Anzac Day dawn services plummet 70% over recent years

By The Mandarin

April 22, 2021

Australian War Memorial
Fewer Australians have gone to war in recent decades when compared to WWI, WW2 or Vietnam. (AAP Image/James Lane)

The fading relevance of past wars to younger, more diverse demographics is among the factors that explain a stark reduction in the number of Australians attending Anzac Day dawn services, according to a Flinders University historian.

The number of attendees at dawn services has fallen by about 70% between 2015 — the centenary of the Anzacs’ landing at Gallipoli — and 2019, with overall numbers eroding well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Romain Fathi, a senior history lecturer at Flinders University and chercheur associé at the Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po in Paris, says the collapse in attendances isn’t simply a product of commemorative fatigue and may reflect broader community disinterest in what Anzac Day represents.

“My research looked at changing patterns in the commemoration of Anzac Day overseas and, more recently, at data on attendance at Australian dawn services. The biggest decline in crowd numbers was at Gallipoli itself, where numbers fell from 10,000 in 2015 to 1,434 in 2019,” he said.

“In Canberra, 120,000 attended the dawn service in 2015 compared to just 35,000 in 2019. This is despite it being home to the lavishly funded Australian War Memorial, where a proposed $500 million extension faces increasing community opposition.

“In Melbourne, dawn service attendance fell from 85,000 to 25,000 in the same period. In Perth, it fell from 75,000 to 20,000, and in Adelaide from 20,000 to just 5,000.”

Fewer Australians have gone to war in recent decades when compared to WWI, WW2 or Vietnam, so Anzac Day services have now fewer veterans to rely on that they once had, which raises questions about the government’s investment at the Australian War Memorial on top of previous investments at overseas memorials.

“This waning interest is even more striking given the amount the Australian government has spent on ways of engaging with the Anzac tradition,” says Dr Fathi.

“In 2018, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs opened the Western Front’s most expensive interpretative centre, the $100 million John Monash Centre. The department forecast at least 110, 000 visitors annually but in 2019, the Monash Centre barely met half of this target, with just 54,000 visitors.”

Dr Fathi questions whether a commemorative extravaganza, with its nationalistic overtones, turned many Australians off dawn services.

“The Spirit Lives 2014-2018”, Australia’s own First World War centenary commemorative program, is reported to have cost more than $600 million — the largest commemorative budget worldwide for the centenary — even though Australians only represented about 0.6% of all troops in the war.

Anzac Day attendance figures

 City  2015  2016  2017  2018  2019  2020  2015-2019  
Canberra 120,000 55,000 38,000 38,000 35,000 only officials -70%
Melbourne 85,000 45,000 30,000 35,000 25,000 only officials -70%
Adelaide 20,000 10,000 5,000 6,000 5,000 cancelled -75%
Perth 75,000 40,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 cancelled -73%
Gallipoli 10,000 1,200 1,000 1,178 1,434 cancelled -85%
Villers-Bretonneux 6,000 3,000 2,130 8,127 1,900 cancelled -68%



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1 year ago

Interesting that the benchmark used to measure falling attendances is the Centenary of Anzac in 2015. The hightwater mark of Anzac commemorative activity, where attendances were at historic highs.
No figures were provided for the five years prior to 2015, so a like for like comparison could be made, and a true trend established. Nor were any figures provided on attendances in Brisbane or Sydney. I don’t know what the figures are for those cities, nor those for the earlier years at the other locations, but for this to be credible they should be included.

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