There are several things I run past very often that never lose their impact on me.

One of these is Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.  There is nothing about that monument I don’t love – it’s intent, they way they light it, how proud and humble it makes you feel all at the same time, the rows of poplars leading up to it from Domain Road, the fact Loz and I used to be able to see it from our balcony when we lived together… it’s a truly awe-inspiring and is utterly beautiful in a melancholy sort of way.

Cobbers and the Shrine of Remembrance

Cobbers and the Shrine of Remembrance

As may be expected, there are many sculptures, plaques and tributes in the gardens that surround the Shrine.  Whilst I appreciate the importance of them all, there’s one that always captures my imagination.

It is simply called Cobbers.

Australians (and I’m assuming Kiwis – maybe you can clarify EE??) have a sort of intrinsic understanding of what that word means; it’s part of our folklore vernacular.  For my American friends, I’ll try to translate it.  At its basic level it’s another word for mate.  The Australian National University library (because why not apply highly intellectual research sources to slang words??) suggests that the word probably comes from British dialect cob ‘to take a liking to’, although a Yiddish word khaber ‘comrade’ has also been suggested as a source.  Comrade and mate together are probably the closest I can get to a definition for you.

The sculpture shows one soldier carrying another. 

I hadn’t known exactly what the reason was prior to researching this at home but it’s a very sad story – but still a very beautiful story.

Created by Peter Corlett, Cobbers is a memorial of the sacrifices made at the catastrophic Battle of Fromelles (the first action on the Western Front) in 1916.  This battle, which resulted in over 5,500 casualties, is regarded as the worst 24 hours in Australian military history.

There’s not much but sadness in that story so far, but here comes the beauty in it.  Over the ensuing days, soldiers went repeatedly back to no-man’s-land to carry back their wounded mates, rescuing more than 300 of them.

And that’s what this sculpture pays tribute to.

I never knew all that about our history, or what the sculpture was specifically for (if you want more info you can find it here) and it makes me feel very humble indeed.  It has, thus far, meant different things to me.

I guess that one of the traits I love most about art is that the audience translates it into their lives’.  You can begin with a plan, a meaning, a message you want to convey but ultimately, people will draw immeasurable numbers of different meanings from it and it will impact them in uncountable different ways.

So for me, on any given day, running past the Cobbers, I have felt numerous things.  Allow me to say though, now that I know the true meaning of the piece, I feel like the tribute it’s paying is simply incomparable to my life experience, but I do think the sentiment somehow remains the same.



A few times over the course of this year of training, battling injuries and pain, it’s reminded me that if I relax and lean into it, I’ll know I’m being carried (excuse me if this too overly-sentimental, I’ve given up trying to avoid that, especially this week) by Loz.  I know I still haven’t been able to actually press publish on a post telling you about losing her and what that’s been like, but she was my best mate.  And I still miss her every day.  And while I know running a marathon does not remotely compare to being left stranded on a battlefield, I feel like she’s going to help carry me to the end of it – flu, bronchitis, iliotibial band syndrome, anterior compartment syndrome and bung knee be damned.

It also represents for me what I wish I could do for others.  That there are some amazing people – like C4 and Katherine and Mr J and Gigi – who I have solidly wished I could have just picked up and carried through much of the last few years.  I know I can’t, but I wish I could.  There’s something both motivating and bloody frustrating about that.  I know I’m not alone in feeling this and I know it’s impossible.  But you always wish you could do it, right?

So, to do my best to help carry the people I love on Sunday, I’ll be running a marathon.  And I’ll be able to do it because of that motivation and because my best mate will be carrying me to the finish line if my legs start to fail me.  

And just in case I forget, the Cobbers will remind me when I run past them.

One Response to “Cobbers”
  1. Jan Hevey says:

    …just as I wished many times I could have picked you up to carry you through your pain.

    Love you heaps.

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  • My Marathons for Maddie in 2011

    Run for the Kids: 17 April - 14.38km
    Mothers' Day Classic: 8 May - 4km
    Run Melbourne: 17 July – half marathon
    Sandy Point Half: 21 August - half marathon
    Sydney Running Festival: 18 September – half marathon
    Melbourne Marathon: 9 October – marathon

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