Peace is the reason Mary-Anne O'Connor writes about war

A field of poppies reminds us of the sacrifice of those who go to war and those who wait.

People often ask me why I write about war and there’s really only one answer to the question: I’m writing for peace.

It all began when I was a little girl. Back then I loved nothing better than stories, frequenting the local cinema whenever I could and sitting up late at night to finish novels by torchlight. Yet the most entertaining stories of all were available first-hand and they could be found at the kitchen table.

I come from a close and very extensive Catholic family (fifty-eight first cousins alone!) and my childhood was filled with pop in visits and get-togethers which always eventuated to gathering around the teapot and having long chats. As the youngest granddaughter on both sides, I was privy to a long history lesson during those times. 

My grandfather ‘Da’ fought in Gallipoli, the Somme and Palestine and was much loved by our family, although sadly I never got to meet him. He died the day after my sister Linda was born, ironically on Anzac day.

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Fortunately, his wife Gladys, my Nana, lived a long life and she had extraordinary tales to tell of those pioneering, formative years. They barely survived the Great Depression, eking out a living in the country by panning for gold dust and eating wild rabbit. She was incredibly strong and very supportive of Da who suffered from the effects of war. Things got better when the family moved back to Sydney. 

Nana found a dream house on Gallipoli Street and, according to family folklore, she moved heaven and earth to secure it. She even buried a holy medal in the garden when no-one was looking. I love to think of her sneaking in to do that- she was so determined and adventurous.

Those tales around the table filled my imagination, especially hearing what it was like to live through the subsequent WWII years and the effect that had on the entire family. Learning to understand the extent of the fear Nana and Da had for their sons and sons-in-law, my mother’s fear, her sisters. 

Everyone had memories of rations, news on the wireless, the wail of sirens and the terrible arrival of telegrams. My Aunty Iris was only eighteen when she heard her young husband Wally had been killed. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

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By the time they all had children of their own another war was being waged and they had to come to terms with that fear once more. Three generations, three wars.

I was the youngest, as I said, so I was born right at the end of it all, however, I do remember black and white images flickering on the TV and someone talking about a place called Vietnam. I was never allowed to stay in the room but even as a very young girl, I could see change occurring. A man called Whitlam was at the helm now, university was free, people sang songs about peace and put flowers in soldier’s guns.

I loved these young people, this ‘hippy’ generation. From a child’s perspective, they got everything right. They protested against this terrible fear, this thing called War that had caused so much pain in my family. They understood that it was tragic, that it destroyed lives, that it really just shouldn’t be allowed and that all you really needed was love, sweet love. Flower Power.

As I grew up I pondered over this family legacy I carried; Anzac Day seemed more and more tragic to me every year as I reflected on what Australia has sacrificed in the name of war. Then one day I opened a blank document on my computer screen and wrote two words: Gallipoli Street.

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It’s more than an address it’s a journey, for when a soldier goes to war everyone he loves goes with him and when he brings it home they carry it too. Sometimes these men are even blamed for the acts of war they are forced to perform, the greatest injustice of all.

By writing about the three generations I could write about that long trek we have taken as a nation and the ultimate shift of power back to the people, as demanded by the flower power generation 50 years ago. The war for peace.

Peace. It may well be one of the most precious words on earth. Lest we ever forget that.

Sincere thanks to Mary-Anne O’Connor for this article written expressly for Books at 60. Gallipoli Street, Worth Fighting For and War Flower,  published by HQ Fiction, are available as paperbacks and as e-Books. Click titles for details.