My father fought, alongside friends
returned with memories, many dead
while he still lived, a jagged edge
ready to shoot at shadows, noises overhead.

Nobody spoke of PTSD
soldiers returned, we set them free
Dad had no time for return service leagues
he said ‘the loudest there had done the least’
so instead alone, he calmed down at home
over the years, medals, photos reappearing.

It takes so long for a man to mourn
the mates not turning twenty-four
After WW1 we built memorials in stone
the names of the dead written down
in every suburb, city, and town.
They’re still there.
Statues, odalisques, granite shrines
sometimes three brothers, line by line, saying
they fought, they died, in terrible noble sacrifice’
but of that war they never say why.

After WW2, instead
memorials were built as council pools
families could gather to honour the dead,
by swimming, not drowning.
We became a nation of champion swimmers.

Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan
We keep fighting in these distant lands
Fighting for what, at what cost?
And who makes up these clever plans?
'Cos we don’t see their names carved in stone,
reasons they gave, excuses they made, for war!
Lest we remember.

The previous Government allocated half a billion dollars,
For expanding the Canberra War Memorial
to better represent all our wars
but somehow, somehow, somehow
they forgot to include the war that killed most Australians of all.

20-30k Aboriginal and 2-5k European people,
died fighting our Frontier Wars
but this ignores related deaths
from disease and dispossession.

The first fleet arrived with smallpox in jars, for medicinal purposes
Then came influenza, TB, chicken pox, measles, whooping cough,

Before colonisation 750 thousand people occupied this land
By 1900, just one tenth of that number remained!
That’s a loss of Australian lives six
times greater than WW1 and WW2 combined.

And they are still dying in our jails … for no good reason.

Alan Pentland 2020

Alan Pentland has worked in communications, written scripts for movies and television series, written and performed poetry, and been a stand-up comedian.

Picture credit: Bodies of dead soldiers, probably all Australian, killed during the Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915 (https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C386282)

Mar 20, 2024

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