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We were given four Australian paintings and asked to write something suggested by one of them. I'm not very visually oriented – pictures don't do much for me. But I chose one and tried my best. So here we have something inspired by the Australian painting From a Different Land by David Davies. A man sits at a crude table, clutching a piece of paper. Outside, another man on horseback is riding away down a dusty path.


When God made this part of Australia, he built it using empty space, which he then filled up with sand. He coated the sand with a light sprinkling of stubby grass and a scattering of stunted trees. I can see the trees through my open door. A dusty path winds through them, leading to the harbour where the big ships are moored. John is riding along the path away from my house. His horse's tail is flicking backwards and forwards, chasing away the flies.

A year ago, those trees outside my door were strung with bright ribbons. A regimental brass band played martial music and the young lads marched proudly past my house, all dressed up in their crisp, new khaki uniforms. They were marching off to war; they were going to fight at Gallipoli. Few of them had ever heard of Gallipoli, and even fewer knew just where it was in the world. None of them had any real understanding of why they were being sent there. All they knew was that this was the start of a great adventure. They were hugely excited, and all of them were looking forward to the glamour of it, and to the glory and the heroism of battle.

When war was declared, the army was absolutely overwhelmed with volunteers, my son Peter among them. "Don't do this," I begged him, but he refused to listen to me and I couldn't really blame him because I understood his reasons all too clearly. When I was his age I too had felt all the same emotions that he was feeling now. Then my friends and I went away to fight in South Africa, and at Spion Kop the ruthless rifles of the Boer defenders blew away all my illusions, and the bodies of my dead comrades told me very clearly that war was a grim and futile business with absolutely no glory in it at all. We buried my friends in the trenches where they had fallen and I came home alone...

And so, a year ago, I watched my son march away through the emptiness outside my house and my heart ached for him because I knew just what it was that he was marching towards. As I knew they would, my words had completely failed to convince him. "This war will be different", he reassured me. "Everyone knows that the ANZACS are invincible."

The ribbons in the trees faded in the harsh sunlight as the months went by and eventually the wind blew their remains away. John came riding up the path to my house today to give me the telegram that I have here in my hand. He is riding away now, leaving me with my grief and with the emptiness inside me, all alone here in this harsh, empty land.


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