It’s unsurprising that there was a very large crowd at the Lismore dawn service this morning, but it was still moving. The best part of the service was right at the end, when the chaplain who had been leading the service said a few unscripted words about how touched he was, after 25 years of conducting Anzac Day services, to see so many people.
I always go to the dawn service. I’ve only missed one in the last ten years, and probably none in the ten before that. I’ve been to services in Broadwater, Armidale (town and university), Canberra (at the Australian War Memorial, my favourite place in Canberra), Dili (East Timor) and Lismore.
Over time, matching the increased attention on Anzac Day leading up to the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, there has been increased criticism of the apparent glorification of war that solemn services and marches provide. I didn’t think it touched me, until I had people question why a lefty type like me would be interested in Anzac Day.
I say this every year but I don’t go and have never gone because of someone else’s decision that this is a myth which builds Australia. I don’t have to buy into that. It’s sometimes expressed as a criticism of conservative minds and excessive traditionalism. I’m not sure what those who disapprove would suggest is an appropriate way to solemnly mark the contributions of our armed forces once a year. Hope they aren’t the people who turn up and apparently spit on my friend when he participates in marches.
Personally, I would like to see more acknowledgement of Indigenous nations in services I’ve attended. (And no spitting on anyone, ever.) This morning’s included a New Zealand element with Maori language. I don’t know if there are any sensitivities about it – I’m just saying it should be considered.
I think now that I have enough friends who participate in Anzac Day events who fall on the progressive side of politics to argue that a mindless promotion of war and one view of Australian history are not the reason many of us care about Anzac Day.
I go to the Anzac Day dawn service for many reasons. I go because many people in my family, too many to list, have served in various conflicts (spanning the Great War to the present day) and in peacetime. I go because I think it’s astonishing and wonderful that in such a ‘lazy’ nation we have managed to mark an event 100 years in a row and the meaning has shifted and survived and yet retained so much for so many. I go because I appreciate history and no matter how bungled or misguided specific military movements were, all are not. I wish the world did not want to keep having wars, but the reality is that we have.
I listen to the names of conflicts at Anzac Day services and wonder when will we learn.
I think about all of the people affected – not just those who are in active service – not just the ones who get the glory. I think about the signallers, the mechanics, the intelligence services, the nurses and medicos. The grunt workers. The charitable institutions. The families, the friends. The women. The countries who share one world.
I go to Anzac Day services because it is my own personal peace protest.