Yesterday was Anzac Day, so I took my husband to the local pub to meet a friend there and to let him see the famous game of Two Up. Two Up is a betting game that was made illegal at some point, that involves tossing 3 King George pennies up in the air from a wooden block, after all bets are placed and to the cry of “Come in spinner!” Side bets are placed around the square and main bets are placed with the spinner.
I’ve only ever played it once, a long time ago at the Northern Star Hotel in Newcastle. I was 19 and drunk and the crowd and the game was exhilerating. Money passed around, the crowd roared, drinks were sploshed and everyone was generally pretty merry. Our local these days is a much smaller pub, in a much smaller town.
The affair was pretty dismal in comparison, and we came too late in the day as well. None the less, I was keen to watch but couldn’t play, being poor enough to buy 2 beers and little else. I couldn’t imagine holding up a $2 coin and yelling out “Heads?”. No one would bet against that. Also, I couldn’t remember how to bet. So I asked a friendly looking couple by the bar what the rules were. And the bloke, in his infinite Aussiedome, says to me –
You aren’t an Aussie, are you?
Strike a match and a fire will burn. And a mighty fire burst within me. I replied calmly enough, that yes, I was, but I’d been overseas for a few years and hadn’t played the game in a long time. Now it’s tomorrow and the fire still rages. And I’d like to question that bloody notion of what “Aussie” is meant to be.
I’ve stood at dawn and observed the silence of mourning, I’ve measured the loss to the nation, my blood tingles at the sound of the Last Post.
I’ve cried tears for soldiers I’ve never met, reflected deeply on what the magnitude of slaughter did to the remainder who stayed behind, how that affected the next generations to come; the men that were missing, the husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, boyfriends, friends and neighbours who never returned, or who did and could never belong again.
But beyond that: I’ve felt the deepest of griefs and sorrow for a nation that was slaughtered and hung, for babies that were smashed into smithereens, for women who were raped and slit and shot and used as prostitutes, for elders who watched their culture shrivel and die beneath them.
I’ve grieved for creatures shot and starved and felled out of existence, for lands raped and punished, for forests vanished and wetlands withered and sucked dry, for birds that no longer fly and all the poisonous creatures that have been killed simply for existing.
But more: I’ve walked barefoot in bush that was kind to me, that told me its secrets and welcomed me in. I’ve swum in a sea that told me how to survive it, that taught me how to allow it and when to know that the depths were not for me. I’ve seen women and men in spirits, communed with them both in the land of waking and in the land of dreams. I’ve been a part of them in dreams, I’ve been places in my dreams that I’ve never been in real life, that are as they were in my dreams. I’ve walked in the dreamtime. An elder has taken me to sacred sites, because he knew that we were of the same spirit.
I’m a first generation Australian. My parents came from a Europe recovering from two world wars. They came here because these original people, and this land, suffered under the auspices of “Aussies”. I have acknowledged that, in my heart, and have felt sorrow and the genuine urge to make peace, to belong, and not to shape this country to my will, but rather to what it is.
Now I think about that ignorant git in the pub, and his apparent superiority about being ‘true blue’, and I wonder – he might have those outward trappings, might know the rules to Two Up and how to play rugby and how to diss anyone that’s different – but can he look a blackfella in the eye and feel equal?