Okay, I’ll have a go at this.
I’ll start by telling you what it’s not: it isn’t the official national day of either Australia (Australia Day, Jan 26) or New Zealand (Waitangi Day, Feb 6), but for many (most?) Aussie and Kiwis it’s the most important one.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it comemmorates a military DEFEAT! There is a sense of the “coming of age” of the two young nations as their soldiers struggled with British high-level military and political incompetence (though we have respect for the British and French -and indeed Turkish - soldiers who also died), disease, insufficient medical help, exposure, and of course, a steady pounding from the Turks in their superior position. The ANZACs had been landed in an ill-advised beach assault, and even then had been sent to the wrong beach, so they were faced with a mad scramble up a steep hillside / cliff face, whilst the Turks, who had the high ground, were able to pick them off as they tried to advance. Yet they kept coming.
The legendary Simpson and his donkey
It’s also an unusual day in that it is shared by two nations, and it brings us closer together (ie. we stop making sheep jokes about each other once each year).
The problems reprise mentions are unfortunate, although I think she had an unusually bad experience with them. Apart from a few student /lefty types who don’t like it, ANZAC Day is not very controversial. Not, at least, compared to the controversy surrounding Australia Day (Aboriginal Australians are none too impressed with that one -and with a certain amount of justification, IMHO).
Reprise’s response to those people she spoke to was correct. They should not expect us to put issues from their respective home countries ahead of ANZAC Day. Simple as that. Australia is a melting pot, and that’s a thing I cherish. I would like to see, however, new arrivals (and indeed our own schoolkids) better versed in history and civics than is presently the case. That’s partly the fault of the people themselves (geez, if I were moving permanently to another country, I’d be reading up on its history BIG TIME), but also the fault of our own government for not pushing the issue. A basic history quiz (in other languages too, if you like) should be a part of the citizenship process.
So how do we celebrate ANZAC Day?
It starts with a dawn service in the cities and towns around Australia and New Zealand. A haunting Last Post, a minute’s silence, readings, and prayer. In the morning, there is the ANZAC Day march for veterans, currently serving forces personnel, and family members of veterans. In a big march like Sydney’s, it can take a very long time to pass by completely.
After that, it becomes less sombre, and everyone repairs to the local RSL (Returned Services League) Club, or the pub, for a few beers, and a game of “two-up” which is an illegal form of gambling tolerated by the authorities on ANZAC Day only.
The story of ANZAC