This coming Remembrance Day, 11 November 2018, marks the Centenary of Armistice Day. With it, the conclusion of a four year commemorative program known as ‘Anzac 100’.
For many Australians, this period has been a time of growing attachment to the spirit of Anzac, and the birthplace of the nation at Gallipoli, where great courage, endurance, discipline and mateship was shown by Australian and New Zealand soldiers.
As we approach Armistice Day, we return to the concluding moments of a terrible war in which millions lost their lives, and continue the tradition of remembering, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, those who died.
And yet, there are many today who call themselves Australians for whom this story of Anzac, and of the great sacrifices of WW1, feels quite foreign.
Indeed, for Australians born elsewhere, this great story of history is loaded with distinctly different meanings.
Some trace their ancestors to those who fought against the Anzacs. Some know their ancestors fought for the Imperial Army, but were not even acknowledged as citizens, whether of Australia or the British Empire. In this way, contemporary acts of remembrance are complicated by the many diverse stories of migration and displacement that have shaped Australia throughout its history.
Liverpool, in Sydney’s west, is one such place where stories of ancestry complicate acts of remembrance, and lead us to the far reaches of the globe. Liverpool, a major site for the training of WW1 soldiers, where the heroic 12th Light Horse Regiment was borne, is now home to one of the most diverse populations in Australia.
As a place where many recent refugees fleeing war torn places have settled, Liverpool speaks to many diverse experiences of war and conflict. There are those in Liverpool whose grandfathers were Light Horse men, whose uncles were killed tragically before their time, and who trace their family’s history of service across three generations.
There are also children who have witnessed their family members killed by racial violence, and who have taken long, arduous journeys of resettlement to finally call Liverpool home.
For many whose experience of war is visceral, and recent, Liverpool is a place where the freedom of religion, culture and ethnicity is an experience to be cherished and celebrated.
This makes Liverpool is a truly remarkable place to commemorate the Centenary of Armistice.
Recognising the diversity of its population, and the important role played by its military training camps in WW1, the City of Liverpool has allowed the story of Armistice to be told as an enduring story of peace.
In Liverpool, the act of remembrance that is Armistice Day, commemorating this year the Centenary of the brutal war that was WW1, is not just a time to look back in time. It is also a time to acknowledge how many Australians today have journeyed to this country and embraced it as place of peace.
Speaking to the girls at Liverpool Girls High School, we heard first hand how truly remarkable is the experience of fleeing war torn places as a young child, only to be offered a chance to learn, walk among diverse cultures freely, and achieve goals never dreamt of.
As one student reflected: “A new life, a fresh start – that is peace to me”.
If Anzac Day speaks to the forging of Australia’s national identity through hardship and endurance, in a place like Liverpool Armistice Day allows us to embrace a hopeful idea of an Australia that respects difference, and protects and supports those whose lives have been marked by conflict, and allows them to experience the gifts and opportunities many of us take for granted.
It may be an idealistic vision, but it’s surely one worth celebrating.