Back in Goorambat, I was instructed to raise the flag that was flying at half-mast to the top of the flagpole at 12 M.D. as per the Anzac Day instructions in the Australian flag book. Then on their return they would gather for an hour or so at the Goorambat Hotel.
But in 1982 Anzac Day fell on a Sunday and the hotel would be closed! The publican said he would open unofficially for an hour just for the ex- servicemen. We sat quietly behind closed blinds and doors while they had their own private reunion.
I observed the quiet close bond between them. On that day they had unspoken private memories that we who had not experienced those times could not share. It was their day.
Then someone suggested they should each buy a bottle of whisky!
My friend Flo looked at me in alarm. “We’d better get back to your place quickly and start cooking. They’re going to need a lot of food.“
The close band of merry makers arrived an hour later at peace with the world and radiating goodwill but their numbers had grown. Amongst others we had the publican and friends. A family who had moved to Goorambat that day who we didn’t know occupied the couch smiling at us, while an ex digger wearing an army slouch hat sat asleep on the floor under a large pot plant for a couple of hours.
Flo and I passed food around frequently, hoping to preserve the equilibrium. The Anzac spirit prevailed and the afternoon was full of smiling unspoken mateship and quiet good cheer.
I don’t know how many people fell off the front veranda when they left. Just walked out of the front door and kept going and measured their length on the front lawn, each one saying, “I missed the step!” There were no steps there!
The stragglers stayed on for tea but didn’t seem hungry by then and the last one, a younger man who had seen active service in Vietnam left reluctantly at 3 a.m.
Those days are long gone and things have changed.
This year, Anzac Day in Goorambat has a different flavour. The flag flies at half mast at Victory Park as usual and no one bothers about a flag book.
The memorials to those who lost their lives in the two World Wars and Korea have been given a face lift and small white crosses have been placed along the path for the occasion. I notice tourists who have come to admire the silo art wandering in there and standing solemnly for a while.
After midday there are several cars in the park and as the last post rings out from my neighbours TV, a small group of people are sitting on chairs around the memorial having their own private service.
Next door to the Park lunch is being served in the new Diggers Wife’s Café that is run by the Goorambat Veterans Retreat based at the closed Goorambat School.
Those Goorambat World War veterans are no longer with us and Anzac Day now belongs to the people.
On Anzac Day 2021, I am proud to think that I was given a special insight into that original day of remembrance and what it meant to those who had given so much to preserve our way of life.