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The Katsarolles of Leonidas

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15 December 2009

When I recently passed by the new bronze bust of Leonidas that was erected in Sparta Place, Brunswick, two aspects of the display concerned me.

Firstly I did not see any writing describing the significance of this pivotal figure from the ancient Hellenic world.

Inscriptions in Greek and English on the bust’s large base is essential in order for people observing the figure to understand who Leonidas was and the importance of the sacrifices made at Thermopylae.

Secondly, an abstract art work involving a cage full of pots and pans is positioned right in front of the Leonidas bust.

So as it stands at the moment any person walking by may well think that Leonidas is a salesperson with a brush on his head promoting kitchen utensils.

Ironically, it is the sacrifices and courage exhibited by the Spartans and others such as the Thespians during the battle of Thermopylae that has crafted the freedoms we enjoy today and therefore allow artists to express and show their work in public.

My feeling though is that the bust base should have clear inscriptions printed on it and that the artist or those responsible for the pots and pans should quietly unbolt their work and relocate it even if it’s somewhere towards the back of Sparta Place.

Petros Rozakeas Burwood East VIC

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Poor, poor Abalinx. He believe's all the bull shit colonial history of Australia. He was obviously born yesterday and he has not been in a Library. As my German Jew History teacher told me in a quiet private conversation, I have to know the books on the compulsory list to get good marks for the exam, but if you want to know the truth about history you need to read widely and get the views from different angles. School books are usually just Government propaganda.
AUSTRALIAN & HELLENIC THERMOPYLAE Combatants past and present faced the horrors of war to ensure that freedom from slavery and oppression. Therefore its incumbent upon us that remained behind and spared the horrors of war do not and, must not forget that those who paid the supreme sacrifice to uphold the freedoms, values and principles we take for granted this day did not die in vain. Like King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans leading the charge against the Persians at Thermopylae, so did the Australian Soldier on the Kokoda Track stop the Japanese from reaching Australian shores. In both cases the Hellenic and Australian forces faced numerically superior forces and they both repulsed and delayed the invaders long enough for other forces to come and defeat the enemy. There are also many similarities between the ancient Spartans and that of the Australian combatant. Both were highly trained, fearless in battle, disciplined, loyal and a love of freedom. They believed in sacrificing themselves for the greater good and to ensure that future generations did not live in fear or under oppressive regimes. This love of freedom is embedded in all of the citizens of the free world and it is appropriate and no coincidence that the two countries share the same ideals and values. Henry Jo Gullet, ex soldier, Officer, Politician and ambassador said that when in Greece during WW2, “The Greeks always made it obvious that we were their people and that they treated us (Australian) like their own”. When visitors pass by the statue at Sparta Place in Brunswick Victoria, they should be mindful of the words of the poet, Simonides who wrote about the Spartans at Thermopylae: "O Stranger, send the news home to the Lacedaemonians that here We lie at rest: the commands they gave us have been obeyed.” Simonides words may well also apply to all those Australians (particularly the 39th Battalion - Victoria) who gave their lives on the Kokoda Track, in Papua New Guinea during World war 2. Therefore one can surmise and appreciate what the Statue of Leonidas (Brunswick Victoria) truly stands for. That Freedom comes at a price and that the statue of Leonidas is a statue for the those who stood up to stop the aggressor at Thermopylae and Kokoda track. That is the reason for the statue being erected where it now stands this day. Australian & Hellenic Thermopylae Peter Adamis Abalinx THE AUSTRALIAN THERMOPYLAE FRANK DEVINE THE AUSTRALIAN, 22 APRIL 1991 It is a pity Australia lacks the historians and poets of ancient Greece. The legend of the 300 Spartans who held the pass at Thermopylae against thousands of Persians has lived on for nearly 2,500 years. We had our Thermopylae, in which some 400 young men, their average 18½ years – fought some 10,000 Japanese for seven weeks in July and August 1942, and saved their country from enemy occupation. But they are almost entirely unremembered and unhonoured. When their part in the battle of the Kokoda Track, in New Guinea, was over, our Spartans had lost 137 killed in action, dead from wounds or disease or missing in action. Another 266 were wounded. Our Spartans entered their final great confrontation with the Japanese, at Isurava, on the August 26, 1942, with their 150 fittest men out on patrols, chopping away at the Japanese as guerillas in mountainous jungle. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner, of Sydney, now 86 and part-crippled by wounds inflicted at our Thermopylae, recalls that he “had fewer that 200 men in a condition to stand upright in a defensive position” to fight against the Japanese when they attacked at Isurava at the end of August. The heroic invalids held the attackers for three days, until the advance guard of an AIF brigade of battle-experienced, Middle East veterans who had just arrived in New Guinea came up the Kokoda Track from Port Moresby to relieve them. Even the AIF tough guys were forced by the desperate Japanese to retreat, though exacting a heavy toll for every metre they grudgingly gave up. On the night of September 17, the Japanese exhausted and on the edge of starvation, caught a distant glimpse of the lights of Port Moresby, target of their Kokoda campaign. They never got closer. Over the next two months the hard men of the AIF drove the Japanese back across the Owen Stanley Mountains. Our Spartans repaired and reinforced, joined the AIF on the east coast of New Guinea – the far side of the Owen Stanleys from Australia, and fought fiercely again during the battles of Buna and Gona, in which the Japanese Kokoda force was finally crushed. The official name of our Spartans was the 39th Battalion. It was formed in Victoria of volunteers. A few militia conscripts sent to the 39th were asked whether they wanted to fight in New Guinea and were returned to their militia units if they said ‘No’ or sounded equivocal. Though volunteers, the men of the 39th were militia too, and thus scorned as ‘chokohs’ – chocolate soldiers – by the army professionals and members of the AIF. They had just two months of training before shipping out of Port Moresby. The ‘chokohs’ of the 39th battalion were the first Australians ever to go into battle in direct defence of their homeland. The Japanese had intended to take port Moresby by sea, but setbacks in the naval battles of Midway and the Coral Sea caused them to change their tactics. They landed their army at Buna on the east coast and moved to attack overland. The rain-bashed, precipitous, hostile terrain was more than they bargained for. So, with bells on, was the tigerish opposition of the Australians. Apart from much greater numbers in the Kokoda campaign, the Japanese had mortars, cannon and heavy machine-guns, horses and an engineer battalion to cut paths in the mountainsides and bridge ravines and torrents. The Spartan, the 39th Battalion, the ‘chokohs’, had only rifles, hand-grenades and Bren light machine-guns. The only time they got a heavy machine-gun, a Vickers, into place, Japanese mortar fire brought down a tree which fell on the Vickers and smashed it. The Japanese expected to sweep upon Moresby with next to no resistance. Had they done so, they would have had a base from which to establish total naval and air domination of Australia’s east coast, seizing territory there in due course at their leisure. How did our Spartans achieve their fantastic feat of arms? Basically, by acts of individual bravery whose recounting makes the back of your neck tingle. They fought the Japanese at such close quarters that on one occasion a Japanese climbing a tree in the dark grabbed hold of an Australian bayonet in mistake for a branch. There isn’t room here to do justice to their heroism. Lex McAulay, a regular army officer-turned-novelist and historian, does justice to the heroes in a wonderful book called ‘Blood and Iron: The Battle for Kokoda”. Why aren’t they a national legend? It is fair to point in McAulay’s book, as representative of our Spartans, to the noble action of Lieutenant H.W. Crawford. Japanese machine-gun fire drove fragments of metal from Crawford’s helmet so deeply into his head that it was impossible to remove the helmet. He was sent down the track with an escort of two men, whom his platoon could not afford, to find medical treatment. A few hundred metres from the action, Crawford, bleeding and in agony, pulled his pistol and forced his escort to return to the battle. He stumbled down the track on his own and was never seen again. McAulay, who spent two years in combat in Vietnam, believes one of the reasons our 400 or so Spartans fought so splendidly was that they had no choice. The Japanese had behaved savagely during the Pacific war to that stage and surrender was not an option. Nor was it an option to abandon a mate to capture. Medical treatment was days away: A wound was not reason stop fighting. Moreover, says McAulay, our young Spartans were only a couple of decades removed from Gallipoli. They were impelled, like the warriors of ancient Greece, to discover whether they were as brave as their fathers. Having established that they were at least as brave, why are the young heroes of the 39th Battalion not pillars of Australian legend? McAulay blames General Douglas Macarthur, a self-publicist who totally controlled war news disseminated form and within Australia. Macarthur was lobbying Washington for American reinforcements and it suited his purpose to denigrate the fighting ability of Australians. His chief of staff, Major-General Richard Sutherland, described Australian soldiers as ‘undisciplined, untrained, over-advertised and useless.” I have personal reason to consider this bullshit. In 1967 in Tokyo, I interviewed Lieutenant-General Tsutomu Yoshihara, chief of staff of Japan’s South Seas army, who said of our Spartans: “In the Kokoda battle their qualities of adaptability and individual initiative enabled them to show tremendous ability as fighting men in the jungle. They were superb. Why have we let the triumph of the 39th Battalion slip from national legend? God alone knows. After 18 months in existence, the 39th was disbanded and its soldiers sent to other units. No echo remains of our glorious Spartans in Australia’s military structure. What losses Australia inflicts upon itself by its neglect of past achievement. What vigour a clear memory of our Spartans at our Thermopylae would contribute to national self esteem. The handful of 39th Battalion survivors are now, says Lex McAulay, ‘just the old blokes at the bowling club.’ Recently, the American journalist Patrick Buchanan argued that his country’s finest generation of the 20th century was the one born in the ‘20s, whose members bore the Great Depression as children or teenagers, fought in World War 11 and created the prosperity of the 50s’. When one considers the magnificence of the boy warriors of the 39th Battalion, it is easy to believe that this is Australia’s greatest generation, too.

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