Anzac Day 1916 was a very different ANZAC Day compared to that I experienced in Canberra this morning. Martin Crotty, a historian at the University of Queensland, said that Anzac Day commemorations have “suited political purposes right from 1916 when the first Anzac Day march was held in London and Australia, which were very much about trying to recruit more people to join the war during 1916-1918.”

As war efforts changed over the last 109 years, and eventually subsided, the Anzac Day commemorations have taken on a more solemn and meaningful practice. After attending the 2024 Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial this morning–my first in Canberra, and possibly my fifth as an adult–I have some thoughts.

I’m not going to discuss how I thought arriving half an hour early for a 5:30 am service would be “early enough” to secure a good viewpoint–it was not, and I’m pretty sure that most of the 30,000 attendees beat me to the Sculpture Garden this morning. Nor will I mention how the lacklustre audio and video production at the memorial left me feeling blind and deaf, yet my hearing was sharp enough at 5:30 am to hear someone vomiting behind me and a staff member using one of those hand-held clickers commonly used by bouncers, walking through the crowd in the dark, clicking away.

I won’t wax lyrical about how the male performers were named and the master of ceremonies asked the crowd to applaud them, yet the female performers were neither named nor acknowledged.

Where my mind is at, here in the Canberra Qantas Lounge at 4pm on the twenty-fifth of April, is the book I’m currently seven percent through on my Kobo e-reader, “Van Diemen’s Land” by James Boyce, and a PhD candidate from Turkey who was ahead of me in line for a bacon and egg roll after the service.

The PhD candidate studying tourism in Turkey has come to Australia for a few weeks to complete his study on why Australians aren’t visiting Gallipoli for Anzac Day anymore. Apparently, for the centenary in 2015, over 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders made the pilgrimage, but numbers have significantly dropped, to about 1,500 last year.

I can’t shake the feeling that Anzac Day needs to continue to evolve.

In 2115, are we expecting our great-grandchildren to be trekking to Gallipoli, or even to the Australian War Memorial, to remember the events of April 1915?

Or can the spirit of Anzac Day start to embody more of the Australian spirit, leading me to James Boyce’s “Van Diemen’s Land”?

The thorough rewriting and retelling of Tasmania’s history should be a must-read for all Australians–not for the interest in the Apple Isle–but for a thorough understanding of the relationship between the first Australians, the early whalers and sealers, the French, the Dutch, and the British.

I was sold a narrative as a child that there was nothing here on Terra Australis except for some savages until the Brits arrived, and then some things happened, then we got Channel V. My little brother was born in 1988, so he got a cool birth certificate because the country was 200 years old, and I got a trip to Expo ‘88. Simpler times.

Modern brave and valiant efforts to flesh out that story with truth, to include First Australians, their sovereignty, and their story, have undoubtedly helped me understand more about the brutality inflicted by the early settlers and the sudden change to the Aboriginal way of life– one day they’re living their hashtag bestlife, and the next, some guy is waving a metal rod of murder towards them, killing some of their friends and family.

James Boyce’s nuanced approach to the 18th and 19th-century tension has led me to a greater understanding of the times. An understanding that softens the often poisonous narrative about the early explorers and convicts, acknowledging that they were strangers in a new and foreign land, and also that the locals were being impacted by strangers in their homeland.

One simple story that greatly impacted me was about how back-burning was misunderstood. We now know that Australian Aborigines are experts in land and bushfire management, and we also have evidence that being caught in a bushfire isn’t exactly conducive to survival. In what would be one of the earliest misunderstandings between local Aboriginals and settlers, the Aboriginals were back-burning on their land, as was their right and responsibility, but the British were terrified and believed they were under attack from the Aboriginals.

There are countless other stories from that time of the early explorers, soldiers, and convicts having extremely positive relationships with the First Australians.

But the scarlet thread through it all are tensions between the nations and their people.

The path of reconciliation made its way into the twentieth century where the First Nations people of Australia fought alongside the first immigrants of Australia in World War I, albeit paid dismally and treated worse, and still today our people struggle with that tension between our peoples, working feverishly to close that gap and heal the wounds.

I was reminded of that as one of the speakers at the War Memorial dawn service this morning recounted the 1944 story of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, where HMAS Australia was attacked by the Japanese.

In 2024, Japan is the number one nation Australians are visiting–willingly, for leisure and fun–only 80 years after we lost thirty Australians to a Japanese kamikaze aircraft attack.

The story I see being told on Anzac Day 2115 is a story of principles being held and fought for, and tensions being identified and resolved, a story of reconciliation.

Perhaps today we can start sharing that beautiful, rich, and rare story of resolved tension, principles of treaty between the First Australian nations and those of us who come across the seas for the boundless plains to share. May we advance Australia fair.