Thursday, August 30, 2007

Australian graves in France

On this evening's TV news, a lengthy sequence showed the arrival of the national Australian rugby team in France... in a graveyard!

What a terrible symbol for forthcoming failure! It's surely the Parisian embassy staff that engineered stupidly this immediate link to spooky Villers-Bretonneux, where panels list the names of some ten thousand Australians who died in France and have no known grave. As for me, as an Australian settled in France, Villers-Bretonneux is the last place in the world I would ever think of visiting, even as a pilgrimage, because it doesn't really seem to symbolize anything whatsoever of an authentic Franco-Australian nature. That whole affair was simply a huge planetary mistake. More precisely, I ask rhetorically the following questions:

— Before coming here to die, did these dead soldiers have anything to do with the spirit of the Old World, or the great European nation named France? Or were they simply obeying orders in a blind fashion?

— Had they ever heard of France?

— Did they know anything about French history and culture?

— Did they speak French?

— Did they have personal contacts in France?

— Today, should we think of these countless dead Aussie soldiers as a symbol of Franco-Australian relationships, or rather as the terrible price of stupidity?

It goes without saying that we have no answers to such questions. Over a year ago, however, I was alarmed when Australian friends informed me that tour operators, in the context of the rugby cup, were offering Aussie visitors—besides the Eiffel Tower—a mindless blend of wine tastings and war cemeteries.

Talking of Australian graves in France, here's one that has concerned me over the last decade or so, ever since my encounter with the Dauphiné region:

Christina Jager and her young brother Nicholas were students, residing in the fabulous village of Bruno and the Chartreux monks. They came here on purpose, and they chose a magnificent place to stay and study. But, one winter morning, while setting out in their automobile to the university city of Grenoble, these Australian students were blinded by the sun on the first bend in the road below Saint Pierre de Chartreuse, their vehicle left the road and they were mortally wounded. Over the last twelve years, I've rounded that innocent but treacherous bend on countless occasions. Every time I visit the great monastic village, I spend a moment before the grave of Christina and Nicholas, who died shortly before my daughter Emmanuelle was born. I've always imagined these two Carthusian kids—brother and sister—as my Australian forebears in the territory of Bruno.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this article.

    I don't understand anything about rugby, but I just watched the news on Internet and I must say that I was quite shocked when I heard about this "trip". Do you know more about it? Who organised it?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The wonders of the internet. Christina and Nicholas Jager were our childhood friends and neighbours on our farm in the Yarra Valley, just outside Melbourne. Their deaths in France were a real tragedy, and their parents never really recovered. I have thought of them over the years, and decided to look them up on Google, and your post came up. Please pass on a thought to them both the next time you pass their grave. Chris Davison at morgianabeef@bigpond.com

    ReplyDelete