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Australia's days of the dead

Michael McVeigh |  27 April 2014

Gravestones in dead grassA solemn service welcomes the dawn. Families brave the weather to pay their respects. Some pray, some call forth memories. In doing so, they bring to the present the experiences of our country's past so that they can carry them into the future. ANZAC Day is a powerful and worthy ritual. But the tales of our soldiers make up only one of the ongoing chapters in the story of our country. There are many others.

On 25 January, let us remember the Indigenous people who once nurtured the land. Let us remember those who were killed when the settlers came to our shores — by violence, displacement or disease. Let us remember those whose lives were destroyed by policies that alienated and dehumanised them. Let us remember the Indigenous people who still die in our prisons, and those who die of substance abuse or poor health.

On 25 February, let us remember those who gave their lives in settling this unforgiving land. Let us remember those like Burke and Wills who found themselves unprepared and unfit to survive in harsh environments. Let us remember those who died because they were too remote to find medical care. Let us also remember the more recent victims of bushfires, floods and storms, each continuing in the tradition of those first settlers in trying to build a safe haven in our unpredictable world.

On 25 March, let us remember the people who lost their lives migrating to this country: the ships that wrecked themselves off our treacherous shores; the convicts and migrants who died of illness on the journey. Let us remember also those who have died trying to come to this country today as refugees, and those who die around the world with their hearts set on finding a safe home like the one that we enjoy.

On 25 April, let us continue to remember our fallen soldiers, who sacrificed their lives in war. Let us remember those who served in Australia, or fought to protect the country in the Pacific. Let us remember the wives and children they left behind. Let us remember those soldiers who have served and died more recently in places such as Afghanistan, and the other peoples around the world who continue to be caught up in conflict.

On 25 May, let us remember the women who have gone before us. Let us remember those who died in childbirth. Let us remember those who were forced into workhouses because they had children out of wedlock, and those who died in these places. Let us remember the women today who die at the hands of men, both those killed by men known to them, and those targeted by strangers.

On 25 June, let us remember all of those who have died in the workplace. Let us remember the convicts forced into labour. Let us remember those who rebelled and died at the Eureka Stockade fighting for better conditions. Let us remember the people who die today from accidents or illness due to being overworked.

On 25 July, let us remember those who die in other parts of the world due to poverty and war. Let us remember Australians and others who have given their lives helping people in these countries.

On 25 August, let us remember the victims of our recklessness. Let us remember those who have died in road accidents, from their own carelessness or the carelessness of those around them. Let us remember those who have died due to medical malpractice, and from other institutional negligence. Let us remember those who fall victim to environmental catastrophe, as well as the animals that die at the hands of humanity.

On 25 September, let us remember those who have died from disease. Let us also remember those who placed their own health and safety in jeopardy to treat others.

On 25 October, let us remember the forgotten dead: the people left to die alone without people to care for them, and those who have nowhere to call home, but live and die on our streets.

On 25 November, let us remember the children who have died. Let us remember those who died in the womb, or were never given the opportunity to live. Let us remember the children who died in illness through no one's fault. Let us remember those whose lives have been destroyed by abuse and neglect. Let us particularly remember those whom our institutions have failed to protect.

On 25 December, let us remember those who are yet to be born, our hope for the future. Let us remember the one person who died but rose again, and who brought hope of a new life to millions throughout history. Let us remember all those who give hope to others.

Let us tell all of these stories, every year, so that we will never forget.

Michael McVeighMichael McVeigh is senior editor at Jesuit Communications.

Gravestones image from Shutterstock



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Submitted comments

I think Michael is trying to mitigate the excessiveness of our pre-occupation with soldiers and in particular the myths of Gallipoli by including nearly everyone else. But I don’t think it works: we all die in some way, and except in the case of the completely unknown or unmourned, death affects someone. No, I think that we should neither render whatever value lies in Anzac Day meaningless nor let it off the hook: the reason why we should pause and keep silent on Anzac Day is because people died when they did not have to or because sometimes, like in WWII, the fighting and the death was really necessary; the reason why we should shun Anzac Day is because it has become a public circus and propaganda piece. I propose we abolish Anzac Day as a public holiday but instead pay an Anzac Day allowance to every widow or orphan of a deceased soldier and to every returned digger for their own private celebration on that day. Instead, we make the next day a public holiday and call it “Peace Day” but ban all public marches.

smk 24 April 2014

Lovely prayers of remembrance from Michael. I've written them down and will remember each 25th.

Pam 25 April 2014

Why has a good and successful Catholic author forgotten to include some of the relevant saint's days of the 25th of the month. 25th January St Paul's Conversion - surely a day to remember Paul's great legacy of inclusiveness of all people in Christ's Salvation; 25th March the day God took human flesh in the womb of Mary, surely these are days to know that our human death is a doorway, not a condemnation and that all those who suffer the deaths commemorated on all the other 25th's matter to the Creator and he will have the last say as to the retribution to fall on the perpetrators.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 28 April 2014

Michael, I appreciate all that you have said, but let's not muddy the waters and let us just keep Anzac Day as a day of remembrance for those fallen in war in defence of this country, in which and to which so many of these people you have mentioned, came to in search of peace and harmony.

shirley McHugh 28 April 2014

Yes . . lest we forget the forgotten ones. Thanks, Michael. You've suddenly made the 25th of each month a day I shall remember.

glen avard 28 April 2014

Thanks Michael. I shall mark the 25th of each month differently now. My husband finds Anzac Day difficult. He was born in the Netherlands and his father died of allied bombing just days before they were liberated - in the days before such victims were called Collateral damage.

Phil van Brunschot 28 April 2014

And let us not forget, Michael, the politicians of all colours who buggered the country up.

john frawley 28 April 2014

A thought provoking reminder and I might just write them down for future use. It has always bothered me that we make so much of Anzac Day. No matter our attempts to try not to glorify war but to stress the sacrifices the popular media never seems to succeed for me. Why dont we stress 11/11 much more. Remembrance Day seems much more a celebration of Peace and perhaps a reminder of what we should strive for with the energy that others have given us the opportunity to use. Remembrance Day is also good for schools whereas Anzac Day is often in the school holidays and harder to commemorate.

Jeff Regan 28 April 2014

At the dawn service I attended in suburban Adelaide I estimate the thousands who were there at 6am were 10 times greater than 10 years ago.People want to hang on to events which have meaning to them about genuine human courage and sacrifice--perhaps more as their experience with religions wanes !!!

Brian 28 April 2014

Dying for a cause usually receives its just reward, but a far more deserving sacrifice that often receives less appreciation is spending one's entire life to promote goodness and truth. Without taking away anything from those who died for a good cause, we should not forget those who quietly expend their lifelong energies in promoting peace and prosperity for all.

Robert Liddy 28 April 2014

Michael , I like your reflection. As was said somewhere; "You should pray always." and your writing has given me extra "food" for prayer. On Saturday I saw a woman in Lonsdale street giving a sandwich and a cup of coffee to a girl sitting despondantly on the footpath. . The woman did it discretely and without fuss. Her example inspired me to widen my prayer and especially my actions and . so too Michael do your words.

Celia 28 April 2014

Thanks for your thoughtful response to the deaths that people meet in various circumstances. I am uneasy with our use of language in describing the land as unforgiving. It makes no sense to me, and even hints at some struggle between the human and our natural environments that might justify exploitation and destruction of the land that sometimes occurs.

Alex Nelson 28 April 2014

Thanks Michael. A lovely gathering together of significant and forgotten people and groups of people whose lives and death can go unnoticed and unacknowledged. My father who saw active service in WW2 lived a lifetime of nightmares, quietly celebrated Anzac Day by attending the dawn service and never claiming his medals would have loved this and remembered each month the forgotten ones, as I will do in future.

Penny 28 April 2014

I found this article worthy of a good read and to be put out there in the mainstream media. Thank you

Irena 28 April 2014

Thanks, Michael. Remembering the different 25ths is like lighting a candle from the first one lit. For me the predominant one in the Australian context is Anzac Day. From it I will now light one for those other causes you highlight. They're all very worthy.

Peter Hardiman 28 April 2014

Yes, We can pray for all the 12x25. But 25th of April, Anzac day is a special day, a day of remembrance for those fallen in war in defence of our country. Michael, you certainly have put a lot of thought in preparing "Australia's days of the dead" , but sadly you forgot to pray for the Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ. My view is to pray for persecuted Christians every day of the year. And to pray specifically for the land where Our Lord and Our God , Jesus Christ was born, died and rose from the dead for the salvation of mankind, there will still be Christians to look after the holy and sacred Christian sites.

Ron Cini 28 April 2014

Thank you, it gives a focus for prayer, reflection and action each month. It invites us to add to it I have printed it out. I struggle with the whole mythology of ANZAC but I find in your context it brings a balance. Many thanks

GMD 28 April 2014

All the issues Michael addressed have a value, but why use it to demean and to denigrate a Day if National celebration. We and the original owners of the land owe a great debt not yo nention our freedom to the dead and to the survibors

Kkarl H Cameron-Jackson 28 April 2014

Why do so many of these comments refer to ANZAC Day as a 'myth'? Have I missed something - again?

Bernard 29 April 2014

Bernard, please don't exaggerate. Try reading the posts again, more carefully. Only one post referred to 'the mythology of ANZAC" and only one post (mine) referred to the "myths of Gallipoli". The former clearly refers to the 'story-understanding' people have absorbed and accepted about what ANZAC means, and my post referred to the stories (meanings) about Gallipoli, including the one that it ‘defined us as a people’. There is nothing wrong with identifying something sacred as a ‘myth: indeed most myths are ‘sacred’. Unfortunately, many people equate ‘myth’ with ‘false story’, whereas a myth is, properly, a meaning that has come out of a story. The story may or may not be false. Myth is what the story represents for people. You are missing something, by claiming so many call Anzac day a myth, because no one did. Anzac Day is only too real, and comes about because of the meaning(s) people ascribe to events that occurred in 1915 and later. There are several Anzac myths, adding up to a mythology. People can endorse those myths - those meanings - or qualify or reject them, like anything else.

Name 30 April 2014

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