My Anzac Story

Jayden Rivers, 17 years old, reflects on how war has moulded his family history and his own outlook on the future.

This year, my school, Rosebank College Community, has been helping my mother with the installation of an ANZAC Centenary Garden at the entrance of the Concord Repatriation General Hospital, funded by Rotary. This is the hospital where all the servicemen who needed medical attention came to from World War Two onwards. My grandfather Frank died in this hospital after receiving much care and respect.

With ANZAC day fast approaching, it gives us leave in reflecting on what’s happened, what’s come about, and what it means for our shared future. It is a monument to our past and to hopes that, lest we forget, something so horrendous as war will never again spring up on that scale.

My family’s experience of war begun with my great-great-grandfather Joseph Josephson. His parents, Israel and Henrietta, died in a carriage accident driving through the Western-European Black Forest.This was also the forest that saw the Franco-Prussian war, also the war in which Joseph was captured. Having tasted the pangs and gloom of war that slowly overtook countries, he escaped and truanted to London where he learned to read and write English. He moved to Melbourne in 1871, felt his way around the place, and then to Cooktown Queensland where he became a wine merchant for a time. Somewhere between 1879 and 1881 he received training as a jeweller and never looked back, opening his own business in Blayney. He married his true love, Martha Anne Fitzgibbon, and they had six children. His son, William Montefiore Josephson, was my great-grandfather.

William Josephson was the first of my family to see the world at war with itself. He was the 226th Australian to be recruited. Some as young as 14 spilled through recruiting. Others, like Josephson, were 21. Without him and others in the trenches, on the battle-field, on their fronts and backs, crawling, kneeling, squinting, crawling once again, Australia might not be the place it is today. William was an ANZAC, and is still remembered. He lived in Young, became a leader in the local council, married, but was never the same upon his return. None of them were. Yet in his community, it was said of him that he “has never known fear” and that he was a “spontaneous giver.” It was true of the war that many suffered the mental ailments of trauma and horror, but it was people like Bill who made Australia a respite for those returning, who remained altruistic despite the blood dripped dreams of war’s washed out scenes.

William and his wife, May, had three children upon his return. Of them, Frank and Norma became notable members of the WWII soldiers and service leagues. They are my grandfather and my great aunt. I never knew Frank as he passed before my time. But Norma I know well, seeing her on visitations, Christmases and special occasions. Norma is wise and earnest. She is modest in her past. But many of us know that she was a RAN – a member of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, a war defence that enlisted 3000 women across the course of WWII. Her and her brother Frank saw the tempest out before the clear. But eventually both returned from war and moved to Sydney.

It has been years since a world war, years since Australians were conscripted and shipped away half-proud and half-resentful of their national fate. But today there is less courage, less cultural identity, and more of the ugly side of nationalism. Many, including myself, have mistaken ANZAC day for a glorification of war and ill-treatment of those who were once deemed ‘hostile’ in the face of sovereign clashes. But true nationalism, true state sovereignty, is that which is dynamic and accepting of all people from all cultures. It is the sign of a compassionate Australia that we are in pursuit of cultural understanding wherever we may find it. It is on this ANZAC day that we remember the Australians who have been recruited into all “wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.” We remember and pay respect to the allies, and the enemies, who died and fought for what they believed was right. That’s not to say that they were always right.

I acknowledge the evil side of war as well as the courage and mateship that the three generations before me expressed during times of immense duress. I must, however, also acknowledge and celebrate how times have changed as well as acknowledge that conflict still plagues our society. There is bullying at schools, maltreatment in prisons, violent clashes on our streets and distress behind the closed doors of family homes.

It was through my family, the Josephson’s, along with the many other threads of blood, that we found peace and a multifaceted Australian existence. This ANZAC day is not simply to celebrate Australia in all its beauty and ugliness, but also the world in all of its presence and progression towards a greater global peace. A celebration of difference. A subtle nod in contemplation of the past.

Callan Park War Memorial

This replica of Sydney Harbour Bridge was made and installed in Callan Park by Douglas Grant, an Aboriginal WW1 veteran, with the help of other servicemen receiving treatment at the Callan Park Repatriation Wards. It was opened by the NSW Governor in 1931.

Grant was originally from the Bellenden Kerr Ranges in far north Queensland, the traditional lands of the Ngadjon‐Jii people. In 1887 his parents were killed, possibly in a punitive measure mandated by authorities in Cairns and was adopted by a Scottish scientist visiting the area from the Australian Museum. Grant was brought up in his adoptive parents’ Annandale home and trained as a draughtsman.

He enlisted in 1916 and joined the 13th batallion in France, and was captured as a prisoner of war in Bullecourt. Grant was forcibly kept in Germany for over a year as a subject of scientific study. In 1919 he returned to Australia and became a clerk at the Callan Park Mental Asylum in the 1930’s, when he built this replica of the Harbour Bridge and the ornamental garden surrounding it. In later life he was outspoken on the poor treatment of returned servicemen, particularly those who were Aboriginal.

Douglas Grant died in 1951 in Prince Henry Hospital and was buried in Botany.