there. Local farmers and graziers, driving work vehicles and dressed for a day’s work, were there first. A lady rode up on a horse from somewhere nearby. He was a nice stamp of a stock horse too. We exchanged greetings and I passed a complement on her mount, and then asked why she had ridden to the ceremony. Apart from the human toll, she was also remembering the hundreds of thousands of fine Aussie horses that were taken to WWI, and never returned home.
By the time the ceremony began there were two or three hundred folks present. Ageing ex-servicemen officiated and it was a heart-warming, home-spun affair. There were no flowing orations from gifted speakers and the sound system was not working well either. But that is not criticism, or meant to be a disparaging observation. It was a fine morning service with humble, ordinary folks doing their best to honour all those who have suffered and scarified in our various wars.
The only jarring note was the token politician, a local councillor, who seemed more concerned with her wind-blown hair and mobile phone than the moment. She made the lamest speech I have heard in 50 years. It was clearly an unrehearsed and disinterested reading of some excerpt from a military history, filled with gross mispronunciations and stumbles. Enough of her.
There are not many names on the East Evelyn cenotaph. It was a tiny farming community then, as it is now. What does stand out though, are the repetitious surnames. Clearly many local families were decimated by WWI. There is a local story about one particular lady, whose surname features repeatedly on that cenotaph, who answered a knock on the farm house door one day not many years after the end of WWI. It was somebody collecting for a charity, or other good cause, associated with the war. Legend has it she said, “I sacrificed my five sons to that war, I have nothing left to give.”
Lest we forget.