The first scattering of Anzac ceremonies were held in 1916. War was still being waged at the time, so unlike modern services, there was much emphasis on Australia’s entry into the war, proving our loyalty to Britain, and encouraging recruitment.
After the war, returned soldiers organised the first dawn services. These private gatherings were attended by the soldiers and their families. But soon the Anzac spirit caught on to the wider public, and by 1927 Anzac Day became an Australia wide public holiday.
In the 1960s, the Vietnam War made Anzac Day less popular than ever. An increasing number of people questioned the relevance of Australia’s connection to the British.
Protesters such as feminists used the day to criticise wartime rape and the glorification of war. Alan Seymour’s 1958 play The One Day of the Year condemned Anzac Day as a ‘bloody wastefulness’ that was only good for promoting drunken behaviour. During these years, participation at Anzac services dropped steadily and it was even believed Anzac Day would die with the last survivors.
The 1980s, however, marked the start of a renewed interest in commemoration. The entertainment industry covered the Anzac legend with the film Gallipoli in 1981 and the TV series Anzacs in 1985.
In 1990 Bob Hawke was the first Prime Minister to visit Gallipoli, encouraging veterans to follow by covering their travel expense on the 75th anniversary. His enthusiasm was followed by John Howard, who visited Gallipoli twice and pushed for the Anzac story to be taught widely in schools. More services were televised, while politicians and celebrities joined the events more frequently. The rising presence of Anzac Day in the media and the classroom has caused more young people to join in the commemoration.
Anzac fever reached a peak in the 2015 centenary when Australia spent $552m on Anzac commemorations, more than any country in the world. While the event has taken many turns for better or worse, we can still be certain about one thing: Anzac Day is here to stay.