Thursday, May 28, 2015

Camaraderie, Concern and Mateship

One of the lasting impressions of my recent trip down under were the RSLs. The 'Returned & Services League' was formed 'as a direct result of the camaraderie, concern and mateship shown by the "Diggers" for the welfare of their mates during and after the 1914-1918 War.' For an outsider coming in now, it is a network of pretty awesome third places. If you live close by, you have to be a member to come in. Otherwise you have to sign in as a guest. My introduction was when I was looking for a place to watch the thing of which we do not speak. Aus only became a federation in 1901 and so the First World War was very much a part of their nation building. I was also there for Anzac day where they marched, finishing up at the RSL.

The Anzac Day march finishing at the RSL

Aussie & Kiwi soldiers were known as Diggers

As a separate thing, I have been reading 'The Fall of the Ottomans' to try get an understanding of the background to the Middle East chaos. Interestingly it turns out to be written by someone who was going to Gallipoli along with three generations 'lest we forget'. In walking to the site where his young great uncle had lost his life, Eugene Rogan stumbled across the memorial to Turkish soldiers. The tremendous loss of life on the other side, not often spoken of, lead him to try and understand what had happened on the other side.


I am a third of the way through the book and it is very 'Game of Thrones'y. It also makes the history that I did at school a little more relevant. We studied World (mainly the wars) and South African history, but you know what it is like at school. 'Mam, why does this matter?'. 'Sir, when am I ever going to need to know this?'. The challenge for teachers is creating context. With the recent Independence Referendum in Scotland, it suddenly becomes meaningful to see that the same vote in South Africa was only in 1960 and was only a 52% Yes result. My parents were then roughly the same age as I was when the new South Africa was born. The South African Republic was an independent country from 1852-1902. 50 years. Even the Zulu Empire had only started forming 1816-1828, not long before that. South Africa was a Union from 1910-1960. Just 50 years. It was a white only voting republic till 1994. Just 34 years. The new South Africa is just 21 years old. All this stuff changes very quickly and borders seem very random.

Another part of 'The Fall of the Ottomans' that was interesting was just how keen everyone was to get involved in the First World War. Many Aussies and Kiwis had 'helped out' in winning the Second Boer War for Britain. That war wasn't fought in trenches. It was won through the invention of concentration camps and the scorched earth policy of burning farms to stop the successful guerilla tactics of the First Boer War. So many Anzacs had heard tales of adventures to Africa with more Brits dying from disease than in battle. They weren't expecting the brutality of vast loss of life with industrialised warfare. They just wanted to see the world.

Although formed on the back of a war, the idea of 'Third Places' being the source of camaraderie, concern and mateship seems a very appealing model. Borders are random. Friendships are not.
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