One of the advantages that Australian authors have writing for American audiences is that we get to see many of the more popular products of their culture, but the converse is not true. This means that things which are, to us, commonplace, are, to them, surprising. I first noticed this when I wrote a brief piece for Ars Magica, in one of the online forums, about a tree with bark like paper, but pink like human skin, and with dangling, silvered leaves shaped like crescents, from which a small creature looked with inquisitive eyes. Americans wrote to me to ask what drugs I was taking. Australians knew I was literally describing an endemic tree here (Corymbia maculata) and that the little creature was a ringtail possum. For Australians, even our endemic things can, for Americans, be exotic.
I wanted to change the Tremere so that they were no longer the default villains for every story. The way they were being used seemed so weak, so unchallenging. They were the evil guys: you could tell because they wore black and did pointless things while ranting about power. I thought that we needed to move to villains with realistic motives.
At the time I was reading a lot of military fiction, and was looking for a way to simulate the genre in Ars Magica. It gave the writing a structure. I liked the idea that since Tremere are never the best at anything, they co-operate more. So, an army then, with roles, and doctrine.
I used the Australian experience of the First World War as my foundation for the attitude to war of the Tremere. The Australian experience of the First World War was that we suffered greater casualties, as a percentage of our population, than any other combatant state. Every little town has a hall for returned soldiers. Every town has a cenotaph for those that didn’t come home.
I know that people from other countries often want to say “Oh, we commemorate that too..”, but no, not like us. Gathering around cenotaphic stones, in the dark, to wait for dawn, and renew the promise not to forget what happened is the defining ritual of Australian citizenship. We literally call the dead, and hold a ceremonial night vigil for them, as perhaps the single defining action which Australians recognise as the thing that we do to express who we are.
We do not have flag oaths. We deliberately mumble the second verse of our anthem, and would not have chosen it had the vote been free. A story about sheep thievery was prefered by so many that it was deliberately excluded from the ballot. We had to change our national colours because we didn’t know what they were, and so used the wrong ones for decades. Our system of government is not the one we would have chosen, if given a free choice. Australia Day is marked by annual ceremonies of apology and there is a determined effort to change the date. Federation Day is January First, and so is meaningless.
The sacred day for Australians is ANZAC Day. The pilgrimage for young Australians is to ANZAC Cove. This is something we have chosen as the thing which represents the core of us. Our big day as a country is the day we remember.
It is not like the 4th of July. Having had this discussion before I wish to stress it is utterly different. from the way Americans celebrate their war history. Americans win: their national story is about victory, and perhaps, about their destiny.
The ANZAC Cove landings were disastrous and futile. We choose to commemorate this day, rather than say, the victory on the Kokoda Track, precisely because it tore a hole through the middle of our communities that did not heal for generations. We are one of the few countries that chooses not to celebrate its victories. We are one of the few that chooses to celebrate in tandem with neighbouring countries (New Zealand). We are one of the few that lets veterans of the opposing army march in our commemorative parades.
I tried to get across this feeling in the Tremere chapter, much as I try to get across other bits of Australianess in my other work, because it makes my writing different from material foreign readers may have seen before.
I think some of the moral ambivalence turns up in the end work. Should we have landed in Turkey or stayed home? Was it right to go so far away and fight? Were they really killing the Armenians? If we’d let more of our people die, would we have been able to stop the Armenian genocide? What if they really hadn’t been killing Armenians? What if our invasion had made them kill Armenians? The Armenian Genocide is our equivalent of Deidne infernalism. Are they doing it? Why won’t they let observers check? If they did do it, did we stop it? Did our attack make them go off the deep end and start it?
If you’d like to more strongly incorporate the ceremonies of ANZAC into you campaign, here are a few pointers. They may be familiar to players from Commonwealth countries, who share some of the traditions. I offer these in a spirit of commemoration and apologise if, by mixing in fantasy elements, I offend. That’s not my intent.
Young Australians often travel to the battlefield, particularly to be there on the day for Dawn Service. Player characters may, similarly, travel to commemorate. This is a secular pilgrimage.
Seeds from a pine tree that was used as a point of reference on the battlefield have been cultivated in Australia and are used in some commemorative sites. Similar things may occur in Mythic Europe, and the trees, because they are laden with story and a focal point of emotion, may attract the fae.
The ceremonial night vigil is only a few minutes long, and is marked at each end by military bugle calls. The first is the Last Post, which was originally used to indicate that the camp was secure for the night and the soldiers could rest. That it summons the ghosts of the dead is widely stated by the more poetical. After a delay it is followed by the Rouse, which marks the new day. In the time between silence is meant to be maintained for respect, but speaking during night vigil is one of those intimacies which appears in cohesive units, so there’s nothing to stop the ghosts making their presence felt.
Australians spend the afternoon doing what they think the soldiers did in their off time, which basically means watching sport and drinking. An archaic form of gambling is also effectively legal for the day. Magi might develop similar customs.
There are cenotaphs everywhere. I lived in a town of 2 000 people, and it had a cenotaph in the main street. I presume the Tremere, similarly, have cenotaphs all over the place, and that this was, for a while, a major focus of their house aesthetic. Australian cenotaphs in tiny towns, were as good as they could afford. We had a marble obelisk. Human figures of soldiers are popular, but the figure is never of a particular person. Most cities have multiple points for dawn service and so multiple cenotaphs. My current city has 555 000 people and has eleven active cenotaphs. A great deal of effort is made to move cenotaphs if they are going to be damaged, or their sites are going to become disused.
There is a biscuit (cookie for our American friends) which originated in a desire to have rations which could be made by Australians at home and shipped to the front line without going stale. This is the informal celebratory food of the holiday. Similar things might be created, shipped and consumed by magi. I like the idea of House Mercere carrying biscuits to deliver to distant covenants, and this being considered a deadly serious business.
After the formal service, people often place poppies near the name of a fallen relative, or on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The poppies are, I believe, an American tradition adopted here in the 1920s, so I don’t need to dwell on them for American readers. They are endemic to the battlefield in Flanders. The Order probably has a similar visual shorthand for the War. It might have something to do with Mount Dol in Brittany, where the final major battle is commemorated.
A note on the Ode
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
The Ode is an excerpt from a longer poem, and sometimes the verse before is also recited. It’s a bit more heroic, and so some people feel it’s out of place.
The last line of the Ode to Remembrance, quoted above, is repeated back by the crowd. The vigil then happens, and is concluded by “Lest we forget”, which is from a poem by Kipling that has nothing to do with anything else going on in the ceremony. The attendees reply:
“Lest we forget”.