GARRY EVERETT. “Worse things than dying.”

In Eric Bogle’s haunting song : “And the band played Waltzing Matilda”, there is the heart-wrenching line sung by the young soldier who has just had both legs blown off by a Turkish bomb. He sings:”And when I saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead. Never knew there were worse things than dying”.

As ANZAC day approaches, we would do well to pause and remind ourselves of these words, for today they are just as relevant to some of our Australians who are not victims of war: the aged in care; the indigenous in remote area; those trying to access NDIS; those suffering ridicule and pain because they are in some way disabled; the homeless seeking shelter; the refugees ; the sexually abused; our one common home, the earth.

How do we rate as a compassionate society? We like to think that we do very well, but perhaps that rating is superficial. Read again the words of Bogle’s song, where in another verse he writes: “So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed, and they shipped us back home to Australia. The legless, the armless, the bind, the insane; those proud wounded heroes of Suvla. As our ship pulled into Circular Quay, I looked at the place where my legs used to be, And thanked Christ no one was waiting for me, to grieve to mourn and to pity.”

Compassion asks so much more of us than” to mourn, and to grieve, and to pity”. Compassion asks us to do things; to intervene to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves. Images come to mind of the Red Cross, the Salvos, St Vincent de Paul Society, Oxfam, Fred Hollows, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mandela — all agencies or individuals of action, of practical help.

By way of contrast, we have had three Royal Commissions in the last few years In Australia, to reveal to us the extent of how we have turned a collective blind eye to the scandal of our neglect of the abused and forgotten. Such revelations have not only made us feel ashamed, but hopefully they have awakened our sense of compassion. But the onus is on us to come to grips with our traditionally under-developed appreciation of the true meaning of compassion. We still place feeling sorry above the need to change for improvement. We wallow in the feeling, rather than using the feeling to motivate us to transforming actions.

In their recent book, The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Christian, explore the true meaning of Joy. These great leaders of two different faith traditions, offer us humble guidance about compassion as an integral part of joy. However, they make the crucial argument that compassion alone is not enough. It is generosity that should accompany compassion that makes the difference. They explain that we should give generously from three sources: material things ( food, clothing, shelter, money…..); freedom from fear (protection, counsel, advice….); and spiritual freedom (wisdom, teachings, being an oasis of joy…..). Generosity is about giving of yourself and your time and resources —- individually, and as a nation.

There is a certain sense of safety in commenting on the general as opposed to the particular. It is this latter context however, that sharpens our thinking about, and our sense of appreciation of, the difficulties involved in taking action for improvement.

Let me relate a particular story of my sister. She has recently moved into aged care. Intellectually acute, she has major medical problems and limited mobility.

She persuaded other residents that they should hold an ANZAC day remembrance ceremony in the institution. Nothing grandiose, just some appropriate songs and readings to continue the tradition of remembering the fallen. She encountered resistance from management. They said she could not hold the proposed ceremony on Thursday 25th April (ANZAC day). My sister replied that you celebrate ANZAC day on ANZAC day. Management explained that they would have to pay staff additional wages to work on a public holiday! (The manager in question is from a foreign country with perhaps little knowledge of our Australian traditions and customs).

A solution could be negotiated, but the example shows how easily obstacles can be encountered, from unexpected quarters, when one attempts to move from feeling to action. Similar stories probably abound in other contexts to illustrate the same point.

The Christian scriptures contain two of the most famous stories ever told. The first is of the Forgiving Father (or Prodigal Son in earlier accounts), and the second is of the Good Samaritan. In both Jesus makes the point that neither the Father nor the Samaritan say anything to the offender or the victim. They just take action to restore right relationships again. It is as though he is teaching that feeling sorry is not enough — we must be the change we want to see in the world, as Ghandi said.

In the next few weeks we will see three special days loom large on the Australian calendar. Good Friday in the Christian tradition occurs on 19th April; ANZAC day on the 25th of the month; and Federal Election day will be announced soon. All three occasions give us occasion to think again about whether we want to be a compassionate society in name only, or do we want to be generous responders who work for improvement.

The choice is ours. The first two days should fire our feelings, and hopefully the third will allow us to commit to those changes which will cause us to act for the betterment of the nation.

“And the band played Waltzing Matilda…………”

Garry is a retired educator with an interest in change processes in Church and society.

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6 Responses to GARRY EVERETT. “Worse things than dying.”

  1. Bruce Cameron (author) says:

    I have written to DVA, part of which is copied below. If you let me know your email address through John, I’ll let you know how things progress.

    “I have researched the information about Community Commemoration Grants on the DVA website. I see that there might be two options … the Nursing Home applies for a grant or the Home enters into an agreement with the local RSL and the RSL applies. The latter would seem to be the more appropriate course, looking at previous grants that have been made.
    On the other hand, it seems as if this could be a topic for discussion by DVA’s Health Providers Partnership Forum in conjunction with the Aged Care Association Australia (and possibly the RSL National Congress).
    Could you please advise if DVA would be interested in supporting remembrance ceremonies at Aged Care facilities (providing certain criteria are met). Given the aging nature of Australia’s population, it would seem that there will an increasing need for ceremonies to cater for those without the mobility to attend public services.
    If DVA were to view the matter positively, could let me know how it should be progressed and in what way I (or Ex-Service Organisations) might be able to help.

  2. mark elliott says:

    Garry you missed the most telling words in the song that says so much about oz. “and they turned their faces away” this is the true and truthful depiction of what we are becoming.poor fella my country.

  3. Bruce Cameron says:

    Hi again,
    Following on from my earlier comment, discussion with other veterans resulted in this comment (among others):

    “For many years local RSL has collaborated with local nursing/aged care home to hold an ANZAC Day service there. Usually one or two RSL members attend and officiate, however with more rules and red-tape throughout the year, RSL members have declined to attend this year. Not sure if it will continue but if not, then the decision is placed at the feet of management of the home. The point about paying staff to work on a public holiday is to ensure they have adequate carers to move those of limited mobility and of course, they have to be paid for a minimum of 4 hours at double time. Some RSLs who organise street marches are having the same problems with paying for traffic management plans and trained workers, once again minimum of 4 hours at double time, police/council/main roads permits are usually gratis but some have to be lodged 6 months beforehand with appropriate risk management plans etc. Believe traffic management costs for some marches are now exceeding $3000. We asked local council quite a few years ago to assist with organising, sorry not very interested but we’ll hold a public meeting to garner community support . . who turned up at public meeting, RSL members who usually organise !!.”

    Seems to me like there is a real issue here, ie. penalty rates vis a vis national remembrance. There could well be a case for DVA to consider contributing to the conduct of local (incl aged care homes) ceremonies … in the same way they contribute to ESO group outings (grants) and overseas ANZAC day ceremonies.
    A submission to this effect will be raised.

  4. Nigel Drake says:

    Buddhism is not a “faith tradition.”
    Traditionally it is a philosophy, corrupted by priests and monks over millenia.

    A bit like Christianity, but without the “God” bit.

    If the major “Christian” churches could but revert to the actual teachings of their claimed saviour, then our world might become a significantly better place.

  5. Bruce Cameron says:

    Dear Garry,
    Thank you for a thought-provoking article. The words in Eric Boggle’s song reminded me of what it means when we say “We WILL remember them!”. This resonated especially, as I’d recently researched the inscription of the Stone of Remembrance at the AWM (which I walk past every day).
    For some reason, I wondered why the inscription states ‘Their Name Liveth for Evermore’ and not ‘Their Names Liveth for Evermore’.
    I was dimly aware that Rudyard Kipling had recommended the inscription and the Internet informed me that the inscription comes from “Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore”, which, in turn, is from Ecclesiasticus (King James version of the Bible).
    So … ‘their bodies’, but ‘their name’. One would think that there would have to be a reason, otherwise it would be ‘their bodies’ and ‘their names’.
    I asked if any of those I knew had an insight into this and the responses I received included:
    “Probably a more personal message, your loved one will be remembered, not as a mass of people but him or her”.
    “Could refer in the collective sense to those sacrificed.”

    While I believe both of these suggestions are correct in their own way. I decided to refer to original text. This is what I discovered:

    There are men who have lived a full life and reached their potential. They married and “left a name behind them” when they died. This ‘name’ was not only the family name, but also the basket of achievements that they had accomplished, thereby building a reputation. Through their descendants, “their praises might be reported” to future generations. BUT … there are other men who “have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them”.

    Their name, the one encompassing their life’s achievements (the one that they did not have the opportunity to leave behind as the legacy of old men) will live on as if they had never died in their youth. People “will shew forth their praise” in the absence of any descendants to do so. These were not men “renowned for their power” or “rich men furnished with ability”. “But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten”.

    From the above, I reasoned that “Their Name [that] Liveth for Evermore” does not only refer to the name that they received at birth, but also to the achievements, reputation, and place in the world that these young men and women could have earned should they have had the opportunity to live a full life.

  6. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    ‘They just take action to restore right relationships again.’
    Go, Garry! As we used say in the Kimberley: ‘You’ve Got-It!’

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