This time around the Melbourne Age featured commentary by both Tracee Hutchison and Michael Leunig. It's hard to decide which was the most curiously disordered.
I'll start with Tracee's column. She doesn't like the idea that there might be reason to honour previous generations of Australians. After all, Australia was a bad place from day one. Think Botany Bay circa 1770, she writes.
What's worse, those 300,000 Australian volunteers in WWI signed up when the White Australia policy was in place:
That was a hundred years ago. Food for thought, isn't it? ... Yet that was the prevailing social and political mood that shaped the thinking of those young men who willingly signed up when WWI was declared in 1914. That was their idea of the freedom they were defending.
Bad diggers! Tracee then confesses that:
I don't know anyone who would have volunteered to fight in a war as a teenager ... none of us can imagine doing what they did. Does that make us cowards?
That the men in Tracee's social circle can't imagine signing up is no great surprise. What have they got to fight for? If you think that your country has a past which renders it morally illegitimate, then you have no tradition to love and feel responsible for. I wonder, though, how Tracee thinks her morally illegitimate Australia might defend itself in any future conflict.
Anyway, at least Tracee has been consistent to this point. Things get worse when she adds multi-layered contradictions to her position:
What kind of Australia did our diggers die defending and what kind of Australia did they imagine we would become? Have we let them down?
Are the fear-laced policies of our Government what our original diggers had in mind when they enlisted? Or were they thinking of a different kind of Australia - at peace with its past, its present and future?
... And why does all of it have to come with an Australian flag draped around its shoulders? It frightens me.
A few paragraphs ago they were bad diggers dying to defend the discriminatory White Australia policy. Now they are suddenly good, noble diggers who would feel let down by the discriminatory policies of today.
A few paragraphs ago Tracee was telling us of our evil past. Now she's complaining that we as a country are not at peace with our own past.
And, to cap it all off, Tracee then complains that our Government is "fear-laced" and yet in the very next paragraph announces that she is frightened by ... the sight of an Australian flag!
From the apprentice leftist Tracee Hutchison we move to the old master, the cartoonist and columnist Michael Leunig. He pushes the idea of identifying with the "other" just about as far as it can go - so far, in fact, that it should make sensible readers question the whole process.
His opening contribution to Anzac Day is to praise a rude Turk:
I knew a Turkish man who owned a coffee shop around the corner from where I used to live. Ten Anzac Days ago I went to his shop for a morning coffee to be greeted by his wicked smile and twinkling eyes: "Good morning Michael," he said. "Happy Anzac Day. This is the special day," he declared with mock formality, "to remember that all invading armies must be thrown back into the sea."
I have to say, it was not such a bad way to start the morning.
Leunig is just warming to the task. His next topic is how great the multicultural Western suburbs of Melbourne are (he knows because a friend told him - Leunig himself lives far away in country Victoria). According to Leunig (via his friend) it is African, Asian and Muslim immigrants who are true to the Australian tradition unlike the stupid and boring Anglos:
a delightful aspect of being among so many Africans, Asians and Muslims is the spirited good humour, lively thinking and sincerity that they generate ... "They are what the dinkum, working-class Aussies used to be when we were growing up," says my friend. "They keep the spirit alive, they've got the humour; they remind me of what Australians were like before we became so stupid, boring and up ourselves, like the Americans.
There follows a sustained attack on Anglo Australia circa 1955. Leunig, to borrow a phrase from Tracee Hutchison, is not at all at peace with Australia's past.
First he recalls singing Onward Christian Soldiers at school, a hymn he categorises as a "melodramatic Anglo jihad song". Then on Anzac Day he, poor soul, was forced to sing:
a racist song called Recessional about the glory of battle, boastful Gentiles, "lesser breeds wihout the law" and our rightful domination of their lands ...
Rudyard Kipling's anthem lingered like mustard gas in the schoolyard where we played "war" and invented new torture techniques for various imaginary non-white and non-English speaking undesirables.
The mind boggles at Australian schoolboys of that era even being aware of various non-white, non-English speaking peoples, let alone focusing their schoolyard play on their torture. Leunig is really cranking up the vilification here.
Leunig even gets the message of Kipling's poem Recessional wrong. The poem was published in 1897 at the time of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Kipling thought the English were becoming a little too overconfident and wanted to remind them of the decay of nations which, on rising to prominence, became boastful and power hungry and lost a sense of the higher purposes their civilisation once served.
Kipling at the time was strongly anti-German. He not only saw the Germans as a threat to the English, but believed them to be arrogant and motivated by power alone, and therefore uncivilised. So the line "lesser breeds without the law" is usually thought to refer to the Germans, rather than to any non-European colonial peoples.
Leunig also remembers celebrating Guy Fawkes Day as a boy. He calls Guy Fawkes "the famous terrorist bomber" and "the bomb-making terrorist", once again attempting none too subtly to place our own culture on the same plane with that of the jihadist suicide bombers.
Finally, Leunig describes a novel, Breakfast of Champions, in which a visiting writer insults the sporting achievements of some philistine citizens of a small town and is beaten up. Leunig writes that "This tale often helps me to understand Australia". Leunig appears to be suggesting that, having used Anzac Day to spit in our eye, we are to value his artistic spittle highly, otherwise we are hostile, violent philistines.
Would anyone want to end up like Leunig? Would we really want to inhabit a mental world in which we seek to vilify our own tradition in an exaggerated way, deliberately ascribing to it the worst faults identified in other traditions, whilst giving over to others the best features of our own?
Leunig is not a misunderstood prophet. The insults, the disloyalty and the intent to do damage are all too clear in what he writes.
When you end up applying hatred to your own kind, isn't it time to reconsider your politics?