[This is the third blog post in this series of Travelogue on Australia and New Zealand]
“I have a fascination for caves!” I told Lulu, my parrot, who gave me a condescending stare.
“The world has moved on, but you still belong to the Stone Age. You were going to tell me something about enlightenment.” Lulu was as demanding as an Army General.
“Not enlightenment. I said ‘throwing light.’ We went to Waitomo caves. There are glow-worms in those caves; you can see them on the ceilings of the caves. They look like celestial lights.”
“Glowworms? You mean ‘Firefly?’”
“Nope! Glowworms. Not Fireflies. They emit light. It is pitch dark in the caves and the glowworms emit tiny bright light spots. It’s beautiful. We were taken to the caves by a guide.”
“You are not allowed to take any pictures. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and an English surveyor Fred Mace. Today the guides at Waitomo are descendants of Maori Chief Tane Tinorau. Our guide told us that some couples get married there too!”
“In the darkness?”
“Yes, in the darkness!”
“Do they sing songs?”
“I don’t know. Our guide volunteered and sang a Maori song. It was about a girl seeing her husband go to war, and fearing that he will not return.”
“Reminds me of Marathi song ‘पहा टाकले पुसुनी डोळे’”
“Right! The same sentiments. This theme of sacrifice of warriors stays with you when you visit War Memorials in Australia. From New Zealand I went to Sydney. I went out for a morning walk. Saw a park and entered a beautiful building there.”
“Did you enter a memorial?”
“Yes! What I saw there moved me to tears! There was this sculpture in front of me, actually at the center of the main hall. Look at this picture….”
“Man! What a sculpture. It conveys what the Australians feel about their soldiers.”
“It is called ‘Sacrifice.’ A soldier is lying dead on his shield with his hands on his sword. He is lifted by three ladies – they represent his mother, sister and wife. He reminded me of the Cross. Didn’t he die for others?”
“I was in Sydney and looking at this sculpture on April 24. The next day was ANZAC day when they honour and remember their war veterans. Many old military men came there displaying their medals. There was a ceremony and a parade.”
“When did Australia and New Zealand fight war? They fought the world wars together.”
“Right. This memorial was constructed after the First World War. We then went to Canberra where the war memorial is exceptionally well designed. It would take an interested person more than a day to see the War memorial at Canberra, the Capital city.”
“Wow! I know there are some sculptures in the garden there. One shows a man carrying a wounded soldier on his donkey.” Lulu said.
“That sculpture is known as ‘Man with his donkey.’ The man is John Simpson Kirkpatrick. He joined Australian Army Medical Corps. He landed in Gallipoli, befriended a donkey and used it to carry wounded soldiers to ambulance from battle front. His exceptional work was noticed by all. Even the Indian contingent there called him ‘Bahadur.’ He and his donkey were killed on May 19, 1915.”
“I am speechless…..”
“When I went inside Canberra War Memorial, I saw a huge wall. Names of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives were inscribed in it, and there was a place for putting a flower against any name, people were doing it!”
“That’s very well thought out. What’s in the central hall?”
“Four figures in mosaic on the walls, one each representing Army, Navy, Air force, and a lady representing the medical service.”
I continued, “Interestingly there is a head of an old man shown at the bottom of the Air Force man’s mosaic. I asked the guide there as to what it represented. She said it means that what was really killed in war was wisdom, religion, good values etc. and this was depicted by the fallen head of an old man.”
“Not a very convincing answer, but she has a point.”
“And there are two PCs where you can find out about your relatives in the war!”
“Wow! Wow!! That’s really very thoughtful.” Lulu said as he perched on my shoulder. “They have not just honoured their soldiers, but kept memories of their sacrifice alive. And interestingly they fought war for others, unlike you Indians.”
“How true!” I said.
“Tell me where is Kargil War Memorial in Mumbai?” Lulu, my parrot, asked.
“I will google this and tell you” I said. “I see only Afghan War Memorial.”
“Shame on you!” Lulu shouted in my ear.