A tradition over a century old

Anzac Day has been commemorated by Australians since the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 1916. During the First World War, morning church services were followed by fundraising events and recruiting rallies featuring returned soldiers. After the war, many veterans who wanted to put those years behind them avoided Anzac Day. In some parts of Australia there were no large public ceremonies for several years until a revival in the 1920s. People felt the need to honour veterans and to mourn the dead, but it was also a day for returned soldiers to reunite and reminisce. By 1927 Anzac Day was a public holiday in every state.

On occasion Anzac Day has been a vehicle for protest. In 1929 as the Depression struck, some veterans marched under a banner reading: ‘Unemployed Returned Soldiers. We had a job in 1914-1918. Why not now? Others felt excluded by the focus on returned men at the expense of those who had lost their lives, and of families at home. Bereaved women protested not being part of the ceremonies in 1938 by joining returned soldiers at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, much to the annoyance of some veterans.

Early in the Second World War Anzac Day acknowledged a new generation of service personnel and celebrated Allied victories. in 1942 with Japan threatening, there were no official dawn services nor marches. When they were reinstated in 1943 veterans of two wars were taking part. Never again would Anzac Day be an occasion dedicated only to the memory of the Great War. By the 1950s, after decades of war and the Great Depression, people were wearying of commemoration and reminders of darker times, among them veterans who saw Anzac Day as a glorification of war and refused to participate. This view gather momentum in the 1960s as Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular.

The Gallipoli campaign’s 50th Anniversary in 1965 initiated a revival whose full impact was felt in the 1970s with greater academic and popular interest in the First World War. Anzac Day came to be seen through the prism of war as a cause of misery, pain and suffering. In the late 1970s, protesters called into questions the commemoration of Anzac Day, and groups who felt excluded from the Anzac story, such as Indigenous Australians, brought their experiences into the spotlight. In the 1980s new groups were allowed to join the march, including the descendants of veterans and members of the Defence forces of allied nations who had migrated to Australia.

Today, Anzac Day also honours those who have served through recent conflicts and on peacekeeping missions, reflecting the diversity of modern military operations as young veterans connected by the experience of service join with veterans of earlier wars. What form it will take in the future, how it is understood and whether it endures or fades away will be determined by the generations of Australians now playing their own part in the Anzac story.

First ANZAC Day Commemoration at Cairns Cenotaph, corner Shields & Abbott St in front of Imperial Hotel.

Anzac Day 1948

Anzac Day Dawn Service 2015

Anzac Day Dawn Service 2017

Anzac Day Dawn Service 2019



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