Anzac Day

Anzac Day march in Hobart, 1950 (AOT, PH30/1/3322)

Since 1916, the bloody 25 April 1915 landing on Gallipoli shores by Australian and New Zealand soldiers has been solemnly remembered. When a locality's war memorial was built, this usually became the commemoration site too. Tasmanian and mainland ceremonies often reflected local initiative and local ideas of the fitting. So did local memorials. In Anzac ceremonies until around the 1960s imperial and national patriotism tended to inter-mesh. Now, usually, only the idea of national civic duty, martially tested, retains sacral aura.

Local initiative meant early diversity of form. The first Anzac march in Zeehan approximated the vernacular sublime: a conventional commemoration service was followed a week later by a march of 1000 children, with a fife and drum band. The marchers were led by two boys, one representing a wounded soldier, the other in Boer (South African) War uniform wearing his father's medal. Next came a swaggie, 'travel-stained and weary, leading a dog by a rope'.

The longer trend was standardisation. Empire Day proceedings familiar by 1916 provided an early ceremonial template. The sequence: Last Post, solemn silence, and Reveille, soon proved a symbolically potent addition, evoking liminal routines of camp life, and implying death was not final. Returned servicemen's processions added dynamism, and successive wars replenished stocks of marching heroes. Sometimes clergy (sky pilots, in soldier slang) helped convert ceremonies into services, enhancing sacral quality. The Dawn Service, a folk masterpiece, became popular in Tasmania from the 1930s. The most potent guardian of Anzac propriety has long been the Returned Servicemen's League 'lest we forget'.

Further reading: K Inglis with J Brazier, Sacred places, Melbourne, 1998; R Ely, 'The first Anzac Day ', JAS 17, 1985.

Richard Ely