anzac day, canberra

I quite like Canberra, so much so; my most recent trip I was a little sad when it was time to leave.

This wasn’t a ‘normal’ trip, I went to commemorate Anzac Day. Now my fifth Canberra visit and third Anzac Day there.

Flying in, it’s a pretty place, very green and lush. One of Australia’s nicest airports and very easy to get a bus or taxi for a short ride into the city. I left Sydney and arrived at my hotel less than 2 hours later. My hotel was great, if a bit of a hike from the centre of town. My friend was finishing up work as I arrived, so we rendezvoused and went to Jamie’s Italian restaurant in a hope of chancing a table – success! What a fab place! Great atmosphere, helpful staff, nice Italian wines and … delicious food. We said goodnight early, Anzac Day is a very big day, we were to meet again at 4am.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to dig out my thermal wear, but I’m glad I did! Thermies, scarf, beanie, gloves, wool insoles for my boots… and still my feet got numb with coldness. We got a park close to the Australian War Memorial and as luck would have it, even get a seat to the side of the parade ground.

The ceremony is preceded with readings of letters from those who have served our country overseas. A young nurse told us about her personal experiences and it was extremely heartfelt.

Silence before dawn.

Cockatoos screeched overhead, everyone was still and quiet. Everyone… there were thousands of people covering the parade ground and any square of grass available. Usually approx 30,000 people attend and I’m sure there were more. It was the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in attendance too (i.e. Kate and Wills).

The ceremony was touching as always and I admire the adherence to the traditions of the hymns and odes that are read each year. The Last Post rung out across the parade ground and silence ensued again before people dispersed into the morning.

After a hearty breakfast we returned for the national ceremony, which was very interesting and has representatives by veterans of all wars or peacekeeping missions Australia has attended. All four living Australian VCs attended and were acknowledged, this was pretty special.

Following this ceremony we went to pay our respects to the honour roll (Kara’s great uncle) and tomb of the unknown Australian soldier. We may have caught a glimpse of the royals on our way!

Just before 5pm each day, there is also a Last Post Ceremony. The idea was adopted from a similar service in Ypres, Belgium.

Feeling exhausted I pulled together a little more energy and we went back around 4.45pm to catch the ceremony.

This was to be the highlight of the day. The story they read that day was of Thomas Whyte of South Australia. Nice. He was born in Unley and liked sport, particularly rowing. At that point, I grabbed my phone and started taking notes with the intent to check my great grandfather’s letters because I thought I recalled the name. Then to my utter surprise, the person speaking referred to the photo (which I hadn’t seen due to the crowds), of Thomas Whyte and his good friend Lance Rhodes. Well… I just about fell over! My great grandfather! Clearly I was meant to be there that day. I had a wonderful chat with the staff afterward and they kindly gave me the photo.

I’ve been planning for sometime to create a website in his name (I even have the URL already!), this is definitely a motivator to get that underway.

Following that I caught up with another dear friend of mine, to learn that he’d had the honour of reading requiem at the service he was at. A very special Anzac Day all round!

Over the remainder of the weekend I enjoyed the other parts of Canberra that I love. There are some excellent museums, though I’ll admit that the Canberra Museum and Gallery wasn’t my favourite, still I’m glad I went. A walk to Lake Burley Griffin. A treat of a massage… and the rest of the time, I … ate… a lot!

There are some great bars; Honkytonks, Shorty’s and Hippo Co. And some great restaurants and pubs; The Copa, Jamie’s Italian, Wig and Pen, Smoque and Edgars Inn. Not to mention breakfast places; Lonsdale Street Roasters, The Cupping Room and The Loading Zone.

Our nation’s capital, definitely worth a visit.

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