Tom Uren, who died this week, had a lot of love in his heart, and a good stock of empathetic tears in his lacrimal duct. If he hated the dreaded Tories collectively, he liked a good many of them personally.
One was John Carrick, like him a soldier who fought in Timor in 1942, like him a survivor of Changi and the Burma Railroad, but unlike Tom, an officer and, at 96, still with us.
It is not often recalled that the Japanese Army paid officer prisoners of war during the war, and that, generally, prisoners of war remained under the discipline of their own officers. By no means did this exempt POWs from the casual brutality of Japanese prison guards, who, according to my father, who was there, were mostly Koreans, themselves almost as oppressed and despised by the Japanese, and fed the same inadequate diets, as POWs. But pay and (despite the impression created by Bridge on the River Quai) broad exemption from work duties had the capacity to set officer POWs apart from their own men.
Carrick, who after the war was to become a Liberal Party organiser and, later, senator, minister and knight, was one of a number of junior officers of socialistic bent who thought that officers should pool their pay so that it could be used to buy black market medicines and food for those in the sick bay.
Many other Australian officers agreed. Very few British officers, whether of British or Indian soldiers agreed with the idea of "the blanket" - and their reservations showed in drastic differences in the survival rate of different units.
"In our camp the officers and medical orderlies paid the greater proportion of their allowance into a central fund," Uren told Parliament in his maiden speech in 1959. "The men who worked did likewise [with the more token allowance they were given.]
"We were living by the principle of the fit looking after the sick, the young looking after the old, the rich looking after the poor.
"A few months after he arrived at Hintok Road camp, a part of a British H Force arrived. They were about 400 strong. As a temporary arrangement they had tents. The officers selected the best, the NCOs the next best, and the men got the dregs. Soon after they arrived, the wet season set in, bringing with it cholera and dysentery. Six weeks later only 50 men marched out of that camp, and, of that number only about 25 survived.
"Only a creek separated our two camps. But on one side the law of the jungle prevailed, and, on the other the principles of socialism".
A good many years later, a Labor figure, seeking to make some rhetorical point against a Fraser cabinet minister joked that Carrick had been the only man to have put on weight at Changi.
Uren was more indignant about this slur on a comrade than Carrick, and offered to demonstrate that he had not completely lost the boxing skills by which he had survived before and after the war.
Tom, for all of his pacifism, was himself not one to turn the other cheek. He gained a taste for defamation litigation in the 1960s when Sir Frank Packer's Telegraph implied that he was some sort of communist stooge. One case went up to the Privy Council. He even collected, on one occasion, for a suggestion that he could not even run a chook raffle.
His litigiousness had most newspaper editors circulate written instructions to staff saying that Tom Uren was not to be quoted on anything, even the time of day, unless there were six independent witnesses and a photograph of the clock on hand.
But he could rarely complain of being ignored.
The importance of his role as minister for urban and regional development, and, later, as minister responsible for the Capital Territory is hard to understate, but sometimes, it was difficult to work out what was his work and what the work of staff.
To Tom, for example, Canberra owes Namadji National Park, but he openly disowned some things done in his name, including the building of the Canberra casino, at (according to him) Bob Hawke's behest.
Staff in one department frequently complained that only grand thoughts and concepts were ever directly communicated by Tom, and that, questioned about any matters of detail communicated, as usual, through advisers, the minister seemed uninterested, if loyal to staff.
One staffer was accused of using the department to research his PhD.
At DURD, Tom set what was thought likely to be an all-time record of letting more than a year pass between any form of communication whatever with his departmental secretary, Bob Landsowne.
But it was a record beaten under the secretaryship of territories and local government, John Enfield. Enfield, who was never even sure of whether he had offended, or how, made a number of pleas to prime minister Bob Hawke for some brokered meeting or discussion, but Hawke seemed uninterested.
During the Depression, Tom, a working class lad, saw families evicted on to the street for non-payment of rent. He instructed the Canberra commissioner for housing that there were to be no evictions whatever under his regime, even if a certain amount of huffing and puffing was allowed. Word got out, which was somewhat inevitable, and the number of dwellings in rental arrears ballooned. Tom's office insisted that it was not a result of his instruction, but of the leaking of it. I must say, however, that he was cheerful enough about losing an FOI case mounted by Graham Downie on the subject.
I told him once that if he ever wanted to silence me, I would settle for being appointed administrator of Cartier Reef.
But this man of principle didn't seem to have to have it in him. He always asked after my father, and later, when he lived near my sister, me. Now John Carrick is, I think, the last living great public man associated with the Burma Railway.
Last week I complained of recently invented traditions, liturgies and ceremonial by which Australians were being invited to become patriotic flag worshippers, and hand-on-the-heart anthem singers in an inauthentic mimicking of Americans. About 95 per cent of the mail, to me or to the newspaper, was entirely supportive of my view, although writers at both the Telegraph and the Australian used it to as proof that I hate my country.
Some of those who disagreed made points, particularly about the flag, that I think were well-meant and intentioned, but simply not true. I remarked, for example, that most Australians who fought and died in wars did not do so "under the Australian flag", but some of those think this is disproved by saying (or thinking) that Australia adopted its flag (a slightly modified British "Blue Ensign" in 1903).
Sure, but its status as a national flag was quite ambiguous.
For its first 30 years, it usually flew alongside (and slightly south of) the Union Jack. The Federation Flag (a variant of the NSW flag) was flown as commonly, particularly in NSW, in part because cornstalks thought the Blue Ensign as so close to the Victorian flag it made no difference.
Only Commonwealth bodies were allowed to fly the Blue Ensign; state bodies, businesses and households were supposed to use the Red Ensign. When soldiers died, their coffins, when the had them, were draped with the Union Jack. It was the Red Ensign, not the Blue Ensign which flew, alongside the Union Jack, at the opening of Parliament House in Canberra in 1927.
Australian formations fought under any number of flags, only incidentally including the Blue Ensign, in World Wars I and II. Incidentally, the "Australian National Flag" adopted in the 1953 Flag Act is similar to, but materially different from the defaced Blue Ensign approved as the Australian Flag in 1902 and proclaimed in 1903.
Nor were my remarks only the view of a precious and elitist luvvie leftie former-draft dodger, as some hinted. Indeed, I received a number of letters from military folk wholeheartedly agreeing. Although one former senior officer commented that I was out of date with my remark that "the digger tradition ... is much more one of open disdain for gesture, pomp and ceremony".
"I fear that this is no longer the case," he said. "In my view the majority of young Australian service people have become entirely converted by American styles and habits.
"Today's diggers just love all the new gongs and bits of metal they now hang off their uniforms (as do the seniors who have enough foreign orders dangling off their tunic fronts to make them look like South American dictators) and they just adore the public applause they get each time they parade at the many opportunities now made available to them.
"The very worst offenders are the very senior NCOs of all three services who have become self-appointed keepers of the ceremonial tradition (which in itself is only recently confected).
"Where, for example, we once limited ADFA parade time to a necessary minimum consistent with impressing mum and dad with spit shine and drill, and limiting time at attention in the summer sun, ADFA parades are now two-hour long circuses of formal welcomes to myriad politicians and senior officers, banner-parading, saluting and handing over of the 'flame' to next year's senior cadets. The final foolishness is the co-ordinated shouts from all cadets as they march off – borrowed from the Canadians, I fear."
"Have a look at the Australian Federation Guard, formed in 2001 under pressure from army SNCOs, which in my view is an expensive tribute to what the politicians believe is appropriate military ceremony. They even use old-fashioned SLR rifles because their modern Steyr F88 weapons do not look sufficiently stylish."
"In my younger days the aim was to get on and off any parade ground as quickly as possible."
The love of dressing up, spit and polish, farnarkeling about and making a lot of incomprehensible noise (the lot commonly called a tattoo in honour of the body mutilation favoured by prisoners, military types, sexual submissives and bogans) is, of course, entirely consistent with that modern Australian military tradition, where the combined numbers of generals, admirals and air vice-marshals exceeds by a factor of at least 10 the number we had during World War II, when there were, at one stage, 1 million Australians under arms.
Australia has not, since 1952, fielded a force in combat that would warrant the presence, on the ground, of anyone higher than a colonel - of whom, of course, we have hundreds.
Last time I counted - these figures are rarely volunteered - the services had one middle-ranking officer (majors to brigadier, for example) for every 15 people. The combined length of ribbon on Australian military chests, not associated with active service duty or valour, would stretch to Brazil and back.
And, just for the record, I do not owe my personal freedom to say what I like, however silly, to any of the current generation of soldiers under arms. I respect their service, and their willingness to put themselves in harm's way at the insistence of some of the most atrocious politicians this country has known.
But, luckily, I have not had to call upon that willingness, and the engagements in which the modern military have been involved, even against refugees have not made me a bit safer or prouder to be Australian. To the contrary, even if that is the fault of politicians.
But in as far as my nation, and our freedoms have ever actually been in peril, it was being defended by people who overwhelmingly citizen volunteers, not professional soldiers.
Our Anzac Days were once primarily about them, not about the glorification of the professional military tradition, its spit and polish and its self-serving cheer squad.