Salute to women out in front

The Cairns Post - - VIEWS - Susie O’Brien Susie O’Brien is a Her­ald Sun colum­nist

AUS­TRALIAN women have played a vi­tal part in pro­tect­ing our coun­try dur­ing war for more than a cen­tury, but their role has of­ten been un­der­es­ti­mated.

In fact, women march­ing on An­zac Day are of­ten ques­tioned about why they wear their medals on the left. It’s as­sumed they’re wear­ing them for some­one else.

That’s why I wel­come groups of fe­male veter­ans and mil­i­tary per­son­nel march­ing to­gether at the front of the Mel­bourne An­zac Day pa­rade in the city on April 25.

The or­der for the 2018 march shows women will march in a group be­hind those with dis­abil­i­ties, the of­fi­cial party, Vic­to­ria Po­lice veter­ans and New Zealand veter­ans.

In other ci­ties around the coun­try, women as a group will have an even more prom­i­nent role. In Syd­ney, they will be right out the front.

I re­spect the right of women to be recog­nised in this way as a one-off.

The move is an ini­tia­tive from the “By the Left” group – a ref­er­ence to the side of the chest veter­ans wear their medals on.

One of the or­gan­is­ers is for­mer ma­jor Kel­lie Dadds, who told me it’s about “broad­en­ing the per­cep­tion of what a vet­eran looks like”.

It comes as re­cent changes to the def­i­ni­tion of vet­eran has cleared the way for more women than ever to join the march.

In the past, veter­ans were de­fined as only those who had done duty over­seas. Those who were dis­charged also missed out.

How­ever, very few women were sent over­seas be­fore 1983 and the dis­charge of many who were mar­ried or preg­nant was forced.

Over the years, this has led to many women not march­ing on An­zac Day be­cause they “didn’t feel wor­thy be­cause they weren’t re­turned veter­ans”, Ms Dadds said.

It’s about time women were given their due recog­ni­tion.

This is why I wel­come such tem­po­rary tweaks to the or­der of march­ing.

We must en­sure An­zac Day marches re­main rel­e­vant while re­spect­ing tra­di­tion. It can be a hard bal­ance to get right.

In other changes, in some marches the num­ber of cur­rent ser­vice­men and women will be boosted and de­scen­dants of veter­ans will be asked to march at the back. This is some­thing I find a lit­tle sad. Al­though there’s been a push for this over the years, it’s grow­ing stronger year by year.

In some places such as Can­berra, chil­dren un­der 12 have been banned al­to­gether. This is re­gret­table.

An­zac Day for me is about re­mem­ber­ing the sac­ri­fice of those long gone.

I go to the marches to com­mem­o­rate the brav­ery, self­less­ness and courage of in­di­vid­ual sol­diers, who in­cluded both of my grand­fa­thers, who fought in World War II.

While there needs to be a bal­ance be­tween cur­rent armed ser­vices per­son­nel and the de­scen­dants of Dig­gers, fam­i­lies shouldn’t be pushed aside.

The sight of a young girl or boy proudly wear­ing their long-lost great­grand­fa­ther’s or great-great-un­cle’s war medals (on the right, of course) sends a poignant mes­sage.

The RSL has said the change is about re­turn­ing the march to its roots, but it seems to be go­ing in the other di­rec­tion.

For many mem­bers of the pub­lic, An­zac Day is about the sac­ri­fices made by past gen­er­a­tions swept up in two hugely de­struc­tive world wars they were forced to take part in.

It’s about mark­ing their sac­ri­fice and be­ing re­minded of the fu­til­ity of war.

While cur­rent mil­i­tary per­son­nel should play a key role in any An­zac pa­rade, those from past wars must never be for­got­ten or pushed to the side.

NSW RSL pres­i­dent James Brown said some­one who had “done mul­ti­ple tours on be­half of this coun­try” should not be march­ing “be­hind some­one in trackie daks with some medals they found the day be­fore”.

These com­ments are highly of­fen­sive.

If the RSL is con­cerned about the dress code of fam­ily marchers, it should ad­dress that mat­ter rather than dis­par­age all fam­ily mem­bers who march.

While there is a need to en­sure that tra­di­tion is re­spected, we must en­gage fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

WHILE CUR­RENT MIL­I­TARY PER­SON­NEL SHOULD PLAY A KEY ROLE IN ANY AN­ZAC PA­RADE, THOSE FROM PAST WARS MUST NEVER BE FOR­GOT­TEN OR PUSHED TO THE SIDE

Pic­ture: AAP/DAN PELED

RE­SPECT: Ser­vice­men and women in an An­zac Day march.

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