Anzac Day 2018 and Iris

by Honor Auckinleck

A visitor to the Upper Murray might well asked why a left-hand drive US Army Jeep was leading the Anzac Day Parade.  A rich web of threads connecting different aspects of 20th century Upper Murray events and culture underlie this aspect of local history.

The taproot of the Jeep's connection to Anzac Day goes back to about 1947 when my father Tom Mitchell bought the jeep from a US Army Colonel in Albury.  I don't know if it was the Colonel or Dad who named the vehicle 'Iris' - it was called 'Iris' by the time of my earliest memories and recently its name has been carefully painted on the bodywork beside the passenger door. Similarly, I don't know who screwed on the enamelled metal badge depicting a giant, god-like figure carrying a child, across a swiftly flowing stream. While it could represent St Christopher or more simply God carrying the Christ child to safety, perhaps more relevantly it represents the stronger, more able in our communities doing their bit to hold out a helping hand to the less able - a quality which is enshrined in most major religions.  It is also part of the ongoing spirit of Anzac that saw those like my father through the privations of captivity as a Prisoner of War. He maintained that he survived the Second World War due the kindness of others, notably Dr Kennedy Burnside and local Upper Murray friend and footballer Peter Chitty.


Continuity's thread continues:  Keen to reconcile their adventurous pre-war lives in the immediate post-war years, in February 1948 together with First World War digger Ossie Rixon, Second World War submariner Bill Littlejohn and Roly my mother Elyne’s the border collie, my parents drove and winched their way 72 miles (115.9km) over the Great Dividing Range to the Chalet at Charlotte's Pass, just 12 km from the summit of Mt Kosciusko.  If they were not all as fit as they had been before the Second World War, they were a courageous and intrepid crew -  they had maps, compasses and their knowledge of the terrain and bushcraft gained from their earlier expeditions and their love of the mountains and the fauna and flora.

They drove and winched their way for 115km across the High Country

Judging from his post-war correspondence when he was pushing for the right of ex-servicemen to be able to purchase an interest in alpine properties, Tom believed in the restorative power of the bush and the hills for those suffering from trauma in the war’s aftermath.

Route of the jeep trip

Being a keen horsewoman and daughter of distinguished Light Horse General Sir Harry Chauvel, Elyne was initially sceptical about travelling over the mountains in Iris.  Perhaps she thought that Iris might have been named after the Greek Goddess of speed and thought that the jeep’s momentum would mean that she would miss some of the detail of the wildflowers and the sound of Iris’s engine would scare the wildlife.  In reality she found that travelling in a vehicle rather than on horseback was even slower than she had expected; she was experiencing the mountains in an entirely new and challenging way. Just as the Light Horsemen came to recognize the function of the motorized units in warfare, Elyne also conceded regretfully that vehicles rather than horses were the key to her future in the mountains.

 

More than a decade after my parents’ epic expedition and as soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, Dad began teaching me to drive.  Being armour-plated from wartime service, Iris was ideal, as we discovered when I drove onto a submerged log beginning at the thin end.  Iris kept going until the wheels lost traction and she was beginning to rock on the log and wouldn’t go any further!  Dad and I were able to push Iris off the log without sustaining any damage to the vehicle.  Although our clothes were soaking wet, Dad insisted on continuing my driving lesson. Later on Mr Ibbotson, the then local policeman was a good sport who came to coach my elder brother Harry and I through changing gears while negotiating an obstacle course Dad had constructed in the homestead horse paddock.  By that stage with a virtually non-existent handbrake and no lights of any sort, Iris was very definitely an off-road farm vehicle.  While it is just as well road rules and their enforcement have changed immensely in the last fifty years, I look back on Mr Ibbotson’s efforts to teach me to drive with great gratitude.

 

It was fitting that Tom and Elyne should donate Iris to the Upper Murray Historical Society where she has been lovingly restored to absolute perfection.  Iris now sports a smart registration plate and she has her special role as a Museum exhibit and a ceremonial vehicle leading the annual Man from Snowy River Festival and Anzac Day Parades.

 

On Anzac Day 2018, I was surprised and absolutely delighted when John Whitehead, President of the Upper Murray Historical Society asked if I would like to join two young passengers and travel in Iris, leading the Parade from outside the Corryong Newsagency along Hansen Street to the RSL hall in Donaldson Street.  Nothing could have been better!  At one time Dad would have marched in the Parade.  Ossie Rixon who also marched used to help teach me to ride.   Sometimes on Sunday evenings he came for a meal and a yarn at the Towong Hill homestead.  He always looked very dapper in his coat and tie and RSL badge in his lapel.   

The short drive reminded me too of Bill Littlejohn and his remarkable Second World War service in submarines.  My mother explained that his rather pasty complexion was probably a result of having spent too long underwater.  The drive in Iris also reminded me of my courageous parents who would have never passed up an opportunity for an adventure and how that during the Second World War years the thought of going to the mountains became a beacon of hope and inspiration for Elyne. It reminded me too of an Anzac Day in the late1950s or early 1960s when First and Second World War memories were raw and widespread throughout our communities.  As if to highlight a gap between those who had served and lived through the war and those of us were born later, on Anzac Days my parents’ generation seemed to become engrossed in conversations that like many others I didn’t have the knowledge and background to understand.  Judging from the little I could understand and remember it seemed as if the Second World War overshadowed the more recent Korean War.  In the late 1960s the Vietnam War further emphasised the differing attitudes between the wartime generation and the baby boomers. In recent years other conflicts have ensured that many of us bring our own experiences and memories to Anzac Day.

Iris led the Anzac Day 2018 Parade

Most importantly young people are now bringing their own spirit to the commemorations in a way that when my generation were young we felt unable to do.  At the Dawn Service, I heard rumour that students from the Corryong College were participating in a Cadets programme and were marching in Albury.  I don’t think it is premature to say that perhaps once gain the torch is being passed to receptive hands.  Certainly my father would be proud of them. I hope that on a future Anzac Day we’ll see our Cadets marching in the Anzac Day Parade in Corryong.

Passing the torch 23 December 1940