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Huge dawn service crowd

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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.

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.


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.

‘‘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.