Australian Spirit Soars! Part 1
September 2017. I wandered into an ambitious dream-in-progress led by renowned Central Coast sculptor and Australian Spirit founder, Leasha Craig.
Heading into the fourth and final year of her acclaimed Australian Spirit visual art and poetry project, Leasha lassoed an unlikely mix of local artists and top guns from a legion of veteran organisations to stage a colossal grand finale event to honour our military men and women, their families and the Armistice centenary.
The event was actually a dream within a dream. Originally sparked several years earlier by a deeply resonant recital of Jim Brown’s poem The ANZAC on the Wall at an ANZAC Day memorial service. The powerful words inspired Leasha to initiate Australian Spirit – a powerful community collaboration designed to commemorate the ANZAC and WW1 Centenaries and all who have served, and continue to serve, our magnificent country.
Despite initial resistance from the veteran community, Leasha gradually won the hearts and confidence of over 70 Central Coast veterans who collaborated with local artists, poets and biographers to tell their engaging stories through compelling works of visual art and poetry – many for the first time.
A multitude of long nights, seriously burned candles and successful exhibitions later, the complete works from this extraordinary collaboration are now forever bound in the stunning Australian Spirit commemorative book. A collector’s item in the making. Congratulations to all involved. (All proceeds from book sales are donated to Integra Service Dogs Australia to cover training costs of ‘canine guardians’ for recovering Central Coast veterans. A most worthy cause.)
Leasha’s persistent efforts also earned her a 2018 Australia Day community award while her disparaging naysayers slunk away to the murky shadows of the Land of Humble Pie.
Australian Spirit Speaks Volumes
Being a ‘Six O’clock News TV War’ chickadee who previously found the whole war shebang too traumatic to digest at the best of times, the Australian Spirit project changed all of that. Or have I finally grown up? Whichever way, I am now able to read war stories without feeling traumatised, shocked, furious, sad or disturbed. That’s huge for me!
One of the Australian Spirit book’s most extreme recollections belongs to Afghanistan veteran Chad Elliot.
‘A Veteran at 25‘ was penned by Peter Mace while the accompanying, evocative masterpiece Prior One 2007-2017 was sculpted by Leasha Craig.
This chilling passage made me ponder how some soldiers were able to go back for more:
‘A bullet through his groin that blew half his arse away,
Still held onto his weapon, only just.
As his mates sought to protect him, and to stem the flow of blood.
With the bullets striking hard into the dust,
He lay there with a broken leg, shrapnel in his gut.
With the temperature touching fifty five.
A prior one, he heard them say through the racket and the pain.
The code he knew, “Unlikely to survive.”‘
This excerpt from Chad Elliot’s Australian Spirit testimony also speaks volumes:
“I and as I could imagine most veterans, would be quite unsure, nervous and reserved about opening up to not only tell but have a piece of artwork made to reflect me. Since having this done it has given me a chance to open up, tell my story for the public to see, hear and understand what I and many men and women have experienced having served in war, peacetime and since returning to civilian life.”
I had to read the opening stanza of ‘Dad’s Army Days’ several times because I had never heard of a war being sparked by a ‘failure of diplomacy’. All that death, horror, carnage and destruction because of a failure of diplomacy? (Veteran, Scott Driscoll, Poet, David Brasted, Artist, Terri Brander):
‘Landed safely on Canaan’s side.
why do we go to War?
He takes his time…
Thirty-Two years a soldier
to Regimental Sergeant-Major
“Well,” he says
down the phone
“it’s a failure of diplomacy.”‘
I always thought that wars were triggered by political egomaniacs – experts at finding lame excuses to test out their latest cache of billion-dollar military toys. Perhaps it’s time for politicians the world over to attend a mandatory ‘International Diplomacy Bootcamp’ before diving into the political cauldron and igniting another war.
Better still, why don’t they just send themselves next time? I know of many returned servicemen and women who would excel in their new roles of loyal, ‘parliamentary seat warmers,’ and ‘fly-in fly-out war-zone media-op VIPs’ in their absence.
Lastly, ‘I Have My Life Back‘ by David Sabin (Artist Kathryn Taunton) expresses the frustrating journey that begins for many returned veterans in genuine need of support to recover from physical and mental injuries incurred during service.
Veteran Luke Mahalm’s story made me wonder why the ADF top brass has failed to personally ensure that medically discharged veterans, in particular, have a sure-fire safety net to catch them if they fall. The following passage is ‘government speak.’ There are surely simpler ways to convey political negligence.
‘The Commonwealth of Australia does not accept any responsibility or liability connected to material in the Entitlement Self-Assessment or any reliance upon it whether or not caused by the negligence of the Commonwealth or its agents.’
Truth About War
Australian Spirit is, quite simply, dynamite. You just never know what’s going to blow your mind from one page to the next. And the book reviews have been nothing less than sparkling. Dennis Arkapaw, Secondary English & History Teacher, succinctly sums it up:
“The Australian Spirit commemorative book was meticulously built over 4 years of celebrating Gallipoli’s centenary. I highly recommend this important collection of intimate creations to be studied in English, History and Art classes where ‘the truth about war’ needs to be distilled.”
You’ll even find Australian Spirit in Canberra’s War Memorial shop although they have yet to add this fine title to the online publications catalogue. (Or perhaps the search engine is experiencing temporary tech problems.)
The easiest way to get your hands on a copy of this masterpiece is by ordering it online: www.australian-spirit.com. All proceeds to Integra Service Dogs Australia.
And be sure to check out the outstanding work of some of our shining Australian Spirit artists:
Leasha Craig: www.leashacraig.com
Karen Bloomfield: www.karenbloomfieldart.com
Helen Mortimer: www.helenmortimerart.com
Victoria Austen-Young: www.austenyoung.com
Australian Spirit Soars! Part Two
Part Two reveals how Australian Spirit unwittingly sparked yet another ambitious dream to assist transitioning and recovering veterans.
Linda Summer – Scribe – Lost For Words