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Huge dawn service crowd


Ian Warden

Anzac Day Dawn service 2012 at the Australian War Memorial.

Anzac Day Dawn service 2012 at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Karleen Minney

The essential ‘‘bracing climate’’ that made Canberra an eligible place for the federal capital city was on display to the 25,000 souls at this morning’s melancholy and moving Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial.

It was cold and very bracing and in the One Minute’s Silence the only sound (this year, for once, even the usually interjecting cockatoos and ravens were quiet during it) was a Siberian breeze whistling musically in the trees.

The artificial candles with which we lit up the pages of our hymn sheets were held in gloved hands. As a pale dawn eventually lit up the occasion it revealed a sea of wind-rouged faces beneath a sea of beanies and hoods.

About 25,000 people turned out for the Australian War Memorial's Dawn Service in Canberra this morning.

About 25,000 people turned out for the Australian War Memorial's Dawn Service in Canberra this morning. Photo: Karleen Minney

Not that the cold seemed to have kept may people away, in spite of how much quiet suburban valour it takes to get out of bed so early on such a bleak morning. The official Australian War Memorial estimate is that there were 25,000 there for this, the 97th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.

‘‘I hope you’re all rugged up and snuggled up and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the ceremony and forget about the cold,’’ Master of Ceremonies  Ross Symonds told us us as things got underway.

None of this reporter’s rugged-up neighbours at this morning’s occasion could have peeled themselves up out of bed early than the Hegyi family (Zoltan and Ann and their children Katy, Emma and Ethan) from Collector. They’d got up at 3am. ‘‘I think we were the first ones here,’’ Ann laughed.

Jordie Pardoel reads In Flanders Fields at this morning's Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial.

Jordie Pardoel reads In Flanders Fields at this morning's Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Karleen Minney

It was their first Canberra Dawn Service and after it Zoltan Hegyi was very impressed. ‘‘I think it’s a great way to respect all those servicemen and servicewomen. My father was in World War II and this has been a good way to pay respect to him too.’’

‘‘My modest but bemedalled neighbour at today’s service was Ted Bryant  of Scullin. He’d served in the Navy for 34 years (in all three of our aircraft carriers and then in destroyers) before retiring in 1981.

Yesterday’s Canberra bleakness reminded him of how, living at Tuross Heads until 2007, he was one of the originators of Anzac Day services there including a Dawn Service at Plantation Point with, on balmy days, a superb view of the sun coming up out of the ocean.

Anzac Day Dawn service 2012 at the Australian War Memorial. Click for more photos

Canberra's dawn service 2012

Canberra's dawn service 2012 at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Karleen Minney

‘‘It’s a good spot. We used to get, big, big crowds of maybe 3000. They came from all around.’’

There was no prospect of a warming sun coming up at this morning’s Service and it was in great darkness that proceedings began as usual with the sad, mood-setting hymn O Valiant Hearts.

Mr Bryant and I shared the hymn sheet and he like lots of yesterday’s Dawn Service-savvy had brought an excellent torch so much more efficient than my sweet but useless artificial candle with its artificially flickering flame.

It always seems a miracle at the Dawn Service that a huge crowd can achieve a minute’s total silence but yesterday’s congregation achieved that miracle yet again, save for just one very welcome baby doing a little nattering.

Usually the cockatoos and ravens cackle and shout during this grave Minute but this morning they were quiet too. It was a profound, reverent hush.

In his Commemorative Address (similarly unassisted by birdsong) Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Cairns asked ‘‘What causes a young man or woman to join our armed forces, knowing they might be putting their lives on the line?’’

He was sure that there were all sorts of factors, including the ingredients of ‘‘career’’ and of ‘‘lifestyle’’ but that ‘‘at some point in every soldiers’ life they’re confronted with the question of cost [possible cost of their lives)’’ and realise that love of their country lies behind it all.

He urged all of us who will never have to display that love of our country by donning uniforms and fighting find other, local expressions of that love, to love ‘‘the poor and the marginalised and work for their betterment’’.

Were you there? Tell us about it as a comment below.

8 comments so far

  • I was there around 4.40 in the morning, last 3 years I was trying to be at the Dawn service but never got a chance.

    even is very cold I glad I was there, from today I will be there in evry year atleast in this way I can pay my tribute to the armed service men and women.

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 10:14AM
    • It was my first ANZAC Day in Canberra, and my first Dawn Service, and I'm very glad that I went. A beautiful and touching ceremony.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 10:25AM
      • Admittedly, I was disappointed by this morning's gathering at the AWM.

        This morning's Dawn Service was conducted as a Christian worship service, interspersed with military ceremony. Surely in 2012 a non-religious gathering to commemorate and to remember would be a more appropriate way to conduct the Dawn Service.

        Salvation Army LtCol Philip Cairns' Commemorative Address resembled a sermon, and - I would argue - was entirely inappropriate for this occasion. Philip Cairns (or any Salvation Army member, Chaplain or religious figure for that matter) was the wrong choice to deliver the address this morning. Rather, this role would more appropriately be filled by a current or former servicing member of the ADF (such as recently retired CDF, Angus Houston).

        I think it's time to rejuvenate the Dawn Service to make it relevant to the crowd that gathers each year to remember. Less of the Lord's Prayer, more descriptions of - and reflections on - what these brave young men endured.

        And so I propose that we cut back on the 'churchiness' of the Dawn Service and instead focus on remembering and reflecting (in a non-religious way) on what those young men endured at dawn on 25 April 1915 - and understand exactly why we gather before dawn each year on this day.

        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 10:32AM
        • This was my first ANZAC Day in Canberra and it was such a beautiful and heartfelt commemoration of the soldiers that fought for the principles of freedom and equality that pervades the Australian society.

          Date and time
          April 25, 2012, 12:43PM
          • BirdE has nailed it. The Commemorative Address by Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Cairns was what I would prefer. Remind people why they are there, and what the service men and women went through.

            Date and time
            April 25, 2012, 4:36PM
            • I am just about to depart for the Washington DC dawn service that is held at the Korean War Memorial in downtown DC. There will be a sizeable contingent of Aussies, Kiwis and some of our US friends at the memorial before we move to the Kiwi Embassy for a Gunfire Breakfast and then onto the National Cathedral for a commemorative service there. It is great to read an article and see photos of home covering the very special service that we hold at the AWM and I miss the Cockatoos and Ravens! We don't get quite the same aroma of gum trees here in DC either. Across North America there will be services in places as diverse as Newfoundland, through Newport Rhode Island, San Diego and Hawaii, just to mention a few. We will take the opportunity to remember ours and Kiwi service personnel abroad, and take time to think of home.

              Washington, DC
              Date and time
              April 25, 2012, 6:27PM
              • BirdE you really do have no idea! The "Churchiness" as you call it was what many of the young men and women fought to protect and defend. It is part of both our history and culture. I surgest next year you sit at home and enjoy an atheist cup of tea. Cheers ex sapper

                Date and time
                April 25, 2012, 8:54PM
                • BirdE, whilst I appreciate your comments, it is not about you

                  la mente torbida
                  Date and time
                  April 26, 2012, 11:44AM

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