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Saturday, 25 April 2015

It's "catafalque", not "catapult" ...

This year with the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in Turkey by Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) I woke early from a dream - there, I was discussing my favourite Italian authors with an old friend who had never in real life read the language - and decided to catch the media feed before the sun came up. It wasn't long before I could hear the marching band playing in Martin Place, the sound of the music carrying across Darling Harbour to me through the open balcony windows as a heavy military helicopter roamed, flashing red and blue, across the pre-dawn sky. I tuned into ABC 702 Sydney and caught part of the Sydney service before the feed switched to the service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

I was happy to hear Able Seaman Alan Patterson of the Gunggandji people (pictured; credit: Alex Ellinghausen) play the didgeridoo this year for the first time but at the end of the service I wasn't pleased to hear that the ABC broadcast would not carry the secondary service for Aboriginal soldiers which apparently is held every year at a special memorial installed for the purpose behind the AWM on Mt Ainslie.

But the Anzac service itself is wonderfully short. There is the occasional Christian hymn just to remind us which particular brand of theism has the franchise on this annual antipodean event. So I was brought to remember many of the old hymns from my days as a private school boy when I wore the approved grey woolen uniform at the annual services staged to mark events on the school calendar, such as the end-of-term service. It took me back to those days. And I teared up when the pipes started skirling; I'm a total sucker for bagpipes and will cry automatically as soon as I hear them play.

The words from Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison AO were delivered in a regimental tenor, in something between a bark and a growl. I remembered Morrison's televised reproof of Australian servicepeople who failed to respect women and shuddered inwardly. He has lost none of his vocal power in the years since that famous TV appearance. And he spoke of making the world a better place, which I found appropriate and reassuring. You want your military to have a responsible goal, after all.

While military lore and practice appears to be in good health in Australia - the catafalque party presented and shouldered arms at the right moments in the ceremony - the same can't be said for the ABC 702 presenter who came on the radio after the service in Canberra finished. Robby Buck misheard a caller who had spoken of the "catafalque party" and thought he had said "catapult party", which is just too bizarre, especially from a radio announcer who has been given a big job for the Anzac Day gig. I think Mark Scott should take Buck aside and have a quiet word with him. Or else get him to read some of Arthur Rimbaud's verses - French poetry abounds in ceremonial terminology.

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