Is the flame going out on Australia’s love-affair with Anzac Day?

The fading relevance of past wars to younger Australians can help explain a big fall in the number of people attending Anzac Day dawn services in recent years, a university historian says.

Apr 22, 2021, updated Apr 22, 2021
Crowds at Anzac Day dawn services have reduced significantly in recent years (Photo: ABC)

Crowds at Anzac Day dawn services have reduced significantly in recent years (Photo: ABC)

Estimated crowds at dawn services fell by about 70 per cent between 2015 and 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research conducted by senior history lecturer at Flinders University Romain Fathi.

Fathi said the collapse in attendance wasn’t simply a product of commemorative fatigue and might 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.,” he said.

“The biggest decline in crowd numbers was at Gallipoli itself, where numbers fell from 10,000 in 2015 to 1434 in 2019.”

“In Canberra, 120,000 attended the dawn service in 2015 compared to just 35,000 in 2019.”

Fathi said 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 5000.

Fathi said fewer Australians had gone to war in recent decades when compared to World War I and World War II or Vietnam so Anzac Day services had fewer veterans to rely on.

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

He questioned if the ongoing “commemorative extravaganza” had turned many Australians off dawn services.

Last year dawn services across the country were cancelled or severely restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year most will go ahead, but there will again be limits on the number of people allowed to attend.

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