Today is Anzac Day. One hundred years ago today, during World War I, forces from Australia and New Zealand landed on the peninsula of Gallipoli. And, even though the campaign was ultimately a failure, it is seen by many as the day marking the birth of national consciousness in Australia, as well as forming the basis for the strong bond that Australia and New Zealand share to this day.
I was woken up this morning by marching band music outside my window, followed by a number of cannon shots echoing around the city. The sun was just coming up… well, it probably was somewhere behind the clouds.
I had not realized how serious the locals take Anzac day until this moment. I went online to check, and indeed, not 300m from the hotel, the Dawn Service was taking place. Since I was already late for that, I decided to have breakfast first before heading out for the parade.
It was raining when I got there. But that did not deter the thousands of people lining St. Kilda Road to watch the military parade go by.
The reason for this parade is to commemorate the dead that have fallen in the wars and engagements of the past, as well as recognize the men and women serving in uniform today. This means that this parade is also a mix of the ages: from the very old to the very young.
The parade is split up into the different arms of the military: sea, land and air. The sea starts off with a long procession of ships and naval units, each with their own banner and group of people following. I am guessing that not all of them actually served on these vessels, but that the (grand-)sons and -daughters take up representing the actual sailors.
I have to admit that after an hour in the rain I had enough and went back indoors for a coffee and a cookie (which they handed out) – just as the first infantry units were passing by.
As I write this blog entry, my window is open and I can still hear the marching bands playing in the background and the historical planes flying overhead. This parade has now been going on for almost 3 hours. I sit here and wonder how this would look like in Germany or in the Netherlands. I cannot imagine such a thing happening there.
Maybe it has to do with the relative youth of this nation and its need to identify itself through its martial prowess. Maybe it (still?) needs the unifying force of facing a common enemy to strengthen a national identity that is so difficult to attain in a country that consists of immigrants from the four corners of the world.
It is, in any case, a thing to behold. I think I will go into town again later today to see what the atmosphere is like on this special day in this country that will be our home for the next few years.