Eighty-two year old Ted Egan is definitely an Australian ageing in style.
For an hour-and-a-half, he held his audience spellbound as he presented an ANZAC history. As he pointed out, ANZAC is the acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which fought against the Turks at Gallipoli in 1915.
Ted Egan is a consummate entertainer. He is also a skilled historian, as his show demonstrated. A beautifully made video of images of old Diggers (soldiers) and war photos created the backdrop.
Ted spoke specifically about John Simpson, a legendary who enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces in Perth in 1914. Simpson became a stretcher bearer during the Gallipoli Campaign. He obtained a donkey and used it to carry wounded soldiers from the front line to the beach until his death in 1915.
The themes of Ted Egan’s performance were his abhorrence of war and violence, and the need to honour the brave men and women involved in such atrocities. He used many of his own songs and some other well-known World War I songs to illuminate these twin themes.
Revulsion against war and the recognition of the bravery of men and women involved leave me feeling very conflicted. As a rule, I avoid mainstream ANZAC commemorations. At smaller ceremonies such as those staged by Hollywood Primary School, where some of my grandchildren are involved, it is somehow easier to acknowledge bravery and ignore the stupidity of British commanding officers who ordered Australians to face almost certain death at Gallipoli.
Altogether, during World War I over 61,500 Australians lost their lives. Over 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.As a small child during World War II, I experienced a little of the gruesomeness of that War, although at second hand.
My father was man-powered. He was unable to enlist because of the importance of his work as a cardboard-box maker. Goods from clothes and food to ammunition had to be securely packaged for shipping to arenas of war.
Someone placed a white feather in our letterbox. My father was devastated by the implication that he was a coward. Our little family suffered deeply from this act of thoughtless ignorance.
In spite of my memories, or perhaps because of them, I found myself fully engaged, immersed even, in what unfolded on the stage in this one-person show. Not only did we cry. At times we also laughed.
I wasn’t the only one in the audience at the Perth Town Hall who wept as Ted Egan performed. Perhaps older people were saddened by their own memories of war. Perhaps like me, they were reminded of the sadness of their mothers, aunts and grandmothers.
My seventeen-year-old niece sat next to me. She too, wiped away tears. I salute the generations much younger than me for their sensitivity and understanding of the issues that surround wars.
Ted Egan was chosen to join the ranks of prestigious Australian National Living Treasures for his achievements in the fields of entertainment, activism and administration.
According to the Australian National Trust, ‘National Living Treasures are exceptional Australians with substantial and enduring accomplishments in their field. We celebrate their achievements and acknowledge that they are as diverse as Australia itself.’
Thanks to the Board and Executive of Heritage Perth for this event.
A special thank you, Ted Egan!