What will the national attitude towards Anzac Day be in 50 years? We have no idea. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
What will the national attitude towards Anzac Day be in 50 years? We have no idea. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Will the next generation care about Anzac Day?

IT HAPPENS every year and it will doubtless happen again today - the social media post decrying Anzac Day as a celebration of violence and a toxic relic of a colonial past.

Last year it was Melbourne writer Catherine Deveny who declared Anzac Day "f - king disgusting'', adding she was delighted to hear the chorus increasing every year decrying the national holiday.

"It's a Trojan Horse for racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, violence, homophobia and discrimination," Deveny wrote.

The comments were perfectly acceptable in a liberal democracy such as ours, if perhaps lacking a little oomph.

How about dismissing the entire day as "bloody wastefulness'' then describing the returned servicemen and women marking Anzac Day today as: "A screaming tribe of great, stupid, drunken, vicious, bigoted no-hopers"?

You don't even have to use the F- word to enhance the shock value, and the impact would doubtless generate a few "likes'' among a woke younger generation which, quite appropriately, enjoy challenging the older one.

In fact, Alan Seymour wrote those words more than 60 years ago and put them into the mouth of character Hughie Cook in his play, The One Day of the Year. Written in the late 1950s, the play only hit theatres in the 1960s just as the Baby Boomers were flooding Australian universities.

Australian accents on stage were becoming fashionable after the groundbreaking 1955 play The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and Australia's rising generation, taking their cue from American and European campuses, were about to re-engineer the political, sexual and cultural dynamics of a nation.

Actors Max Cullen and Nathaniel Dean in Sydney Theatre Company play The One Day of the Year in 2003. Picture: Tracey Schramm
Actors Max Cullen and Nathaniel Dean in Sydney Theatre Company play The One Day of the Year in 2003. Picture: Tracey Schramm

Seymour's play pits young Hughie and his girlfriend Jan, both about to document the drunken antics of the Anzac Day afternoon in a brutally satirical report for their university's newspaper, against Hughie's dad, Alf.

Alf, a returned serviceman who has as a best mate "Wacka'' who fought at Gallipoli, is a magnificent caricature of a mid-20th century, bigoted Australian male.

Seymour captures an Australian language largely lost, which allows Alf to dismiss son Hughie as "a jumped up little twerp", while cheerfully attacking immigrants such as the "Poms'' and the "Eyties'' (Italians).

The play reinforces a reality that many 21st century Anzac Day critics may not appreciate.

Anzac Day is not inscribed in stone.

It wasn't anointed by some mountain top deity as a national day, nor has its significance been recognised by Australians in a uniform manner across the century.

As Dr Mark Cryle - author and honorary researcher with the University of Queensland who completed his doctorate on Queensland's first Anzac Day commemorations - points out, the first Anzac Day parade in Brisbane in 1916 was too confronting for many spectators as the wounded were paraded through the city centre, dampening enthusiasm for the 1917 and 1918 event.

It wasn't even until 1927 that the day, by then firmly in the hands of the RSL, was marked as a national holiday.

Although its relevance and gravitas were intensified by World War II to incorporate the memory of all wars, little more than 20 years after troops had returned home their kids, enriched and privileged by the post-war economic boom, were streaming on to the streets to decry the military's involvement in Vietnam, and, like the fictional Hughie, loudly ridiculing Anzac Day.

Vietnam War protesters demonstrate during the Anzac Day dawn service in Adelaide in 1968. Picture: News Corp Australia
Vietnam War protesters demonstrate during the Anzac Day dawn service in Adelaide in 1968. Picture: News Corp Australia

Cryle points out the '90s brought a resurgence of interest (possibly helped along by a Conservative government under John Howard) leading up to the present where Anzac Day unquestionably has a powerful hold on Australians, even in the face of a cultural diversity which has turned the fictional "Alf'' into an historical anachronism in his own country.

As Cryle further points out, the future will reshape our attitudes toward Anzac Day in such a way that no one can credibly claim to predict how it will be marked in 50 years' time.

The only certainty is that Anzac Day's long-term future lies in the hands of a generation just being born and, hopefully, they will be permitted to frame it in precisely the manner that suits the majority.

Seymour's play beautifully captures the wisdom of an old Australian soldier when Gallipoli veteran "Wacka", turns gently on his gormless mate, Alf, and defends young Hughie's right to say and think whatever he likes about Anzac Day: "Any fightin' we ever did, you 'n' me, in any wars, it was to give him that right,'' Wacka says.

"And if we don't agree with what he thinks - well, it's his world. We've had it. He's got it all ahead of him."

@madiganm