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Anzac Day

Commemorating the service and sacrifice of those who fought in all wars in which Australia has or is engaged, Anzac Day is celebrated Australia-wide on the anniversary of the day on which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, 25 April 1915. The Anzac legend asserts that Australia 'came of age' with 'the Landing' that began the Gallipoli campaign.

Anzac Day was marked in Melbourne from 1916, initially in the week embracing 25 April, by public demonstrations, school assemblies, church services and military processions designed to demonstrate patriotism, stimulate recruiting and raise funds to support wounded soldiers, their dependants and the bereaved. Increasingly, these celebrations seem to have focused on civic memorials in the city and suburbs. Victoria observed a public holiday for Anzac Day (always on a Sunday) from 1921. The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia (the RSSILA, or more simply the RSL) became organised nationally at a Melbourne meeting in June 1916, and thereafter campaigned for the solemn commemoration of Anzac Day as a statutory fixed holiday on 25 April. Stiff opposition from business and trade union circles, fearful for their profits and wages, delayed this until 1925. Thereafter, Anzac Day was celebrated on 25 April, with a Monday holiday when Anzac Day fell on a Sunday. In the City itself, veterans marched across Princes Bridge, past a cenotaph at Parliament House, and on to the Royal Exhibition Building.

The three elements of Melbourne's Anzac Day as it is celebrated today - the dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance, the striking parade of veterans down Swanston Street and St Kilda Road to the shrine, and the large, open-air public service - appeared only in the 1930s. The dawn service was instituted in 1933 at the still incomplete shrine; the destination of the march was changed from the Exhibition Building to the shrine in 1936; and the public service, conducted on the shrine's southern approaches, was transferred from 1954 to the large northern forecourt which, framed by the flagstaff, the 'eternal flame' and the memorial to the fallen of World War II, replaced the original pool of reflection. The north-south Carlton & United Brewery-Shrine of Remembrance axis became an enduring image of the veterans' parade, as did their fabled defiant public gambling and hard drinking. Only once, during the 1942 wartime emergency, have the march and public service been cancelled. Following a government-sponsored poll of RSL members, afternoon public activities such as sporting events were permitted from 1960.

Anzac Day has usually passed smoothly, but the assertion that neither Shrine nor Anzac Day services glorify war has not silenced critics and demonstrators. Anti-conscriptionists, for example, attempted to lay wreaths in 1966, and feminists protested against war in 1983. From the mid-1990s organisers and the media have claimed increased attendances and remarked on the mounting interest of young Australians. There have clearly been significant changes as well as continuities: anxieties caused by young children joining the march seem exaggerated, given that the practice was not uncommon after each of the wars, when newer and younger veteran cohorts joined the march; fluctuations in numbers marching and watching have often occasioned heart-searching about the need to adapt ceremonies to changing times; and women simply ignored attempts to ban their attendance at the dawn service. The Anzac Day Commemoration Council, which has exercised authority over the ceremonies since the 1920s, has authorised some changes. Public attendance at the dawn service increased so much that it was broadcast over a public address system, and from 1994 those attending were invited to enter the shrine after the veterans. The changing demographics of participating veterans, the increasing ethnic diversity of participants and observers, and the desire of veterans' descendants to honour their parents and grandparents by marching, are just some of the factors transforming the celebration of Melbourne's Anzac Day.

John Lack