OPINION | Anzac spirit lives here

Sometimes in this column I sink my slipper into Campbelltown Council.

It annoys me, for example, when they approve housing on sites meant as scenic protection, or hide our beautiful historic buildings behind ugly rooftops or fences.

But, other things, Campbelltown Council does well.

Such as its libraries – and excellent library staff – the best to be found anywhere.

It also throws its heart into local cultural things, from Riverfest to Fisher’s Ghost, and comes up with some great ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas.

Such as opening the Alkalizer cafe next to the council’s Queen Street entrance (a welcome dose of quality and community-mindedness, that does not go astray for any of us who can remember that once-beautiful main street before 1979). Queen Street has a few of these quality islands, but nowhere near enough of them.  

But this week, I want to take a bow to Campbelltown Council for its beautiful ‘iron and stone’ memorial wall to the battle of Beersheba, erected at Menangle Park, near the paceway.

What a landmark! And it is an important local link.

All we usually hear about Australia’s Anzac tradition is Gallipoli, Gallipoli, Gallipoli, and some more Gallipoli. But the Beersheba battle in October 1917 – the last successful mounted charge in history – was one of Australia’s finest moments in WW1.

And our area played an important part in the Light Horse story.

Our area has a better claim to being the heart of Australia’s Anzac spirit than perhaps any other corner of Australia.

Menangle Park, after all, was one of its main Light Horse training depots, and before that, Campbelltown and Camden took turns (in the 1890s) as being the HQ of the NSW Mounted Rifles – from which the Light Horse of WWI sprung.

Huge war-games were held across our local hills, and Tom Roberts painted his famous portrait of ‘A Battery in Action’ next to today’s Broughton Anglican College.

In the Boer War almost a quarter of the troops in the first NSW continent in 1899 came from the Macarthur area, and it was claimed at the time that Campbelltown sent more volunteers – per head of population –  than any other place.

In World War II, Australia’s first victory was at Bardia, North Africa in 1941 – fought by troops trained at Ingleburn Army Camp. Many Vietnam soldiers also passed through its gates, and the first Victoria Cross winner in that conflict was Kevin Wheatley of Paterson Street, Campbelltown.

That record of service continues with large numbers of local troops serving overseas in modern duties. I recall in 2007 interviewing a proud Minto girl, Captain Corinne Jones, who was serving her fifth tour of duty in Iraq. (They made a famous movie about a US sniper who served four tours of duty in the same war).

I should also note the head of the armed forces in Australia is Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, who grew up in Campbelltown playing with toy planes in his Hoddle Avenue backyard.

John Therry High School has for the fifth time won the government’s Anzac Day Schools Challenge, with St Patrick’s College winning the year that John Therry missed.

What am I trying to say?

Our area – a place to be sneered at by the Sydney media and some pollies – has a strong claim to being the very heartland of Australia’s Anzac spirit.

The keeper of the flame.

Lest we forget their service. And lest we forget our role in that service.

REMEMBERING THAT CHARGE: Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic at the unveiling of the new Beersheba monument, with well-known local enthusiast Steve Wisbey (at right) whose grandfather, Fred, fought at Beersheba.

REMEMBERING THAT CHARGE: Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic at the unveiling of the new Beersheba monument, with well-known local enthusiast Steve Wisbey (at right) whose grandfather, Fred, fought at Beersheba.

CHARGE: Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic at the unveiling of the new Beersheba monument. I snapped this without a flash to try to capture the light effect. The shot I took with a flash is in our news coverage in this edition.

CHARGE: Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic at the unveiling of the new Beersheba monument. I snapped this without a flash to try to capture the light effect. The shot I took with a flash is in our news coverage in this edition.