Teacher and Writer
THE SYDNEY HEADS
14 August 2016
The photo above shows the view from Balmoral Beach to the Sydney Heads, the gateway from the Pacific Ocean into Sydney Harbour.
Recently I spent a rather magical afternoon at the North Head Sanctuary, exploring the bushland, the views across to South Head, back to the city and far ahead over the ocean. As beautiful clouds formed and the sun began to set over the city, a cruise ship made its way out of the harbour and into the sea, with its passengers undoubtedly enjoying more luxuries than the convicts who entered the harbour on the First Fleet in 1787/88.
Even the long 22-hour flight from Europe to Australia makes you aware of the remoteness of this continent, but how much more must this have been felt by the sea travellers of the First Fleet whose voyage took approximately 35 weeks.
In 2012, a beautiful memorial walk was established in the North Head Sanctuary that commemorates the contributions Australian soldiers have made in military conflicts. Considering the remoteness of Australia, its inhabitants could be forgiven for staying out of international conflicts and living a life of splendid isolation, but they don't. As British colony and later as member of the British Commonwealth, Australia has taken part in military conflicts for more than two centuries and has made huge sacrifices, with more than 100,000 lives lost in the two World Wars alone. The memorial walk lovingly commemorates these sacrifices in different stations, with separate areas dedicated to the Colonial Wars, the World Wars, the conflicts since 1945, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars, and also the military peace keeping operations all over the world.
This informative memorial walk that remembers so much bloodshed and loss of life stands in stark contrast to its peaceful location, which in many ways makes it all the more poignant.
Thinking of Gallipoli, a year after the centenary celebrations, and contrasting this with the peaceful scene before my eyes, with the cruise ship slowly disappearing towards the horizon in the fading evening light, reminded me of a famous passage from Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust. The scene is a walk that the protagonist Faust takes on Easter Sunday, listening to the chatter of ordinary folk in times when military conflicts in a different country had little bearing on the rest of the world. One of the folk idling their time away says:
On Sundays, holidays, there’s naught I take delight in,
Like gossiping of war, and war’s array,
When down in Turkey, far away,
The foreign people are a-fighting.
One at the window sits, with glass and friends,
And sees all sorts of ships go down the river gliding:
And blesses then, as home he wends
At night, our times of peace abiding.
Gone are the days when it was safe to do this: enjoy a glass of wine and celebrating that the war in a far-away country has nothing to do with us. Few monuments will be more effective in bringing home to us the message that we live in a globalised world where military conflicts have the potential to affect us all than this memorial walk at the North Head with its impressive demonstration of Australia's commitment to the world so far away from their own.