Lou: A veteran’s perspective?

Sometimes my customers get caught galloping along with something and before you realise what’s happening it’s become bigger than it needs to be. That’s when the old-timers who come into the shop keep me grounded. It’s just a quiet word here and there. They’re not pushy about whatever the matter is. They don’t need to be heard. But they will let you know if you get them talking.

We have some veterans and some children of veterans who are here a lot. They like fruit and veg. They like fresh fruit and veg and they have spent a life-time going into little shops in the main street wherever they were. Every fruit shop in Australia has these older customers, and if you’re fair dinkum about it, you talk to them and get to know them. All around Australia, so many people have spent time in the armed forces, have defended the country, or are descendants of those who have.

Some of my customers have been talking about the sad death of Phil Hughes over the past weeks. They know it’s sad, and they tell me it’s sad, but they can’t have the public reaction. It’s too much.

I agree with them.

I don’t want to appear insensitive but surely a plaque to Phil Hughes outside the dressing room at the SCG is a bit over the top. In this year of commemorating the hundred years since Gallipoli surely one accidental death on a cricket field pales into absolute insignificance when compared to the 60,000 plus brave young men we lost in Europe in World War 1. Their sacrifice in the quest for peace and freedom and the forging of the legend of the mythical Anzac Spirit which now defines this country is something we all should cherish.


My grandfather came to this promised land just after that Great War and he witnessed the suffering of all of those that had been left behind and those poor souls who had returned damaged physically or psychologically. He used to tell me stories of how they put their grief behind them and got on with job of building a nation that we are now  proud to be a part of. There were annual remembrance ceremonies, but really they just put their collective shoulders to the mill stone and got on with it, as best as they could. He was proud of his contribution, and his family’s contribution, in Sydney with the bridge, in Melbourne with the shops, other relatives later on the Snowy Mountain Scheme, and in Queensland. You had to get on with things. Life goes no and you have to provide for your family and your family’s future. Who knows what will happen?


I have previously written that my Veteran customers tell me that everyday more than one military veteran or first responder dies as a result of psychological wounds and no one outside of their family or close friends gives a toss. Let’s get this in perspective. These people die as a direct result of what they do for our country or for us and very few remember them. They are forgotten. They are anonymous. Surely that is a very significant point.


One of my old customers talks to me about the most significant event in the Vietnam War, the battle of Long Tan where they lost many men but they inflicted huge casualties on an enemy which outnumbered them by the thousands. There were many, many incredible acts of bravery, courage and sacrifice but it took over forty years for the government to officially recognize those who died and those who survived.

These Veterans who come into my shop all love their cricket but they are completely puzzled by this over reaction to an accidental death on a cricket field.





  1. Well put Lou. I do think that the “official remembrances” are getting over the top. His cricket bat on the top of Everest for Christ’s sake??? By that measure we’d need Bradman’s cap on the moon, and Phar Lap’s heart on Jupiter.
    I have mates who get worked up about the disproportionality of it, but I prefer the wry smile and gentle shake of the head. To me it is about the symbolism of Phil Hughes death, not the actuality. The young talent denied; the randomness; the ‘there but for the grace of God’.
    We can’t come to terms with the immensity and complexity of all those things in life and the world as you say with your wartime examples. But sometimes a single event encapsulates those things in a way we can both comprehend and contain (so it doesn’t overwhelm us).
    I was thinking about the events of 2014 last night (as you do). Everyone was saying “I hope 2015 is a better year” with an emphatic certainty that made me wonder (but politely left unsaid) “geez reckon 2014 is getting a dud rap”. It had its mix of joys and horrors as all years do.
    The world spins faster on its axis now thanks to technology – weapons, planes, mobile phones and social media and global markets. The more times you spin the wheel the more times you get the devil’s number (and lucky 7 – but we tend to forget that and put it down to our personal genius).
    My personal reflection is how little things change. The war to end all wars. The death to end all careless deaths. The tragedy that puts everything in perspective and makes us all gentler and kinder.
    Until Kohli annoys us. Or Warner mouths them. Or Johnson bounces. Or umpires and the fates deny us.
    Then things speed relentlessly on as they always have. Our compass not deflected a degree by all the “life changing” events of 2014.
    As it always has and will.
    Thanks Lou.

  2. What a thought provoking article.Im a Vietnam Vet and my first reaction was maybe its a bit over the top but then I came to the realization that society has changed and grieving is indeed a personal thing

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Happy New Year. Thanks Lou. As said above, a very thought provoking piece. There are so many ways in which to look at recent events in our country and the world. Something that always intrigues me is the media and public response to tragedy. I can’t help but feel the latter’s response is so often dictated by the former. This has been brought into such focus of late with three major events ie Phil Hughes, Martin Place and Cairns. The media led outpouring of grief surrounding PH’s passing was huge and well explained above. Did anyone hear the conversation led by Raph Epstein on ABC radio with the editors of the HSun and The Age the day after the announcement of his death? Conversation surrounded the publishing by both papers of the photo of Sean Abbott cradling Phil’s head the morning after the incident. Raph asked if either regretted this decision. The HSun did because they pulled the photo after 100,000 copies had been printed. Hundreds of thousands more were printed without the photo on the front page. For the record, I agree a plaque would be appropriate.

    The two week break between his funeral and the siege gave the media and public time to reload and refresh. As expected, the events at Martin Place were turned into a b grade Hollywood film by the media with the second by second coverage and referring to the gunman as a lone wolf. Members of the public as spectators was distasteful, but who’s to say I wouldn’t have done the same. For what it’s worth, the main issue to come from this incident was the obvious lack of political and religious leadership in this country. We get more leadership from our cricket captain. Interestingly, the murders in Cairns received less coverage and maybe therefore less public outpouring than the other two incidents. There may be a number of reasons for this. For example, compassion fatigue may have set in for media and public; it was the week before Christmas; maybe it was all too big for us to fully take in; or, maybe it revealed failings in our society we just can’t bear to address. Whatever the case, this event’s impact was far less than the previous two. This year will obviously see a huge focus on 1915 and fair enough. But there is always the possibility of overkill. Could the focus be not only on WW1 and the ANAZCS but also on the PTSD suffered by our troops. The figures of those lost on the battlefield are far easier to quantify than those lost from trauma caused.

    In relation to national identity, I don’t believe it was only forged at Gallipoli. It is constantly evolving through the contributions of inhabitants and citizens, new and old, of Australia. A work colleague of mine, a young Irish woman, confided recently that she is fascinated and bewildered by the constant search for the ‘Australian Identity’.She reckons we don’t have to look any further than our Indigenous history for the answer. She reckons it’s staring us in the face.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic comment , Andrew to a thought provoking, contoversial article

  5. Very interesting and well-written article, Lou, and great follow-up comments by Peter and Andrew. My theory is that the large volume of grief for Phil Hughes’ passing was due to what he embodied: a young sportsman playing one of our two national games (footy being the other) at a level that arguably most Australian males at some stages of their life have aspired to reach.
    Conversely, for all the admiration most of us have for those in the armed services, there’s not the same glamour attached to being in the military. I know very few people who’ve wanted to join the defence forces, other than impersonating Sergeant Saunders of Combats! fame as a boy. Related to this is that many (myself included) see Australia as involving itself in conflicts that it should’ve stayed away from – Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq are the obvious three.
    This is not to denigrate those men and women who’ve lost their lives serving our country. It’s a question of whether Australia should focus more on the achievements of its military or sportsmen and women. Focus too much on the former and you’re seen as a warmongering nation; focus too much on the latter and you set yourself up to be accused as a country that has no meaningful identity. It’s a lose-lose situation.

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