Barry Nancarrow

Anzac Day, Pelican, 2005


(According to Wikipedia, Pelican is a suburb of the City of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, Australia, located 25 kilometres south of Newcastle's central business district across the entrance to Lake Macquarie from the town of Swansea. It was known as Pelican Flat until 1991).

Pelican is an obscure suburb. Are the residents Pelicanites or Pelicans? Although kissed by the channel on one side it has remained largely unloved, being strapped on the other by the highway and overshadowed by both Marks Point and Blacksmiths, Marks Point because of its geography and being a major set down point for express buses from town and Blacksmiths because of its pub and shopping centre. Until recently it tried to boast of an airport but despite the fact that the airline was called Aeropelican, the airport was called Belmont. Its cringe and consequent indeterminate identity is rooted in its early history as a housing commission repository, although it did have a school, a church, a bowling club and an RSL club.

The bowling club has fallen victim to declining financial circumstances while the RSL has surprisingly flourished. Gone too is the church which smiled upon the school from its position diagonally opposite. Although a casualty of secularism the church real estate survived to become a bikie gang headquarters for a time before being resurrected as a residence, although its history as a church is still clearly evident. The school has survived but minus the wonderful paper barks that once enticed us and provided hulls and sails for our ships when the rains came and flooded the playground. On leaving Islington public school to relocate at Blacksmiths, my classmates asked where I would go to school. When told it would be Pelican Flats public school they curiously asked where that was. I had no answer such was Pelican's invisibility.

Forty five years on Pelican stands a suburb struggling to consolidate the new with the old, the new being the nouveau riche who are continuing to grab what are now premium chunks of real estate but which once housed the coal miners who were at the bottom end of society's spectrum. Despite the polarity and apparent influx of wealth the somnambulism of the place remains. Piriwal Street acknowledges the region's traditional occupants. It is also the suburb's spine, providing a vital link to the highway and Blacksmiths shopping centre. The school and football fields create some open space on its middle verges while the pub at one end and the RSL at the other offer a somewhat unfortunate social commentary.

Although not entirely forgotten in time, Pelican could still be called sleepy. That is except for one day of the year, April 25th. About 5.00 am on that morning Pelican's peaceful reverie is shattered by drum beats, quickly added to by the rousing trumpets and clarinets of a marching band as it commences its spiritual journey down Piriwal Street to the RSL club. The incongruity of the scene is made more apparent by the fact that traipsing faithfully behind this vigilant group is a motley collection of residents drawn to pay homage to a myth of epic proportions. Save for the occasional comment from a very young child a muffled silence envelops the group in its solemn endeavour.

As the procession wends its meaningful way past humble dwellings some of which have now sparked to life, a stranger walking detached on the footpath struggles with blurred vision and offers silent thanks for the slow dawn that shields emotive comment. The procession tips into the small park adjacent to the RSL club and the formalities commence. Despite its beauty, the chill of dawn serves as a minute reminder of the discomfort suffered by those whom the ritual honours.

At a time long since passed the park served as a training ground for some enthusiastic if uncoordinated youths, keen to play in the local soccer competition. With support from the RSL the team managed two years of inglorious competition, its best result probably being a one-all draw, its worst, a 21- nil defeat. To-day they would be called losers but the stranger looks at the tree which once reinforced one of the goal posts he used to defend and thinks not of loss but of life gained through experience.

Anzac Day, Swansea, 2013