Written by Senior Curator, Social History, Mark Clayton.
At 4 a.m. on the morning of February 5, 1916, Mr W.J. McLaughlan who was on sentry duty on the beach at North Fremantle, noticed in the dim light an object which he at first took to be a snake, but which on closer examination proved to be a remarkably elongated fish of a bright silvery colour.
The Keeper of Biology at the Western Australian Museum, Mr W Alexander, soon identified this as a new species which he described in detail – four months later – in a paper read before a meeting of that state’s Royal Society. He proposed then to name the new species Evoxymetopon anzac, sp nov., explaining that this was “specially suitable for a fish found in Australian waters and nearly related to famous Frost-fish (Lepidopus caudatus) so well known in New Zealand.(1)
With the vantage of hindsight, and a century of liberal thinking, using the name ‘Anzac ‘to describe a new fish species might seem appropriate to us when in fact it could have been received as inappropriate and possibly even sacrilegious back then, especially given the prevailing legal, social and military tensions of that time.
A relatively new term then used mostly by military personnel and only reverentially, by civilians, the scientific community’s appropriation of the term ‘Anzac’ was – up until then – without precedent.
Since the first national Anzac Day commemoration had occurred some weeks prior to his Royal Society address, Alexander could not have been ignorant of the words sacredness, or the mounting media calls for its use to be safeguarded. Already, by May 1916, a regulation had been passed (under the War Precaustions Act), “making it an offence for any person to use, for the purposes of any trade, business, calling, or profession, the word “Anzac,” or any word resembling it.” Initially intended to discourage the word’s commercial exploitation, these punitive provisions were progressively extended after the war to encompass a much broader range of potentially inappropriate uses.
In short time ‘Anzac’ became one of the few words in the English language ever to have been afforded legal protection, and it was here in Queensland that the Regulation’s legal force was first tested (the newly completed Anzac Memorial Church in Indooroopilly being given a Prime Ministerial reprieve, on the basis that its foundation stone had been inscribed prior to the Regulation’s passage).
With considerable foresight the Regulation’s authors had adequately anticipated and provided for Anzac parks, streets, biscuits and cottages, all of which were within the realms of past and popular experience, Evoxymetopon anzac’s arrival from left of field however would have been difficult to foresee, or prevent. While provision had already been made within the Regulation for trademarks, the naming of species was typically regulated by peak international bodies which operated outside the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction.
If the term Anzac could be appropriated for one new species, then conceivably it could be re-used over and again for any number of other species (or genus)? Which is exactly what occurred.
Alexander’s paper had no sooner been published when, in 1919 on the other side of the world, French arachnologist Raymond Comte de Dalmas described a new ground spider genus (found in Australia and New Zealand) which he named Anzacia.
Anzac variants may well have been applied often since then, the term having even been used to describe insects (Anzac bipunctatus) and plants (the cultivar Callistemon citrinus having been termed ‘White Anzac’).
Queensland Museum staff have also played a part in helping to sustain this century-old practise, ABRIS Research Fellow Michael Rix having described – in 2006 – a tiny spider which he named Flavarchaea anzac….
“The specific epithet refers to Australia’s national day of wartime commemoration, ‘Anzac Day’ (annually on 25 April). This date remembers and honours all Australians who have served and died in war, and originated after Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (‘Anzac’) soldiers landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, on 25 April 1915. The first specimen of this species (QMB S66839) was collected on Anzac Day 2001.”
We may not remember them, as we do those other Anzacs, yet still their numbers grow.