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Letters from Downunder

The harmonious blacksmith

Submitted by Lindsay!
Melbourne, Australia

(6/12) Sure there is music even in the beauty, and the silent note which Cupid strikes, far sweeter than the sound of an instrument. For there is music wherever there is harmony, order or proportion; and thus far we may maintain the music of the spheres; for those well-ordered motions, and regular paces, though they give no sound unto the ear, yet to the understanding they strike a note most full of harmony. (Sir Thomas Browne, 1643)

The motto of the American Academy of Arts is 'A great nation deserves great art,' which gives some idea of how one may assess the greatness of a nation; not by its politics, its religions, or its trade, but by the beauty and relevance of its many arts. The deepest places of humanity's mind are expressed thus, for all humanity has minds deriving from the same source, and express the sublime wellings in the only way possible - that is, through the arts.

When one set of people migrate or settle in a new land the heritage they bring with them takes root and remains in that new place, even if their descendants go elsewhere. That heritage is most often expressed in writing, music, painting and all other art forms - for how else to leave a record of the values they hold dear, are comfortable with, and cannot deny? And if there are two groups that have this in abundance it is Australia and The United States of America.

Our many differences are almost trivial beside our common heritage, that of colonisation, migration, independence, democratic government and freedom, with the latter the most highly prized attainment. Freedom of action, of thought, and of expression are the most valuable attributes of any nation, and are the things most vulnerable to attack, both from within and without. One major difference between our two nations, however, is that we have never had a civil war or one to gain independence, been threatened with annihilation, have been terrorised, or had our freedoms violently set upon - whereas you have.

But we have come close.

There's a remote part of New Guinea, that second largest island in the world just to the north of Australia, that has some of the most inhospitable and difficult terrain in the world. Running across the length of the land is a range of mountains called the Owen Stanley Ranges; the crossing of this range by our troops in the second world war against Japan has become legendary. Called the Kokoda trail, It rivals the Gallipoli saga from the first world war in many ways, but had a far more significant role in our survival and the outcome of the entire conflict.

We had help, of course, help from your troops, from your supply lines, and your strategy, but it was mainly the Australian contingent that slogged their way over that range, losing many to the endemic fevers, the incessant rainfall, and total exhaustion. But they succeeded, forcing the Japs, who commanded the north of the island and all the seas beyond to withdraw, retreat, and lose face - and heart. For it was from that point that the U.S. Navy and our combined air forces scourged their navy and army, with all the battles that lay ahead now known to be winnable.

There's a piece in this edition of the News-Journal I want you all to read. The veteran profile is one I can relate to, and is one that would be salutary for everyone to understand in its wider perspective. The Australians and Americans worked together to turn back an army that seemed unstoppable, and they did it because, and only because they worked together. There was bitching but no breaking ranks. There was jealousy but no disruption to the effort. There were criminals on both sides, but the preparations went on unabated.

I recall my parents having Marines home to dinner - kids not much older than myself - and the joy on those faces to have a home cooked meal and a homelike chat I'll never forget. My mother never forgot the nylons, either. I liked these young men, thought they were so strong and adventurous, and became aware that a different accent did not mean a different set of values.

And they learnt from us, some vowing to return and settle in this country, some actually doing so. They were the ones who had not seen the war, even though they had been through it, but saw the world. Saw the array of humanity that was no different to their own. Different accents, different skins, differing religions and views on life, but human, easily led at times, hoodwinked just like us all, but beneath the exterior all had the same need to live in peace, work, love, and, except for a few misfits who wanted to rule the world, be prepared to sacrifice their comfort, future and dreams for the sake of others.

I had cousins who lost their lives in that war; most families lost someone, but the price had to be paid. It was paid not to establish anyone's notion of democracy, not to proselytise their idea of righteousness, not to assert national identity, but to safeguard the freedom that our nations had inherited, nurtured, and made the cornerstone of our way of life. Freedom that we want to share, freedom that is being whittled away from within at every turn.

I began by talking about art. All art has to be seen or heard for it to mean anything; those whose eyes are blinkered to see in only one way, the way they want and expect, are ill-informed and therefore ignorant - and prejudiced. Seeing things in foreign lands, looking at the people and customs there is an art in itself, one that can be learnt, one that needs to be explored. Else the preconceived ideas conceal the important things that are there, the things that are truly meaningful and instructive. Great art of this kind is truly the mark of a great nation.

In truth, there is no substitute for travel. Not just as tourists, oohing and aahing at the sights, but as human interested in others, willing to listen and learn, hoping to share the stories that everyone has, prepared to allow that our ways are not the only ones.

Most of us are lucky; we don't have to survive a war to get overseas, as our veterans did, but are free to go voluntarily, in peace (hopefully), giving and expecting tolerance from and to those we meet.

Hope to see you here sometime. We can beat out our thoughts on a blacksmith's forge, be in harmony, and hear the music of the spheres together.

Lindsay, being free to write from Melbourne, Australia

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker