Australian Patriotism and Sacrificial Christian Symbolism embodied in One Image commemorating Phil Hughes

Michael Roberts

Patriotism & Chritian sAcrifice in HUGHESPic from Getty Images

This image adorned the front page of The Australian on Friday 28th November 2014 beside the headlineNation shares AGONY of an innings cut short” which was the title of a news item by Peter Lalor.

Michael Roberts

This visual composition snared my interest. For one, the rays of light from above suggested Christian cosmological strands of inspiration (note the two illustrative images within this post). Secondly, it reminded me of a pictorial etching of Westminster Abbey in London in a news article in 1916 describing the mourning and commemoration of the Australian dead at Gallipoli.[1]

Baptism of Jesus Christ by Maratta, 1698 Baptism of Jesus Christ by Maratta, 1698

The Christian threads within the Australian mourning and commemoration of the dead during the two World Wars have been widely documented. This was what one would expect. Highlighting this phenomenon must, of course, be qualified by attention to the context and by the specification of other strands within the processes of mourning and honouring. Those complex threads have been surveyed in numerous studies.[2]

However, we have moved into the twenty-first century and a milieu of increasing secularism and significant declines in church-attendance that are suggestive of increasing godlessness. Thus, this particular depiction of Philip Hughes immediately after the announcement of his death did surprise me.

Hughes was a lad from country New South Wales, much like the iconic young men who volunteered in 1914/15 to march into the First World War[3] to become the stuff of Australian nationalist history from the moment they landed at Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915. It is this iconic country boy who is manufactured as hero in Peter Weir’s classic film, Gallipoli. He dies … of course. Thus, this blond lad (“Archy Hamilton” played by actor Mark Lee) is twice-hero, the natural man of country breed who then gave his life serving his country. That is a specific Aussie twist to the patriotism that sustains and builds the place/nation and its peoples, including new immigrants encompassed by its landscape, heritage and mystique.[4]

The Anzac Memorial service and other activities commencing at dawn on 25th April every year since 1916 serve in de facto manner[5] as the most evocative national day for Australians.  The ceremonies foster patriotism by stressing motifs that are explicitly Australian, while yet fusing these themes “universal themes” drawn from its Western heritage — themes Hellenic as well as Christian. This mix of symbols are “implanted within a moment that is specifically Australian” and constitutes “a giant symbol with multiple meanings: the Anzac symbol” (Flaherty & Roberts 1989: 55).

While this imagery and these visions remain strong today, it seemed to me that the continuing march of secularism and hedonism was undermining the Christian symbolism that had been so powerful a force in sustaining the Anzac Legend. So, within this framework of conjectural thought the image of Phil Hughes encased within cosmological light in sacrificial awe generated surprise. Hughes the battler here becomes another Anzac embraced by the Australian flag (and its people) and bathed with rays of HEAVENLY LIGHT. The Christian symbolism, it seems, runs deep.

Phil Hughes’s youthfulness,[6] history and character, his reputation for the quality of “true grit,”[7] and the moment and manner of his death render the image that has inspired this essay into something Christian Sacrificial in ways that deepen the principal motif, namely, a celebration of those Dinkum Aussie Patriotic.

Unlike 1915 and the decades thereafter, however, the Christian sacrificial motif is on less secure ground TODAY. That is why this visual composition seemed so overt and incongruous to me.

It appears particularly incongruous within a context in late 2014 where both the Aussie media and its politicians have been bashing (with good reason) Islamic extremists for the practices of the type associated with ISIS. The praise of (Islamic) martyrdom is not only viewed with distaste, it is condemned. Young Australian men who head for the Islamic war theatre to experience the thrill of battle on behalf of the Prophet Mohammed stand condemned. So too are those anywhere who sacrifice self for cause by serving as suicide bombers: using life as a weapon (uyirāyutham as the Tamil Tigers described the act[8]) is regarded as a form of “terrorism” in the standard Australian reading. Such acts are regarded as antithetical to the values of Australian society. In this conception SACRIFICE is bad, dangerous.

However, it seems, some forms of sacrifice are kosher.


Flaherty, Chris & M. Roberts 1989 “The Reproduction of Anzac Symbolism,” Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 24: 52-69.

Gammage, Bill 1982 “Anzac,” in J. Carroll (ed.) Intruders in the Bush, Melbourne.

Inglis, K. S.  1965 “The Anzac Tradition,” Meanjin,  Volume I.

Inglis, K. S.  1970 “the Australians at Gallipoli II,” Historical Studies,  volume 14.

Inglis, K. S. 1985 “A Sacred Place: The Making of the Australian War Memorial,” War and Society, Volume 3: 99-126.

Kapferer, Bruce 1988 Legends of People, Myths of State, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Kapferer, Bruce 1989 “Nationalist Ideology and A Comparative Anthropology,” Ethnos, 1$: 161-99.

McCarthy, D. 1983 Gallipoli to the Somme. The Story of CEW Bean, Sydney.

War Memorial 1934 The Book of the National War Memorial, Sydney.

Weir, Peter 1981 Gallipoli, a film R & R Film


[1] I regret that this reference is buried among notes and cuttings buried somewhere in my library but the image remains in my mind. It was one aspect of the work that went into Flaherty and Roberts 1989.

[2] See Inglis, 1965, 1970 and 1985; Kapferer 1988 & 1989 and Gammage 1982.

[3] In 1914 many the Australian media and Australians spoke of the moment as an opportunity to prove “their “national character” and saw it as a “baptism of fire” (another Christian metaphor embedded in English speech).

[4] This argument is developed with specific twists in Flaherty & Roberts, 1989.

[5] The formal day marking Australia’s’ birth is every 26th January.

[6] Thus one appreciative obituary from the erudite cricket writer, Gideon Haigh, had the title “Forever young that’s how we’ll remember Hughes,” (The Australian, 28 November 2014).

[7] Determination in adversity is expected of every Australian sportsman –so that those men of sport who gave way in ignominious defeat –like the Australian cricketers who collapsed in a heap in the face of Kiwi fire in late January 1986 and lost badly in Barbados in April 1984 were depicted with disdain (Flaherty & Roberts 1989: 66 and The advertiser 28 January 1986).

[8] See Reuter 2002; Roberts, “Induction Oath,” 2014; Roberts, “Self-Annihilation,” 2010;  Roberts, “From Godse….” 2014 and Roberts, “Self-Sacrifice,” 2005.

hARMAN-WOAM IN TRANCE a woman going into transe inside a temple, South India  — Pic by Bill Harman

HARMAN-FIREWALKunnameda man fulfilling a vow to walk on fire at a goddess festival, South India — Pic by Bill Harman

oath 6 Tamil Tiger fighter receiving her kuppi or cyanide capsule at Induction ceremony at end of initial training — from BBC documentary 1991

VP homage 2005

Pirapāharan pays homage to the Black Tiger dead on Black Tiger day in front of image of Miller (n0m de guerre), the first suicide bomber Pic from TamilNet


 Colman, Padraig 2012 “Martyrology, Martyrdom, Rebellion, Terrorism,” 17 March 2012,

Dupont,Alan 2014 “ISIS as fascist and Totalitarian,” 29 September 2014,

Farrer, DS 2014 “War Magic and Warrior Religion: Q and A with DS Farrer,” 20 October 2014,

Harman, William 2014 [2000] “Meaningful Violence: Reflections on the Dynamic of Human Sacrifice,” 23 November 2014,

Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “And Heroes Die: Poetry of the Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia 28: 112-53.

Reuter, Christoph 2002 My Life is A Weapon. A Modern History of Suicide Bombing, Princeton University Press.

Roberts, Michael & Arthur Saniotis  (eds. by invitation) 2006  “Empowering the Body and Noble Death,” Social Analysis, Spring 2006 50: 7-24, introducing articles by Douglas Farrer, Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, Michael Roberts and Jacob Copeman.

Roberts, Michael 2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

Roberts, Michael 2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite Of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Self Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, 1: 25-41.

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond…Towards the Tamil Tigers,”

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2012 ” Velupillai Pirapāharan: VEERA MARANAM,” 26 November 2012, 

Roberts, Michael 2014 “From Godse and Gandhi to the Selfless Sacrifice of the Tamil Tigers,” 13 June 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Running the Gauntlet in Academia:  The Case of “Selfless Sacrifice” — A Rejected Article,” 15 June 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “The Induction Oath of Tamil Tiger Fighters at their Passing Out Ceremony,” 23 June 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 “where In-fighting generates Fervour and Power: ISIS Today, LTTE Yesterday,” 21 July 2014,

Schalk, Peter 2003 ‘Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) in Europe’, in Martin Baumann et al (eds.) Tempel und Tamilien in zweiter Heimat, Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.

Tanaka, Masakazu 1991. Patrons, Devotees and Goddesses. Ritual and Power among the Tamil Fishermen of Sri Lanka. Kyoto: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University.

Weddle, David 2014 “Fallen Warriors: What should We call Them?” 26 November 2014,


Greg Sheridan, “We can but mourn for the voiceless Christians of the Middle East,” The Australian, 4 December 2014,



Filed under cultural transmission, heritage, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, meditations, patriotism, religiosity, self-reflexivity

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