Preparations for ANZAC Day continue around NSW
With the entire state and most of the nation in lockdown, 2020 was an ANZAC Day like no other. This year the COVID situation has improved and preparations for ANZAC Day by volunteers from RSL NSW sub-Branches are taking place across New South Wales.
We asked leaders from four of our sub-Branches about the feeling in their local communities and how this year’s commemorations will look in their respective locations.
Milton/Ulladulla RSL sub-Branch President, Sean Hendry, said being able to host ANZAC Day commemorations this year means a great deal to veterans and their families.
“My goal was to try and get something happening for our local veterans.”
He said that due to COVID-19 restrictions they have had to look at several logistical options to determine what was going to work best. The March and Main Service will both be taking place but will look different to previous years. The March will take place within the Milton Ulladulla ExServos grounds and participants will be limited to ex and current serving ADF personnel.
The main service has been moved from the traditional location at the Milton Cenotaph and will instead take place in front of the ExServos Club which is where the dawn service is normally held. “Due to social distancing guidelines in this space the limit is one thousand people who’ll need to register for contact tracing purposes”, he added.
He said it was a very tough call to not proceed with the Dawn Service, but all things considered, the program is the most inclusive way to go in this year’s difficult circumstances. “Several of our most senior veterans are no longer able to attend dawn services. How we are proceeding will make sure ANZAC day includes all veterans in our community.”
In the state’s north Casino RSL sub-Branch President Jim Dean said the community is positive that commemorations can go ahead.
Being volunteers he said adhering to the COVID-19 safety requirements was a challenge: “It’s been hectic – our Secretary Owen Newell has led the preparations very well in difficult circumstances”.
He said they were grateful that Casino fell just outside of the perimeter of the zone impacted by the recent disruptions caused by the small COVID-19 outbreak in Byron Bay.
Similarly to Ulladulla, Casino is proceeding with two out of the three usual ANZAC Day commemorations, which in their case will be the Dawn Service and March.
“Social distancing at the traditional location for the Dawn Service at the river was going to be physically impossible, so this year we are holding it at the Commemoration Wall at the front of the RSM Club.”
Out west, Leeton RSL sub-Branch Vice President Ron Hirst explained that people around town are looking forward to having some form of ANZAC Day after the tribulations of 2020Like Casino, they are going head with a Dawn Service and March, with the March “peeled back quite a bit”.
He said the usual post-Dawn Service breakfast has been moved from the Soldiers Club and is instead being held at Mountford Park, with the Soldiers Club providing the food and local Lions Club members cooking for the attendees.
As with many sub-Branches, Leeton will host a a mid-afternoon service in the nearby town of Whitton. “It is great to see young people’s enthusiasm for ANZAC Day and how it really builds a sense of national pride”, Ron said.
Vice President of the City of Newcastle RSL sub-Branch and convenor of the City of Newcastle ANZAC Day committee, Ken Fayle, explained that 2021 has been a very challenging environment to plan ANZAC Day commemorations.
Known for having some of the largest ANZAC Day turnouts in Australia, Newcastle’s commemorations have had to be scaled back significantly this year and won’t be the traditional March and Services attended by thousands.
“It’s been a minefield to negotiate; it takes months to organise the Anzac event calendar regardless of being in Sydney or Newcastle, and we are a volunteer organisation,” Ken said.
“We have to comply with state and Local Government licencing requirements, which this year included COVID-19 planning and implementation.
“Aside from the exorbitant costs, you could not ask any organisation made up of volunteers with an average age of 70+ to monitor the crowd and to not march themselves.”
He said the viciousness of the “trolling” the sub-Branch has received on social media has been disappointing but is grateful that the vast majority of the Newcastle community appreciate the need to put the community’s wellbeing first.