AS I SEE IT…. ANZAC DAY 2012

Thomas Mann once said

War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.

I don’t much like ANZAC DAY.. too many bad memories.

Anzac SoldierAs I sit and reflect, my thoughts are of my grandfather, not a hero, just a simple man that embarked on an adventure 97 odd years ago.. He was wounded and returned home.. His adventure over.

He, like alot of young men of the time, changed his surname and added a year or so to his age, just to enlist. He achieved this, but lived to regret the decision for the rest of his life.. You see, it was like this…He, along with many thousands of others had no idea of what they had let themselves in for… We can’t even begin to imagine!! There are countless stories of this horrific time in our history. Nightmares that lasted a lifetime.. Families torn apart by the ravages of war.. How many times have we heard this? Thousands!!

Every year at this time, these memories are relived over and over.. My grandfather married a young lass from Victoria. Like lots of young blokes at the time, they married quickly.. I once asked him why.. His answer..”We were in Love” Stupid of me really..of course they were in love.. He with the adventure and a married man to boot.. My grandmother, put through a living hell.

He went off to foreign shores, she not knowing if he would ever return. He was one of the lucky ones…He did return, but his life was never to be the same.. My recollection of him was that of a “hard bastard” with a deep dark secret, one I never really understood in my growing years.. His medals are confined to a display in an army museum and that’s where they will stay. He wanted no reminder of that time..

He moved to New Zealand and was given a government ballot farm.. 100 acres of prime farmland. He worked it hard, raised a family and tried to put the past behind him.. He could not! Every year at this time, he was reminded of the brutality of Gallipoli, the landing, the slaughter, disease and infection, mud and trenches and “Johnny Turk”

As the years passed, his body slowed, but his mind never did…He never forgot! Every ANZAC day he cried.. I learned this from my father, something I could not understand as a youngster, but in later years, came to know the reason. His tears were filled with sadness and joy. Sadness for those he left behind. Joy, that he was wounded and his hell was over.

I met some of his mates… Hard men, scarred for life because of that horrendous time. Many had turned to booze to help them overcome their youthful adventure, sometimes described as worse than hell itself.. We all have our own stories from family and our own reflections of ANZAC DAY.. The forging of mate-ship between equal men from both sides of the Tasman, fighting for their King & Country. A bond that is still very much alive today and will continue long into the future…

It brings me to a story about a forgotten group of heroes, not from Gallipoli, but from a little known island in the Pacific.. It’s a story, of 17 men who were beheaded on October 15, 1942, along with five other white men on Tarawa in what is now Kiribati.These men were Coast watchers. They had all been tied up to coconut trees in front of Commander Keisuke Matsuo house on Betio.

What happened at around 2pm on 15 October 1942 is not clear. Some say a US warship shelled the island and two aircraft attacked Japanese ships in the lagoon. One of the prisoners may have waved to the planes.

One Japanese soldier stepped forward to the first European in the line and cut his head off. The rest followed in quick succession. They were New Zealanders. Nothing was found of these dead men..

The Americans erected a small memorial to them. They were pretty much forgotten about until recently… But despite orders not to get close to the locals, the radio operators and the soldiers had relationships with the women of the atolls. And they left a number of children. Discretely the New Zealand Government paid for their education. Their many grandchildren can still be found in Kiribati. A monument was erected – paid for by the Australian Government – but had been unable to fend off continued vandalism. Instead of a solemn moment, it is stained with fish guts and human excrement.

The New Zealand bodies were never found although the US Army last year found human remains that may well be New Zealanders. Testing has yet to be completed to confirm it.

There is one last survivor..John Jones. He is 91, and will lay a wreath, driven by the passion that he is the only survivor of a unique group of men. Jones was also the first New Zealand Japanese prisoner of war.

He doesn’t much like Anzac Day either… too many bad memories.

AS I SEE IT…ACCESS

Donald H. Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence once said… “If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

As a double amputee in a wheelchair, access is paramount and something I am passionate about.. Many a time I have been criticised for speaking out on this basic right.. but here’s the thing.. most people tend to sit back and say nothing..I can’t do that.

wheelchair accessFor the past 6 months, I have spent a fair amount of time travelling. Access is a big thing to one such as myself… Hotels, airlines, trains, buses, footpaths, shops let alone bathrooms and public conveniences! Where do I start?

Let’s just look at getting from the Gold Coast to Coolangatta airport for starters. The airport bus works fine…when the bus is capable of lowering the ramp!

Sadly this does not happen all of the time.. They simply do not work! My argument here, is simple…they should not be on the road! They are defective, same applies with “wheelchair taxis” if defective, they need to be withdrawn from service and repaired…simple as that!

Now, I’m probably going to upset a few of you… Gold Coast Airport, as you know, has no air-bridge. Some will argue this is a good thing. Try it from a wheelchair and you soon realise it is not! It is that simple! For this reason, I choose to travel up to Brisbane and fly from there. The trains are fantastic and very accessible and personally, I have never encountered a problem.

Now to the airlines… I could not believe that the particular airline I choose to fly did not have an aisle chair on board the aircraft. UNBELIEVABLE!!

I immediately addressed the issue with this carrier and I am happy to say, whilst there is still no chair on board, they are working toward a solution. You see, no one had ever bothered to point it out to them, so they were unaware of the problem.

The thing here is, they took OWNERSHIP and are working to resolve this issue. I continue to fly with them and have nothing but praise for the way in which they have addressed the issue. No need to jump up and down and create a scene at the airport. I just don’t have that chip on my shoulder.

Most accommodations these days, must provide an accessible room. The definition of accessible varies considerably and this is where the problem arises..What you and I call accessible, I am sure is poles apart. It’s simple…Access into the bathroom, shower and wide enough to cater for most wheelchairs.

With the Commonwealth Games upon us, we need to be thinking about total access now. I put my hand up to advise and assist the GCCC in this process. It simply must be right! In the United States, nothing is left to chance…NOTHING!

Ok, I grant you that the laws there allow for an individual to sue the pants off whoever gets it wrong. They pretty much have it right. Sadly the privilege is abused when it comes to cruising as laws there do not allow them to question your right to an accessible cabin on a ship.

What annoyed me there, was the number of people that abused the right. Climbed into a wheelchair, just to get to the front of the queue, then walked to the buffet or took the lift, simply because they were obese, or just plain lazy. Harsh yes, but fact!

Did I get angry, speak out…absolutely! Was I criticised for doing so, yes! Would I stop and sit back and let this happen NO!

Again, here’s the thing, I don’t care too much about myself, I can and have been speaking out for nearly 40 years as a Broadcaster and Journalist.

I have helped implement change and am proud of that achievement. The people I care about are our “Diggers, the elderly & frail, those that can’t speak out, simply because they are struggling to cope with their daily existence.

This brings me to the point I wish to hammer home…Right now, there is a lot of construction taking place on the Gold Coast with the building of the “LITE RAIL” access for anyone is difficult, let alone those who are frail, elderly, young families with strollers and of course those of us confined to a wheelchair.

I have addressed the issue and whilst the authorities are concerned, sadly they just play “lip service” to the problem and throw a bit of hot mix over the paths with no consideration to those that have to struggle on a daily basis, just to get to their corner store…It needs to be changed…Attitudes need to change as does the planners thinking.

No doubt I will be criticised once again for speaking out, but as I said at the start of this article, quoting from Donald H Rumsfeld…“If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

I hope I am doing something!

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