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Deep silence and vast spaces at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance

Last time such orders were made, the air war raged in Australia’s northern skies. Darwin had been razed weeks earlier and there was no guarantee Japanese bombers were not on their way south.

In 2020, the enemy is silent and invisible.

The Larkins family in Clara Street, Macleod at a small dawn service in their street on Anzac day.

The Larkins family in Clara Street, Macleod at a small dawn service in their street on Anzac day. Credit:Eddie Jim

Most approached the Shrine tentatively at first, keeping to the darkened fringes of the forecourt until it was clear police, though watchful, had no mind to move them on or issue fines.

As dawn approached, they moved closer to the eternal flame, where a man with a portable speaker pressed play on The Last Post.

“I thought I’d come prepared, just in case,” he told The Age.

First light revealed about 100 people paying silent and physically-distanced respects.

The crowds would normally spill from the Shrine to the Anzac Day march and maybe a ‘special-occasion’ morning beer. Some time late morning or early afternoon, commemorations would change gears and cross the Yarra to Melbourne’s other sacred place.

Yesterday, instead of 90,000 hushed Collingwood and Essendon fans, lone bugler John Mansfield played to an empty MCG in a haunting pre-recorded ceremony broadcast at 2.30pm (perhaps the only thing familiar) with a minute’s silence.

“This is no ordinary Anzac Day,” Premier Daniel Andrews posted to Facebook.

“Victorians are remembering our veterans from their driveways and letterboxes and lounge rooms.

“It’s different – but no less significant.”

In Canberra, the day’s commemorations began in darkness at the Australian War Memorial with a didgeridoo solo from Seaman Lynton Robbins, a Kamilaroi man from the Navy.

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After weeks of virus briefings, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke eloquently of this year’s Anzac Day remembrances as “small, quiet and homely” and mentioned an Army corporal in isolation during chemotherapy for brain cancer.

“He has served us but now we must do the right thing by him and so many more because we’re all in this together,” he said. “But we always have been. We always will be.”

From the Middle East, modern-day diggers sent Anzac Day messages home on video.

“It’s the one day a year where you can pass on that legacy through my children and watch the Anzac spirit grow through generations,” Corporal Daniel Peadon said to homeland far away.

Deep in a global crisis that has been likened to a war, Australians found ways to make Anzac Day more communal and less lonely.

Images of the RSL-inspired driveway and balcony dawn services flooded social media.

“Lest We Forget” chalked on the roadside. A toddler in pyjamas and bunny slippers with a candle. A TV out the front of a house showing commemorations from elsewhere for interested neighbours.

And while there were many photos featuring neatly pressed uniforms and polished medals, there were less-formal tributes in just-out-of-bed shorts, thongs and daggy T-shirts.

As well as bugles and trumpets, social media revealed The Last Post was also played this unusual Anzac Day on clarinets, saxophones and bagpipes.

Versions drifted across suburbs and farms, linking neighbours at a time when physical distancing restrictions are keeping everyone apart.

Back at the Shrine in Melbourne, a young veteran of Iraq, who asked not be named, had his grandfather’s medals pinned next to his own.

“This is the most important day of the year for me,” he said.

“I get the rules and regulations, but there’s a mental health side to this as well.

“I’m not religious, but this is like my church.”

He said a silent version of prayer for lost mates and went home.

With David Estcourt

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