This morning I was present for the ANZAC dawn service in Melbourne. It meant setting my alarm for 4.20am (gulp!) but a quick shower brought me back into the land of the living... I first walked down Bourke St, where some people still seemed to be on the streets from the night before. But as soon as I hit Swanston St I was with people wearing hats and jackets, all walking in the same direction as me, for Flinders St and St Kilda Rd. The flood of people became steadily greater.
There were free buses leaving from opposite Flinders St Station, all headed for the Shrine of Remembrance. In some ways it might have been more in fitting with the occasion to have walked down, but I was one of the many jumping on the buses. I arrived at the Shrine around 5.15am, then tried to find a place amongst the crowd (reported to be estimated at 80,000) somewhere where a tall man wasn’t going to jump in front of me and totally obscure my view. The Shrine was lit with some golden light at this early stage- but all lights were turned off once the dawn service began.
A man began speaking at 5.45am, into the darkness, telling various stories of the heroism of individuals who served as Australians in various conflicts. And at 6am the lights on the Shrine were all darkened except for a single light on the top. The atmosphere was one of complete silence. (At one point when it seemed to get colder again, I wanted to retrieve my woolen hat, but the sound of undoing a bag would simply have not been appropriate.)
The service has clearly been structured over time, and flowed quickly on. There was a rendition of Abide with Me, with the band, chorus, and gunfire- that was very moving. The Last Post was played out into the darkness.
The first guest speaker introduced New Zealand into proceedings in a definite manner. He was a prominent educator and a historian, and he spoke about how both young countries were in need of the Empire’s survival, so had no option but to support the Motherland. He also emphasised that we came to mourn the lost, not to celebrate or glorify them.
Both anthems were presented, with band playing and chorus singing. The New Zealand anthem was first, and it was done strongly and well. For me, it was one of the most moving moments of the ceremony. It was then followed by the Australian anthem.