Friday, April 30, 2010

True Anzac a real work of art

One old Digger was on my mind more than any other on Anzac Day - Ted Matthews.Of all the Anzac troops who stormed ashore at Gallipoli on that most iconic day, April 25, 1915, Ted was the one who lived longest. He died at age 101 in 1997.
I had the great fortune to help uncover his fascinating tale a couple of years earlier.
I wrote a big story about him which, I like to think, had something to do with him receiving a visit on his 100th birthday from then Prime Minister John Howard and the Turkish ambassador in Canberra.
My wife cooked some Anzac biscuits for his birthday, which I remember with a chuckle he wasn't keen to share with our national leader.
Ted spoke such good, old-fashioned common sense, even as a centenarian.
I visited him a few times at his nursing home in northern Sydney, and asked him once to define what it was to be an Aussie.
"An Australian," he replied after great deliberation,"is someone who can see the humour in anything."
I think of Ted often.
I spent his final Anzac Day riding with him in a cab in the procession through Sydney.
It was a rare privilege, and a great joy to see thousands of people waving at him. He got quite a few kisses along the way, too.
I thought of him particularly this Anzac Day as a week earlier I found to my delight how he struck a similar chord in someone else.
I was viewing the finalists for the Gallipoli art prize when I noticed one was a portrait of Ted.
The notes accompanying the work moved me greatly, and I would love to share them with you.
"In 1996 I had the great honour to sketch and chat with Mr Matthews," commented Victorian artist Alistair (Archie) Graham.
"After many stories, personal notes and sketches, I asked Ted to remember his mates.
"He went deathly quiet, gazed down and pushed his old, wrinkled hand over his heart.
"In that one moment of a gesture, I instantly heartfelt an emotion which we call the mateship of the Anzac, the loyalty, love of country, respect, comradeship, the eloquence of an old man's simple gesture.
"One which I really cannot capture in words. It was felt in my heart and soul, and this is what I have desired to capture."
I wish Ted had been around to hear those words.
At least he was able, right at the end of his life, to get some idea of the esteem and gratitude we all feel for the sacrifice made by Ted and his mates - all 416,000 of them in the Great War and 1.8 million in the past 95 years.
I am so glad I was able to play a part in relaying Ted's story. For me he epitomised the true Anzac.
The artist who painted Ted actually set out to paint the Gallipoli landings.
"But the fallen corpses of 19-year-old men saddened me so profoundly I had to stop," he wrote. "I opted instead to capture the love and pride I feel for someone so dear to Australia's essence and character."
He closed with three little words which explain why we make this fuss every year. "Lest we forget."

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