opinion

'I commemorate Anzac Day every year. But this year felt different.'

At 5am on Monday morning, I walked out my front door and joined the throngs of people walking down to Coogee Beach in Sydney for the Anzac Day dawn service. 

We all walked in silence. Then we gathered in silence, all 10,000 of us, as we waited for the formalities to start.

We were thousands of millions who came together across Australia in numbers the Anzac commemorations haven't seen for two years.

Watch: The Light Up The Dawn campaign from lockdown 2020. Post continues below.


Video via RSL.

It was just another event the pandemic robbed us of attending in person, and it was the first 'mass event' I've personally attended since pandemic restrictions were lifted.

I've been to many dawn services, and while I have always found them moving, this year felt different. 

It was something about being in person again, after so long. To see the respectful and sombre mood being buoyed along by the crowd. A screen is fine, but it doesn't convey emotion. Not properly. 

To hear The Ode with the crash of the waves as a backing soundtrack. 

To see the dawn crack in person, as a group, putting us all so poignantly in the shoes of the diggers as they rode ashore at Gallipoli 107 years ago.

Seeing the little moments that you would of course miss if you weren't there to witness them; the groups of friends gathered together all in uniform solemnly saluting. The younger cadets gathering around an older former soldier, delivering him a cup of coffee and a smile post service. The kids from the choir who've just sung their little hearts out on stage, only to run into the arms of a parent proudly bearing medals on their chest. 

After two years of commemorating, celebrating and attending things on Zoom, 'real life' events still have an extra layer of technicolour about them.

Birthdays and weddings and family dinners feel even more joyous.

Booking holidays is novel and thrilling. 

Working in person in the office with colleagues is fresh again. 

But it's not just that everything feels brand new and therefore the feelings attached to them, heightened. 

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It's that we've just come out the other side of a version of 'war'. The memes from the early days of lockdown telling us we should be grateful we're only being asked to sit at home watching Netflix made a mark on me. In this war our soldiers were health professionals, forced to tackle a frontline they'd never encountered before.

It was those parallels being drawn that helped me to rationalise the bizarre world we'd found ourselves in. 

It also put real war, like the one we're currently witnessing in Ukraine, into perspective. That conflict has reminded us of the sheer horror humans can inflict on other humans. 

It reiterates the sacrifice our own have made for us when that same threat came to our shores, or to our allies' shores. 

Standing in the dark side-by-side with thousands as we waited for the dawn service, I just felt grateful. To be there, to pay my respects in person again, and to live in a country where I feel safe. 

There have been so many missed moments during this pandemic that have felt like a gut-punch. 

But watching our diggers stand on their driveways at dawn in 2020 and 2021 in isolated and COVID-safe commemorations was particularly sad. 

There are some things, like Anzac Day, that are supposed to be commemorated in the flesh. In real-life. Side-by-side. 

In this instance, the power of numbers is oh so important. 

So that our servicemen and women, and the families of the fallen, feel our remembrance. 

See our remembrance. 

Feel our thanks. 

Lest We Forget.

Feature Image: AAP/Con Chronis /Jenny Evans/Getty/Mamamia.

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