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Think Piece: Why do we commemorate?

Thursday 6 July, 2017

When I was little, my great-grandmother would tell me how she met my great-grandfather, it was the classic love story. She tended to an ill solider whilst serving as a nurse and the rest is history. These stories became the foundation of my love for history.  As I grew older and gained a deeper understanding on historical concept, my passion for the subject became stronger. The aspect I find most fascinating is the ability to understand and connect with events that have shaped our culture, reputation and civilisation. I am currently a Year 11 student at Loreto College and I see a strong need for the continuation of commemoration, especially during this Anzac Centenary.

During this time, it is important that we revisit the reasons why we commemorate, and exactly what it means to us all as a nation and as individuals. It is often said that Australia came of age on that fateful morning of 25th April 1915 some 14 years after Federation. This may be true and perhaps that is why we hold Anzac Day in such high regard in our national calendar. It certainly is not to celebrate a great military victory, because the landing and subsequent battle at Gallipoli was not that. It was a military disaster from any viewpoint. It is not just this event that we remember during this time, nor is it even the First World War. This Anzac Centenary for me is set aside to give thanks to all those men and women, who have put their lives at risk, and in many cases paid the ultimate sacrifice. I also acknowledge the losses and sacrifices of their families.

It is not a time for honouring war, for war is not something to be honoured. War is something which is used as a last resort when diplomacy has failed and is used by a nation to safeguard its sovereignty. We do, however, honour the people of Australia who have undertaken warfare to protect that Sovereignty. The word Anzac, is not some remote campaign, but rather a spirit. It is a time to reflect on the qualities of past generations of Australians who in hardship displayed courage, discipline, self-sacrifice, self-reliance, resourcefulness and friendship.

As the South Australian winner for the national competition, the Simpson Prize, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a battlefield tour in London, Belgium and France. This trip presented many amazing opportunities but the experience that will stick with me forever is the feeling I had whilst attending the Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux. This occasion highlighted the importance of commemoration and the eerie environment allowed me to reflect amongst some of Australia’s bravest. Although the weather was boarder line freezing, it allowed me to contextualise with what 416,809 gallant Australians experienced 100 years ago.

Commemoration is becoming more important because as the numbers of ex-servicemen and women grow smaller, the spirit of Anzac, which was bequeathed to us from battlefields long ago, will continue to live on in our lives as a reflection of the very heart of our nation. The Anzac spirit exists in each of us so therefore let us be guided by the Anzac spirit in facing the national and personal challenges ahead, and let us strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.


Charlotte Matthias is a Year 11 student at Loreto College and is the first student in South Australia to have won three major history competitions. She was awarded the 2016 Premiers Anzac Spirit School Prize Competition, the 2016 National History Challenge South Australian Young Historian of the Year, and the 2017 Simpson Prize. As the Simpson Prize winner, Charlotte was a part of the battle field tour in London, Belgium and France. Charlotte is passionate about History and intends to study Law after completing Year 12.

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