97th anniversary of 1915 landing
I’m in Canberra. It’s a crisp start, with a clear starry sky. It’s fantastic, that means it’s dry, and I’ve had enough wet dawn services the last few years.
My aunty is kind enough to drop me to a bus. The first two buses are full well before I can get on board, great that so many Canberrans and visitors are motivated to say thanks and show respect for the sacrifices made by so many.
I start listening to the pop trash on the radio as some very cold people around me say not much – small jokes, a brief exchange about two-up games later in the day – and another bus arrives. This one’s empty and I’m straight on down the back of an Action bendy bus. I watch a guy younger than me dressed in a suit walk past with a rack of medals on his breast to make any crusty digger give pause. Along with everyone else joining in to say thanks, an older couple sit down as I move seats to make way for a young boy and his grandfather. Within a few moments these two guys recognise each other and they are chatting about their past ANZAC days in France, Belgium, and tours of battlefields in Europe. Other than these two guys the bus is quiet in the predawn chill. We drive past increasing numbers of cars parked by the roadside, and the trickle of people becomes a stream before the bus stops. More to follow…
National War Memorial, Canberra, Pre-dawn ANZAC Day 2012
I arrive with the stream of others off the buses, the parade ground is maybe 50 deep, the stands are full, so I go back the way I have come to stand on the hill. From the flagpoles i strand in the crowd looking down at the massed people, filling the parade square, in front of the podium which is lit not brightly, but… Enough to tell the darkness it is not welcome. The flags stand proud as the crowd continues to build, and shiver, waiting (how much harder would it have been to wait in the damp pre-dawn packed in with mates, wondering which you would see ever again? We can’t complain for our momentary discomfort.)
More to follow….
5.19. My clock must be wrong, as the voice of the catafalque party commander silences the crowd – he brings his guard to attention, moments later the snare can be heard accompanying as the slow march into position. As the rattle of the snare synchronises the outwards turn, the cockatoos take to the sky… Complaining about the pre-dawn rouse from their roost.
The honour guard bow their heads as the flags remind us yes it is windy. A hush settles… Then a voice on the PA tells us all there’s 5 minutes to go, and the solemn mood is half tossed aside – an explanation, unrequested, at a moment when mystery would have extended the moment.
More to follow….
The service proceeds, in the customary sequence; only the dignitaries change but the theme of what they have to say is now as laid down in tradition as the emu plume in the slouch hat of the tank trooper, harking back to the earlier days of the nation. We stand in silence, joining in for those brief few moments we can – showing how every year we become even more distant from a single god, a single faith and a single church as the numbers joining in for Abide With Me or the other hymns gets smaller each year. The snare rings loudly, and the catafalque party abandon their watch over the memorial, marching with paces ringing out as the three ranks mount then ascend the stairs before turning left across the façade of the memorial.
I think, after my early rise, bus ride, and shivering in the darkness, I have found two moments to hold onto: the call of the cockatoos, and the ringing out of those boots as the guard climbed those stairs, with the eyes of all assembled watching on.
We were all united, there to say, thank you.
Lest we forget.
National War Memorial, Canberra, completion of Dawn Service ANZAC Day 2012