Apologies for being quiet, I am contemplating an unexpected house move (argh) and doing a PhD and Midsumma Festival performances. It gets a little busy sometimes.
I have also been reading some documents a little bird in the extended family sent me and digesting those. But I want to talk about the fighting women in my family. The military women and the perceptions of women who have served in fighting forces since…well…since forever really.
My father’s first wife served in WWII as did he. His sister, Anne, was in the Navy in WWII. And me, I served in the RAAF. I recently wrote a piece on sexual harassment in the defence forces for the YWCA. And something I know all of the women who served in my family experienced, was judgement about our efforts from family.
I remember an Uncle (from Mum’s really conservative side of the family) saying, when I signed up, “Oh, at least there will be something good to look at in the office”.
I went onto be one of the first of a handful of female instrument and avionics technicians in the Royal Australian Air Force. Whilst women did technical work through WWII, they were not allowed to properly join aircraft trades until the 1980’s.
But here something more I would like to add, given we’ve just had ANZAC day.
You know what? You wanna get your head around war? Try seeking out and reading some women’s stories about war. Why? Because they tell it like it was. No glorification bullshit.
I got an anonymous death threat for my recent opinion piece on the sexual harassment of women in the defence forces. Just don’t take the glorified versions of war. Listen to the women that served. There are lots of stories, often repressed stories.
Read Svetlana Alexievich, “The Unwomanly Face of War”. Women who got told that their service in WWII as a tank commander meant being told they were unmarriageable outcasts when they returned. For me, I frequently got snide sexism after I left the RAAF. Not such much now, but it was pretty frequent.
Or read Julie Wheelwright, “Sisters in Arms” for a broad historical perspective.
Or Alex Edney-Browns PhD thesis on Drone violence and how it devastates civilian populations.
We hurl young men and women into war, then we don’t give a shit about what service or life after service does to them. And we ignore the stories of the communities ruined.
We sit on this comfortable island and don’t bat an eye all year round as continuing wars destroy lives. Continuing wars, all over the globe. Since WWII we’ve practiced “forward defence” or the notion that we’ve acted on intelligence about potential invasion rather than actual invasion threats. A lot of the time the intelligence is wrong. This is not in the spirit of the ANZAC – which was about protecting from fascism, now we back up fascism for oil.
And these photos below demonstrate how my life felt in extremis when younger. On the left is my graduation from basic training in the RAAF. Dressed up glam, drinking straight whiskey and with a military tan. On the right, in full greens with water bottles and utility belt and armed with an L1A1 and ready for field exercise (including gas mask).
I reflect on this and think to myself – I did more than just decorate an office and I always will.