The AFL and Anzac Day

When Money is King

At the Yarraville pub last night, they broadcast the Anzac ceremony before the AFL night game between Richmond and Melbourne.  This is now a fixed part of the AFL schedule – or ritual, or liturgy, if you prefer. 

It was quite a show –lights out; slouch hats with feathers on Light Horse; burning tapers applied to an urn; the nation’s best in songs of remembrance (which I could not hear); the traditional bugle calls and anthems; and solemn protestations of fidelity and patriotism – a word we don’t use much in this country.

I wondered what a Turkish, German, or Japanese man ten years older than me would make of it all.  (After all, to someone born in 1945, torchlight parades were and are dreadful affronts to humanity – both in Europe and the U S, which saw a revolting revival at Charlottesville in August 2017.  Do you recall?  ‘Jews shall not replace us.’)

And then, as the young waiter at The Naked Egg is wont to say, it’s ‘Game on.’   And some bright young thing in PR at the AFL decided to put up a banner: ‘It’s only a game’. 

Bullshit.  This is one of the biggest businesses in the land.  (And when an Australian cricket test captain was imprudent enough to repeat that line, his coach berated him in tears.)

And then with the game can come the gaming ads, and when they do, I feel sickened.  Could they defile Anzac Day with gaming ads?  Some countries have laws about insulting the nation.  This would be a real test case if we had them here.

Everyone I know – every single one – regards the gaming industry as the curse not just of sport, but of the nation.  And they also think that the AFL and government have failed us very badly in allowing this addiction to bring shame on all our sports. 

And there you could have it all – going straight from ‘In a solemn hour’ to some crude oaf blurting nonsense about ‘Sportsbet Multis.’  From the military honouring our fallen, to the grubs seducing and then ruining our vulnerable.

When I was about ten, I accompanied a friend of my father who was a War Graves Inspector on a five-day tour of duty of cemeteries in central Victoria.  It was quite an education for a young boy.  I was glad to see the care taken with these graves.  I wonder if they still get it.  And I was glad I was not in country where taipans roam.

I was eighteen when I first went to Singapore and I wept when I was looking at graves of people younger than me.  I have been to Gallipoli and marvelled at the serenity of Anzac Cove on the morning I was there.  I also wondered at the closeness of the trenches of the two sides. (We went to Gallipoli via Troy, the scene of an epic war.)  I have been to the major sites on the Western Front, seen our flag in the cathedral at Amiens, and gazed in horror at the meadows full of countless white crosses.

And yet I have an ambivalence about Anzac Day that nearly matches that which I have for Australia Day.

Anzac Day falls on the day that we first landed at Gallipoli.  It was a military disaster more colossal than that which culminated in the evacuation of Dunkirk.  Our young nation gave up the best of its young men to a slaughterhouse at the request of a foreign power that still supplies our head of state.  We did so in a campaign that was lost due to British incompetence entrenched by a class system that we were brought up to despise.

We repeated the dose on the Western Front, but there at least we made a real contribution to victory.  (And my dad’s dad was there – and he came back.)

We did not have to be in that war, or at Tobruk in the next war.  But we had to be at Kokoda – and we prevailed.  We had to.  We were defending ourselves and our land.

So, I wonder about the obsession with Gallipoli.

But I don’t wonder about our comparative silence about the wars after Nagasaki – Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Our government lied to us on each occasion to get us into the war.  (Can any government commit a grosser breach of trust?)  Every one ended badly.  And worst of all, we repudiated the losing soldiers.  That was in my view the most shameful moral failure in our history.

And the wounds still show, and the men still suffer, and we are not doing enough for them, and they are killing themselves.  The RSL was a principal offender, and I am told that the Viet vets now turn against those from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is right and proper to honour the fallen, but we must do more for the living.  I am aware of similar arguments about the War Memorial in Canberra.  Morally, in my view, there can only be one answer.  ‘Lest we forget’ is fine.  So is ‘Never Again.’  And that applies to the way we look after those who served us – where we are, as we speak, failing so badly.

But the AFL is a business run for profit.  All professional sport now comes down to money – in huge amounts, that just make worse the biggest challenge we now face – the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’

If the AFL does something for deserted wives or abandoned children, it does so for business reasons.  In the last generation, directors of public companies have learned that profit is not their only driver – but it is the main driver. 

And when it puts on a show for Anzac Day, it does so for business reasons.  The directors could get into deep trouble if they decided to have a ceremony for the fallen just because it seemed like the right thing to do, or it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, that’s all as it may be.  Life is full of contradictions that we have to learn to live with.

But something is different now.  The AFL depends on the gaming industry for money in much the same way that state governments do.  The AFL shows every sign of being in the pocket of the gaming industry.  The AFL has been polluted by living off the earnings of very unattractive people, who learned to hit their targets very young – following the teaching of the Jesuits, Freud, and McDonald’s.  They prey on the young and those who are easy pickings.

We can gauge our slide into decadence by the contempt shown for decency and the law in the way that gaming companies publish warnings about gambling.  Not one person in Australia – not one – could take any of them seriously.  They are spat out faster than political ad authorizations by corporations that have as much respect for law and order as the Mafia does for a prefecture off the cost of Sicily.

And if we are dedicated to sleaze at the footy, why not let brothels in as well?  ‘You know the score.  Stay in control.  Bring your own protection, and bonk safely and securely with Madam.  You know our motto.  Bonk responsibly!’

And what is the score that we all know?  Heads we win.  Tails you lose.  It has to be that way.  For these companies to operate they must take money off people silly enough to go near them.

We have denied free tertiary education to our young; we are denying them the chance to buy their own home; and now we are encouraging the sponsors of our national pride to relieve them of what they have left. 

We as a nation should be ashamed of what we do to our young.  The communities that thrive are those that give back.  And we are not doing that.

Dad’s father, Bill, came back.  Dad was I think born while his dad was over there.  But whatever else Bill was there for, it was not so that a bunch of money-making suits should rake in the dollars from those who can’t afford that kind of game, while their neatly dressed apparatchiks from the Murdoch clan’s Fox purr with a kind of ensainted ecstasy with their splice of rosemary in their lapel under their best Ipana morning TV smiles.

Let me, then, go back to Gallipoli – and Troy. 

There is a precedent for linking games to war.  When Patroclus was killed outside Troy, Achilles stopped sulking and then he killed Hector in the most gruesome way.  (Shakespeare put the boot right into chivalry here.)  The Greeks put on games in honour of Patroclus.  The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector ‘And so the Trojans buried Hector, breaker of Horses.’ 

But this only comes after one of the most remarkable scenes in our letters.  Priam, the father of Hector, goes to the camp and tent of Achilles to beseech this violent killer to release the mutilated body of Hector, so that it could dealt with according to Trojan custom.  He asks Achilles to remember his own father, and then utters lines like these:

I have done what no man before me has done.

I have kissed the hand of the man who killed my son.

Against a pagan religion that we see as nonsense, this old man finds himself in what we might call a state of grace about eight centuries before the birth of the luminous Nazarene.  Not a god or God in sight.  Just a frail old man doing his best for one he loves, a dead son.  And in so doing, the old man broke the bonds and the ineluctable logic of the vendetta.  In the end, then, people were able to stop being killers, and put behind them those codes that impel men to kill each other. 

Well, it sometimes helps to see our gaudy baubles for what they are by remembering things past.

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