Anzac Day explainer, although it’s too complex for me to explain

Two things you need to know about me, before I attempt to explain Anzac Day:

  1. I’m a massive pacifist. War terrifies me. Anything that leaves people dead for no good reason makes me cry. And guns – oh dear. My son is six, that age where every young boy pretends to play with guns; it drives me insane, and he knows it, though I understand it’s a normal developmental phase blah blah blah.
  2. I’m both sensitive and sentimental. War memorials make me go very quiet. Visiting Auschwitz gave me nightmares for a long time. I have two great uncles who died in Europe during World War Two; obviously, I never met them, but I think of them, brothers of my favourite grandmother.

So, let me continue …

Anzac Day explainer for Generation X Australians

What’s Anzac Day all about for a Gen X Australian?

Briefly put (for the northern hemisphere readers), Anzac Day commemorates everyone from Australia and New Zealand who has served in war. (You can read more of the background on an older post.) Over my lifetime, it’s somehow become more “hip” to get involved in Anzac Day, and many people get up early on April 25th to attend a dawn service.

I haven’t been to a dawn service for a while, but now that my son is in school I attend his school’s Anzac ceremony every year. I never fail to be moved. This year, every student had made a pinwheel in the colour of the symbolic poppy flowers and they were planted across the lawn in front of the school’s Anzac memorial. This year, with Anzac Day falling in the school holidays, they held the ceremony a couple of weeks early. The school choir sang (and unlike any other time, nobody applauded); some kids spoke about their feelings about Anzac Day; a special guest, a soldier, came to talk too; and a couple of kids from each class brought down bouquets of flowers to lay at the memorial. The Last Post was played; you can play it yourself in the video below. There was a minute’s silence.

And the Ode of Remembrance was spoken, too – a few years back I blogged about teaching this verse to my ESL students, too. It always brings a tear to my eye and I know I wasn’t the only one feeling that way at my son’s school assembly.

They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
And at the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

But why is this such an emotional moment? None of my family or friends from my lifetime have been involved in war. (And I hope they never are.) Despite my sentimental, sensitive nature, I shouldn’t be this moved.

This is the kind of weird thing. It’s not just about war, or Anzac Day. It’s about being Australian, for me. As a country with a muddled kind of history – we white people bowled in two hundred odd years ago, stole the place from the Aboriginal people and then tried to figure out a way to create “Australian-ness” out of a mismatch of cultures and people in a place far away from the rest of the world, in a place that is vast and empty and not that easy to do anything with – it’s as though we need something to feel Australian about.

Speaking for myself, at least, Anzac Day does a bit of that. Even though we share it with the New Zealanders (who are really just Australians without snakes, or conversely we are New Zealanders with snakes), it kind of embodies some of what I think makes up being Australian. For a start, choosing Anzac Day as “the day” is typically Aussie to me – it’s not a boastful day of victory (it was a disaster) but a day when we learnt about working together. Standing together at a ceremony, I think most Aussies feel pretty much equal – and although we’re not perfect, I do think that we try reasonably hard as a nation to be pretty much equal (well, lots of things aren’t, but I still think it’s better than some).

You know what? I can’t really explain it. But Anzac Day is a special, very Aussie time for me, and I know lots of other people feel the same. (Probably plenty don’t, too, but that’s fine.) If you’re visiting Australia at the end of April any time, then look up an Anzac service close to where you’re staying and go along. I think you’ll learn something about Australia and Australians that doesn’t feature in the guide books. Probably because we can’t quite figure out how to explain it.



  1. I think you explained Anzac Day and what it means to us perfectly xxx

  2. Very well put Amanda and I’m with you on hating wars and guns!
    Even though I have luckily never had anyone in the family involved in any major war, and not born in Australia either, Anzac Day and it’s commemorations are very emotional to me.

    • Thanks Sami! And it’s interesting to hear what you say even though you weren’t born here – another reader who grew up in Malaysia but now lives in Australia said the same thing on Facebook. That makes me happy – that this “Australian-ness” is something felt beyond those of us who were born here.

  3. Amanda, I definitely agree that Anzac Day is a very special day for Australians of all backgrounds. The sacrifices made by our ancestors has enabled Australia to be the great place to live that we mostly take for granted.

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