Wednesday, April 30, 2008


What is an Anzac, I asked? No, it’s not an insurance company. That’s AFLAC.

Nor is it a medical airlift. One is not “anzac’d out of there”.


In point of fact, an Anzac is a soldier from Australia or New Zealand who fought against the Turks in the First World War at Gallipoli. When Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Australia and New Zealand, as British commonwealths, were likewise drawn in.

Click on the map for a bigger image. The ANZAC landing is in the northwest, at ANZAC cove.
As part of the war efforts, Australian and Kiwi (not the fruit; Kiwi is a nickname for New Zealanders) forces were sent to the northern shores of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula. Their job was to overrun the Turkish defenses as part of a bigger plan that would have allowed Allied forces through the Dardanelles Straits and on to Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed April 25th, 1915, but encountered both extremely difficult cliff terrain, and a Turkish force more than capable of holding its own position. Which they did for 8 months: on December 20, 1915, the ANZAC forces finally evacuated, having lost 8,141 men and women. More than 18,000 others were injured.

Today history looks upon the ANZACs through a variety of lenses. The events at Gallipoli are a great tragedy. The ANZACs were placed in a near hopeless situation from the get-go, and at times their lives were pretty much just plain sacrificed by Allied (i.e British) forces. (Check out the movie Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, for a very poignant and gripping presentation of the lives needlessly lost.) The parish priest where I serve right now argues that on ANZAC Day Australia remembers the uselessness of war and the need for peace. (In this regard, it is also quite striking how often during the sign of peace presiders ask the congregation to pray for peace in our world. I have seen that happen at almost every Australian mass I have been to.)

The ANZACs themselves, however, are also viewed with great pride. They were placed in a completely indefensible position, and they stuck to it with determiniation and great spirit. They called themselves “diggers” after the kilometers of trenches they lived in while fighting the Turks. Some Australians I have met argue that with the ANZACs Australia established itself as an independent nation of the world.

Today ANZAC Day involves a pre-dawn memorial in every town and city, followed by a parade in the morning, church services, and festive occasions. In Sydney at the train station they were passing out cups of coffee and sprigs of rosemary for those taking part in the memorial. And signs everywhere said “Lest We Forget” – really, not too dissimilar from the sorts of things we have said since 9/11. For the Australians, though, remembrance does not enflame passions, encourage bravado or justify war; it only serves to recall its heavy costs.

A very significant difference…

The back of the Veterans Memorial in Adelaide, South Australia

Monday, April 28, 2008

Australian Holidays

From what my mates around here tell me, Australia has two major civic holidays. The first, Australia Day (on January 26), sounds like it could be the Australia equivalent of our own Independence Day. It certainly is a day of celebration, complete with fireworks and perhaps some prawns on the barbie. (Prawns=shrimp: they don’t say “shrimp” here. They also don’t drink Foster’s. Or Yellow Tail (very much).)


But Australia Day can’t be an independence day because Australia is not independent. For some time people in the country have discussed becoming an independent republic of some sort, but right now, they’re still a British commonwealth, complete with a governor-general appointed by the Queen who “oversees” the governance of the country. (With a few pretty spectacular exceptions, in the modern era the post has been an appointment of decorum with no real power per se.)

No, Australia Day remembers instead the occasion of the country’s founding. It was on January 26, 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip guided the First Fleet of eleven ships all the way around the world from Great Britain to Australia. (I know I’ve written about this before, but if you haven’t already check out on this map just how far they traveled without a single ship lost. It’s amazing.)

So that’s Australia Day. The other major civic holiday of Australia, which occurred just last Friday, April 25th, is Anzac Day.

The question is, what is an Anzac? Email me your answers at The funniest and most creative I will put up in my next blog. (No fair googling.)


(Really, it is a Barbie, "Barbie Fairytopia Dandelion Doll". Which is a great name, because when it comes to Barbies, my nephew Jack loves to pop the heads right off.)

PS Speaking of Barbie, I found this great photograph online. It's called "Barbie Fan", and it's by a guy named Paul Dzik.

Dzik has a whole portfolio online. Check it out; some spectacular shots.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not Too Close

This morning I am leaving Sydney to work in a parish in western New South Wales. I'll be serving as a spiritual guide to parishioners who are doing a retreat in their everyday life. I know very little about the parish or the job, really, but I'm excited to go there.

But I've learned one great thing about the location:

When our director asked us what we wanted in terms of a location for this experiment, I said, send me somewhere far removed from the big cities. The outback, the desert -- cast me out as far as you can. You'd think I wanted to get the heck out of here, wouldn't you? Anything but the truth.

But it reminds me of the way I chose a college. As a senior in high school, I would not look for university studies at any school in the state of Illinois. Why? Because I wanted to be away from home, wanted to spread my wings, have a life of my own, etc etc teen identity-formation blah blah blah. In state was by definition "close"; out of state was "far away".

So, Loyola U. Chicago -- out. University of Illinois -- out. Northwestern -- out. I went instead to Marquette. It was in Wisconsin, therefore it was away.

Two years later, my brother started school. He did his first year at Illinois State. A 7 hour drive from our home (I think).

The trip from Marquette to our front door -- 90 minutes. A reality I learned quite profoundly one Saturday morning my freshman year when my mother did not like the 'tude I was giving her on the phone, and said to me, I am coming up to see you RIGHT NOW.

And she did.

Our perceptions, they can be deceiving.

This is not a photograph of that visit.

So anyway, my director says, I'm sending you to Cobar. Now: if you look on a map, Cobar doesn't look that far from Sydney.

Look at it. It's just down the street from Sydney. Actually, it's eight hours drive, but STILL. Look at it.

The thing was -- and I'm just realizing how little I've learned since college as I'm literally writing this very sentence -- it's in the same state. (Truly, THAT bothered me.) And so I had this disappointment that it probably wouldn't be the sort of experience I had hoped for.

Then, I ran into other Australian Jesuits, city folk. Where are you going for experiment, they asked. "Cobar." And they all responded the same way: "Cobar? Really?" Suffice it to say, they agreed, it's definitely in the outback.

So: I can't tell you what the town looks like or how I'll fill my days exactly, but I know this: it's pretty remote. Hurray!

I don't know what my internet abilities will be like, but I'll try to post when I can. We still haven't talked about kangaroos! (Think a deer with an 8 foot vertical.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Speak(ing) Now

Sevenhill, where we made our retreat.

Hello! Or, as we would have said on retreat,( ). 30 days have come and gone, and then some, and we are all back in the land of the speaking, TV watching, and rushing about. On behalf of all the tertians, I thank you each for your prayers. We prayed for you guys, too, and I know for me personally on the dryer days I took great comfort in the fact that people were praying for me. So, thanks.

My first 30 day retreat brings back any number of memories. Myself, two others and our novice director ice skated every during the retreat. Toward the end, as we were all getting a bit stir crazy one classmate began choking on a hotdog during lunch, causing the entire room to just lose it. People were crying they were laughing so hard. There was also a song at one point about wanting to be a soldier for Jesus.

This retreat, too, will have its memories. Like the temperatures. The first week of the retreat the temp got up to 40 degrees and stayed up in the 30s (i.e. over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The second week, we went from wearing one layer to something like four or five, as the temp dropped to around 16 degrees daytime, sometime single digits at night -- so, say 45-60 degrees.

Also, the animals we encountered. There were the cute ones -- five baby calves that lived pretty much right across the road from my house. Skippy the kangaroo, who lived back behind the main house, and his billion cousins who could be found on any short driving trip.

Unaware that I had eaten one of his kind, Skippy lets me approach.

(Kangaroos -- very cool. More about them another time.) Then there were the not so cute beasties-- the millipides who found their way into every nook and cranny of every room of the property, once things cooled off some. And the spiders as big as your hand. Yeah. Apparently they are not poisonous, they are not dangerous, there's nothing to see here, etc. But nevertheless every fight or flight instinct in me screamed for action. Usually I fought, but on at least one break day, I just ran out of the bathroom where they tended to congregate, saying "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." In the other house some guys also had nightly battles with dive-bombing mosquitoes. It was like World War One in there.

And the view. Sevenhill is the original community of the Australian Province. Jesuits came over from Austria in the nineteenth century, they landed in the South and came up to Sevenhill, two hours to the north. There they started a school and a zillion parishes, and very soon thereafter a winery. Today, the school's gone, the parishes are consolidated, but that winery keeps on going. It is the only winery still run by the Society of Jesus. And might I say, it's some mighty good wine. If you're interested,here's their website. I understand they're just beginning to sell in the United States. I highly recommend them.

So, the view. The main house looks out on the winery, and as we pulled up all I could think was, Tuscany. Hot and dry, blue sky, rolling hills filled with green vines - just gorgeous.

Part of the vineyard.

In my house, which was across the road, the terrain was totally different -- hilly still, but no vines, just long, willowy eucalyptus trees and parched land. (The land is in fact suffering from a three year drought. Pray they may get rain!) That might sound desolate, but it had a certain "Out of Africa" quality to it. Plus, on either side of the property, when the sun went down, what a show.

One sunset from our side of the property.

Maybe my favorite photo is this one:

In its small form, I'm not sure you get the full effect. Try clicking on it to see what I'm talking about.

Spectacular, spectacular visions.

I'll tell you one more funny story about the retreat, one that's funny now, anyway. Halfway through our third week (during which many of us were contemplating Jesus' death), the preacher at mass, Fr. Joe Sobb, gave a very serious homily about how we have to die before we can rise. It was utterly fitting the occasion, but I don't know... there was something about it...

And then, after mass, our rector, Adrian Lyons, said "Um, I have some bad news." Most of us from what I gather assumed someone at Canisius had died. No one had really been sick before we left, but it is the retirement community, these things happen.

Nope. "Two days ago," Adrian said, "robbers broke into the front office and the minister's office of Canisius House."


"The next day, while everyone was at lunch, they returned. This time they brought with them steel bars, and they broke into every tertian's room."

For real! Guys broke into our rooms while we were away on our retreat. Can you believe that! Strangely, they did not seem to steal computers or other tech stuff. Just money. They took all the money they could find.

I have to say, on that day, after a number of us nursed our pain over chocolate milkshakes, I told God, I'm so grateful for all the people who have been praying for us, praying that we would receive the graces of the retreat, to truly grow closer to you. But today, I'd like you to ignore them for a little while. Just until we're out of the suffering part and into the resurrection.

I'm going back to Sydney tomorrow, and we'll see what the damage is. But don't feel bad. No, no, please, don't worry about me. I'm fine. Who needs money. (Sigh.) I'll just sit in my room and be by myself for the next four months. I've already been able to see Sydney once or twice, I guess. That's probably enough. It's Ok. No, really. (Greg O'Meara, this paragraph was written for you.)

Seriously, the whole thing was a little weird but nobody was hurt and everything's insured so all shall be well. It is a good story, though, isn't it?

Again, thanks for all the prayers. It was really a great experience, and I'm grateful that I have had the opportunity to do it. 30 days of being open to God. Really quite a unique opportunity and a strange blessing.

I'll post something again soon about Melbourne, my new favorite city. For now, though, one more shot of Sevenhill at sunset.