On the eve of her first visit to Gallipoli for this morning's Anzac Day dawn service, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an A$83 million ($100 million) package for the centenary of the Dardanelles landing.
"I have never had the opportunity to mark Anzac Day on that sacred soil, and so I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to be there in person, to meet Australians who are travelling there, and to reflect on the sacrifice that our nation has made across all wars," she said.
But her visit and the centenary programme that will run from 2014 to 2018 comes amid debate on the future of Anzac Day in an increasingly multicultural Australia, new claims debunking key elements of the Gallipoli mythology, and moves by Aborigines to expand its meaning to include Australian frontier wars.
The run-up to this morning's commemoration was also inflamed by the comments of New Zealand journalist Jock Anderson, who said Australia's diggers were "lazy bludgers, excellent black marketeers, scavengers, poachers and thieves". Aborigine activists are also intent on using today's national service in Canberra , with a group planning to join the tail of the parade to remember Aborigines "who died in defence of their lands during the colonial invasion".
Spokesman Michael Anderson, one of the founders of Canberra's iconic tent embassy,dismissed criticism of the march as unjustified.
"This clearly shows the denial of Australian authorities of the reality of injustice perpetrated against Aboriginal people. After all, RSL website acknowledges that Anzac Day 'goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915 (to) remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations'."
Research commissioned by the federal Anzac Centenary Commission had further warned that celebrations could cause divisions in the nation's multicultural society, upset former enemies, and inflame tensions if the nation was embroiled in an unpopular war in April 2015.
Social analyst Mark McCrindle told ABC radio that even with 25 per cent of people born outside the country, support for Anzac Day remained strong. He said a survey had shown that 83 per cent strongly disagreed with the view that Anzac Day was no longer relevant because of Australia's multicultural society.
The programme announced by Gillard includes an education programme on Australia's military history, scoping studies for a travelling war exhibition and a re-staging of the convoys taking troops to Egypt and Gallipoli, grants for local projects, the refurbishment of war graves and the Australian War Memorial's First World War galleries, commemorative services overseas, and an arts and culture fund.By Greg Ansley Email Greg