Saturday 25 April 2020

Different, but the same

Well that was an unusual Anzac Day. I've marked it a number of different ways in the past: up at dawn to attend the big service at the War Memorial Museum in the Domain in Auckland - and, less atmospherically, at the 11am one (but with added flyover); with a distinctly nautical theme in Devonport, assisted by Young Mariner daughters amongst the marchers; at Hobsonville with an Air Force focus; here on Waiheke at the memorial near the supermarket, that I drive past without a thought all the rest of the year: laying distinctly Kiwi poppies next to the Aussie wreaths on the memorial at Longreach, in deepest Queensland; and, most gloriously, at Gallipoli for the centenary in 2015.

That was an event: to be one of 10,500 assorted Kiwis and Aussies sitting through the night above Anzac Cove, below the Sphinx, hearing nightingales singing in the dark and the waves lapping on the pebbled beach below us, and waiting for dawn out over the sea where warships glided past. It was super-special, and a privilege to be there then - though even in ordinary years there is always a substantial contingent from Downunder who make a pilgrimage to remember all those who died there, in the water, on the beach, in trenches and, hopelessly exposed, trying to climb those gullied cliffs in equally hopeless attempts to push the Turks (who lost even more men) backwards. It was a disaster - but it was also the making of our national identity, for both New Zealand and Australia, and we won't ever forget it.

There was no-one there this year, though: Turkey is locked down too, and at Gallipoli dawn broke quietly. No-one was at any of the usual locations here, either - just people standing in the dark outside their gates, social-distancing, listening to a much shorter than usual broadcast service on their phones. I stood on our balcony looking down the valley, with just a few lights showing in the houses tucked in the bush, listening to ruru (owls) and tui, and the waves lapping on the stones down on our beach, just as they do at Anzac Cove. And then someone down in the dark played the Last Post over a loudspeaker, and it echoed up and down the valley as the clouds blushed pink, and it was perfect.

At Mt Maunganui, though, they had their sunrise over the sea, and a piper. Gorgeous.

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