Anthony W Collins
Auchenflower, Queensland, 1987

I was not a particularly diligent under-graduate. In fact, I was a very poor under- graduate. I developed, though, what is now a lifelong habit of needing music to concentrate.

I had a copy of Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon. On vinyl, of course. It was played long, hard and loud on my ancient Bang and Olufsen stereo. I loved Lawyers, Guns And Money, would howl appropriately during Werewolves Of London. I was mourning the loss of my ‘once beloved’ and Accidentally Like A Martyr could have been written about me. When Tenderness On The Block played I was undone, but for my money the best song on the whole album was Veracruz. It’s about the 1914 incursion into Mexico by American forces and the battle for Veracruz.

I had recorded my favourite songs onto a cassette and late at night studying, I would play them over and over again. (To this day, I do my best work to Midnight Oil’s songs.) Veracruz was first track on the tape. The line I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns still resonates today. I love it when Warren Zevon sings lines in Spanish.

Aquel dia yo jure (On that day I swore)
Hacia el puerto volvere (To the port I will return)
Aunque el destino cambio mi vida (Even though destiny changed my life)
En Veracruz morire (In Veracruz I shall die)
Aquel dia yo jure (On that day I swore)

When you consider that at about the same time the ANZACs were fighting on Gallipoli with horrible carnage, the losses to both sides in the battle for Veracruz were modest. But my interest was pricked and I read more and more about the 1914 battle.

I was still struggling through the arts degree and not enjoying it. I had enrolled in a subject about American diplomatic history in the 20th century. I needed the subject to complete a Major – and it gave me a Friday off.

The lecturer was an irascible American, from New York of Italian descent. In class one day he announced how he loved Australia because for the first time in his life he felt equality. “Not with you jerks,” he said but with all American people. In the United States he said he had always been an Italian-American at best. But in Australia he was “just another f—ing Yank, just like those preppy WASP bas-tads”. He was triumphant. His classes were always lively, and he was unapologetic about American involvement in Central America. “We’ve been kickin’ ass in Central America for 150 years and we ain’t stopping now.”

The class size was remarkably small and I have to confess I enjoyed the subject matter. You will never believe the surprise I got when a question on the examination paper was to the effect: “Explain President Wilson’s incursion into Mexico in 1914”.

Humming Veracruz to myself I nailed a university exam for the first time in my life.

 

© Anthony W Collins.
 

 

“I am a resident of Townsville in North Queensland. And set in my ways.”