Thursday, 27 January 2005

Military Tattoo in Canberra

A few hours ago, Carmel, Andrew and I got back from the precinct of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where we got an Australia Day performance from the bands of the Edinborough Military Tattoo. We got there a little late, as Andrew hadn't had his afternoon nap by 5pm (and he gets very rambuctious indeed when he's tired), so we missed the start. But not the Finale.

There's something about the skirl of a hundred pipers at sunset.

The most moving part for me wasn't the lone piper on the War Memorial, it was the playing of the National Anthems of our visitors from the UK, then our own.

When "God Save the Queen" started up, the crowd sang in a low murmer, almost a whisper. Most knew the words - for until the early 70's, it was our National Anthem too, and there were many, many Diggers and their families to whom this was still "their" anthem. "Advance Australia Fair" started up immediately thereafter, but the note of reverence continued. This time, there were somewhat more singers, but still singing in a low, almost shy murmur.

10's of thousands of people, of all ages, singing quietly under their breath, as the Sun slowly sank below the mountains.

After the performance was over, we hung around, taking our time getting back to the car, as there were quite a few tens of thousands of people on-site, and road access and egress was limited. So we got a good look at the Governor-General's party as it departed, followed shortly thereafter by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

There was some widespread but quiet applause as John Howard approached his car - and not a single catcall. The day was too special for partisanship. Security was tight (by Australian standards) too, there must have been almost a dozen police within a hundred metres. Certainly none near us, and we had an unobstructed view from about 10 metres away. The three "men in black" (actually one was female) with earphones and bulges under their coats that we'd spotted on arrival were well out of sight. The crowd just hung back, giving the official party space, with only the merest hint by the odd police officer in blue overalls as to where to stand.

I'm tremendously lucky, and very grateful, to be living in a country like Australia, and a city like Canberra. A place where there's still less security required for a major event than for a Church Fete in the UK, or a Hollywood party thrown by a third-rate celebrity. Maybe it was the Royal Marines, the Ghurkas, and the Brigade of Guards whose bandsmen were a hundred metres away, but I don't think so. It was the fact that Canberra is a pleasant backwater at the Arse end of the world, and we try to keep trouble at arm's length. We've donated billions to "our neighbours" in Indonesia, and indeed, we consider them our neighbours. But Aceh, and Bali, are as further away from Canberra as Baghdad is from London, or Paris from New York.

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