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For many migrants ANZAC Day symbolises soldiers wearing a slouch hats who fought in the fields of Gallipoli in 1915. However, over the last one hundred years this image has slowly changed. ANZAC Day has come to mean a day where the nation pays tribute to veterans from different wars and from culturally diverse backgrounds.
By
Olga Klepova

17 May 2016 - 12:24 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2016 - 12:25 PM

On ANZAC Day Australians across the country  commemorate those who served, those who fought and those who perished in the Australian and New Zealand forces. But over time the significance of the day has extended to those who were on the opposite side of the battles. Now ANZAC marches on 25th April are open to all former Australian servicemen and servicewomen and their descendants.

In 2006, Victoria's RSL gave permission for descendants of Turkish World War I veterans the right to join the ANZAC Day march.

In 2006, Victoria's RSL gave permission for descendants of Turkish World War I veterans the right to join the ANZAC day march. Director of Exhibitions and Collections at The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne Jean McAuslan, says their works reflect a feeling of embracing different nations into one Australian culture. She describes a recent exhibition on an internment camp in Central Victoria's Tatura during WWII.

"Certainly it very much drew out how our society had changed over time and in this case as the result of war, for example, the people who were there as prisoners: the Italians, Germans, Japanese  did have to go back to their country of origin at the end of the war. But the Italians in particular had been so popular at working with local farmers which they were able to do while they were in captivity and interned, that family sometimes sponsored them to come back and live in Australia."

The Australian War Memorial says many of the 420,000 Australians enlisted during the Second World War came from diverse backgrounds.

Sankar Nadeson is of Indian background and works with ethnic communities at RSL* Victoria and Legacy in Melbourne. Despite growing up in England and wearing poppies since childhood on Remembrance Day, he never connected his family history with ANZAC. It wasn't until he started working with war widows that he realised the cultural diversity of the ANZAC's and questioned  his own story.

"I asked my aunty and she said yes, your grandfather actually fought in the British Army in Malaysia and I had no idea, completely no idea. I didn't actually connect to the ANZAC story or to any of the stories of the conflict in war through the imperial forces or the Australian Defence Force on a very personal level in relationship to my history and my family."

Approximately 200 Chinese migrants fought in World War I for Australia.

The Australian War Memorial says many of the 420,000 Australians enlisted during the Second World War came from diverse backgrounds. They include Indigenous Australians, and those with British, Asian, Greek and Northern European backgrounds. Approximately 200 Chinese migrants fought in World War One for Australia. While working with the Australia China Youth Association Sankar Nadeson says his students were unfamiliar with ANZAC's multicultural makeup.

"Many of the students hadn't recognized or realized that there was such a thing as Chinese ANZACS. We produced a very contemporary sort of format of art work, street art stencils of Chinese ANZACS, one of those was street art ANZAC stencil artwork of Billy Sing who was a very significant sniper in World War One."

Born in China, of Russian heritage Alex Ilyin settled in Australia over 50 years ago. Serving in the army opened his view of Australian culture.

The revelation brought more than just knowledge.

"When they saw a Chinese person with a slouch hat, they recognized that they actually have a very key part of history, they have been involved in Australian history they are not peripheral."

Born in China, of Russian heritage Alex Ilyin settled in Australia over 50 years ago. Serving in the army opened his view of Australian culture.

I have worked closely shoulder to shoulder with dinky die Aussies from the country and that helped me immensely to understand the Australian way of life, the speech, the language the customs, you name it.

"I came to Australia in '59 I was called up in '67. My English was not quite up to scratch and my understanding of the way, the life in Australia was still very much from the perspective of a newly arrived migrant. Serving two years in Australian army really opened my eyes. I have worked closely shoulder to shoulder with dinky die Aussies from country and that helped me immensely to understand the Australian way of life, the speech, the language the customs, you name it."

When we came from Vietnam, a lot of us were told: 'OK, civilian clothes, and don't show up anywhere', because there was a very anti-Vietnam feeling in Australia.

But for some soldiers and their descendants there's a bitter taste when they return from active duty.
Upon returning from the Vietnam War, Alex Ilyin remembers public opinion was against the conflict.
 
"When we came from Vietnam, a lot of us were told: 'OK, civilian clothes, and don't show up anywhere', because there was a very anti-Vietnam feeling in Australia. So we, people who were sent by our government to fight for Australia, came back and had to hide, pardon the expression, almost in shame."

Since 1987 Alex has not missed the ANZAC Day march with his unit.

When the public recognizes returned soldiers it's a comforting process that contributes to the nation's healing.

"But 10 to 15 years later under Bob Hawke, Australia recognized our input and the wrong which has happened to all the people who served, so it was a big welcome home parade. From all over Australia, people flew to Sydney at Government expense and we marched through streets of Sydney and from there onwards we held our heads high and very proud. We've done what was required from us by our country."

Sikh soldiers no longer felt like strangers in Australian society.

Sankar Nadeson also worked with the Sikh community  and says when the public recognizes returned soldiers it's a comforting process that contributes to the nation's healing.

"When people see us or see you for what you have contributed for what you have done then there is a great deal of healing there and you can then go forward confidently in society."

 
He says Sikh soldiers no longer felt like strangers in Australian society.
 
" When I worked at a Sikh temple with over a hundred community members, they actually felt that they were not the other any longer."

There is a wish, on the part of people who I have come into contact with, to be a part of it, to engage with a very significant day in Australia's history.

Sankar Nadeson believes that due to the recognition of its veterans, the Sikh community feels more integrated into the Australian community.
     
"Sometimes you recognize that you are different to the wider community, but when there are things that are cohesive and bring people together, you feel Australian, you actually feel that this is what Australia is. So the Sikh community actually had the recognition that they were inextricably connected to this community not another."

Through his work with different ethnic communities Mr Nadenon observed how each community approaches the day, revealing their innate traditions.

People from culturally diverse backgrounds want to connect with ANZAC Day.

"In the Sikh culture it's very serious, there's a very serious tone, because they have got the warrior saint traditions, but at the same time there is always a sense of celebration and so they were very colourful. Then you have Maori community. And I saw lot of the traditional Maori elements coming into the work, not only of course the fern which is on the flag but a lot of the Maori indigenous culture that non-Maori people, New Zealanders actually embrace."

Mr Nadeson describes connection in the Chinese culture to the ancestors.  

"Then you have the Chinese community and everything is red, it's red for Remembrance but it's also red for prosperity. When they make pictures of Chinese Diggers they actually had the very strong link and deep respect to a sense of ancestral belonging."

There is a continuation of ANZAC tradition. My son went into the military forces, he served as a regular in Iraq, Timor, and Solomon Island as a peace keeper, so the tradition is well and alive.

Preparing exhibitions for The Shrine of Remembrance Jean McAuslan works with multicultural communities of Victoria. She says people from culturally diverse backgrounds want to connect with ANZAC day.

"My observation is that there is a wish, on the part of people who I have come into contact with, to be a part of it, to engage with a very significant day in Australia's history."

On the 25 of April Alex Ilyin will march to Shrine of Remembrance with his unit. And just a few rows behind  his son will march along. Belonging to different war generation, he carries on the tradition of ANZAC day.

"There is a continuation of ANZAC tradition. My son went into the military forces, he served as a regular in Iraq, Timor, and Solomon Island as a peace keeper, so the tradition is well and alive."

*The Returned and Services League

For more information on Australia's ANZAC Day traditions visit the Australian War Memorial's website.