The New Zealand sub-branch of the Caulfield RSL showcased a new piece of artwork on Anzac Day. Emily Brooks explores their involvement in the service and their relationships with the community.
St Georges Road in Elsternwick usually remains in its grey asphalt state everyday. Lined with parked cars on the busy days, but still grey. Today the parked cars border the road, which still remains grey from one end to the other, except a space in front of block number four. A patchwork quilt floats above the road, a quilt of blues, yellows, blacks, reds; a quilt of multicoloured umbrellas. This patchwork quilt protects at least one hundred and fifty people below it, who huddle together in the rain at seven-thirty in the morning.
A short, dark man suited up in grey holds the yellow and white umbrella fanned over my head. While we stand silently with our thoughts ringing as the trumpet sounds, we watch the Australian flag rise in perfect sync with the New Zealand flag beside it. They wave in the wind as we continue to stand side by side underneath the umbrella. Just like the flags, an Australian and a New Zealander, together. For this is Anzac Day.
William ‘Willy’ Parker, the man standing beside me is one of the many members of the New Zealand sub-branch of the Caulfield RSL. A sub-branch that contributes to the RSL club and the many community events they hold, such as the Anzac Day dawn service.
“It’s an Australian and New Zealand tradition and its something that we commemorate because its part of us, its part of our life”, says Parker.
The New Zealand sub-branch of the Caulfield RSL was created about five years ago, as a group of New Zealanders, many being ex-soldiers, had formed their own club but were struggling to maintain a common meeting place.
“This gives them a home”, says Caulfield RSL President, Bob Larkin.
“If they want to have a function, they can have it here, if they want to just get together, they can do that here, if they want to come in and watch the rugby, they can come and watch it here, as a group”.
Larkin suggests this is a unique aspect of the Caulfield RSL, believing they are the only RSL in Victoria with a specific sub-branch dedicated to New Zealand members.
The influence of the New Zealand sub-branch seeps deep into the Anzac Day dawn service at the Caulfield RSL, and also resides on the dining room wall. Above the fireplace sits a carving almost as large as the fireplace itself. The Whakairoa carving.
The deep, tan crevices in the wood create patterns, revealing figures. The figure boldly positioned in the centre of the carving is the ‘god of war’, with an Anzac soldier standing either side of him, one Australian and one New Zealand. A meaning is attached to each pattern and figure carved, with the positioning of the war god’s arm even making a statement.
“Well if I put his left hand in front, that would mean peace… but the wars are still going on. That’s why his left arm is behind him because he doesn’t know when the wars are going to finish”, says master carver, Dooley Merito.
The kiwifruit farmer carved the Whakairoa carving during his three-week stay in Australia to visit his son, Eddie Merito, who is a current member of the New Zealand sub-branch at the Caulfield RSL.
Merito and his son present a plaque explaining the meanings behind the Whakairoa carving to the Caulfield RSL as the Anzac Day dawn service reaches its end.
“The carving is this years highlight”, says Larkin.
The dining room wall has constant visitors, each standing in front of the fireplace with their head bobbing from the plaque to the carving, back to the plaque, as they would watching a tennis rally. Intrigued.
The intrigue towards the carving illustrates the interest and respect for the New Zealand culture pouring out of this small Australian community. The dining room is now filled with families all seated eating their bacon and eggs, while many ex-soldiers line the hallways to chat with their mates, whether they are New Zealand or Australian.
“I was invited by a guy who I met in Vietnam… So I came over and saw him and I’m still friends with him now”, says Parker of his move to Australia.
The mateships and intertwining cultures, which remain prevalent within the Caulfield RSL club, certainly beam brightly on this dreary Wednesday morning.
“That’s what Anzac day is all about”, says Parker.
And he is right. Whether it is an Australian father lifting his son up to see the carving of the war god, or a New Zealand ex-soldier offering me a dry space underneath his yellow and white umbrella, it is clear that the patriotism felt for both Australia and New Zealand on this day stands as tall as their national flags, which wave in the skies above the Caulfield RSL.