COMMENT:

This should have occurred to me many years ago and I'm surprised it didn't. Even when I went to Gallipoli and saw Ataturk's inscription to the mothers of Anzacs buried there, the full force of Turkey's generosity didn't strike me.

It was only this year, watching a TV item on preparations for the visitors at Anzac Cove, that I realised how remarkable it is that Australians and New Zealanders are welcome to hold an annual ceremony there.

I wonder whether this country would welcome foreigners from far away for a proud national commemoration at a remote spot on our shores where their troops once tried to invade it.

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If Japan, say, wanted to commemorate the anniversaries of the bombing of Darwin for some reason, would they be welcome to raise their national flag, honour their fallen and recite their prayers every year in Australia? Would the United States let the Japanese hold such a ceremony in honour of their pilots at Pearl Harbour?

And yet we have been welcomed at Gallipoli every Anzac Day for as long as we have wanted to go there, and not just on Anzac Day. The day I went there was just another day for the minibus companies that operate tours of the peninsula almost every day from a town on the other side of the Dardanelles.

The driver was a delightful tour guide who had clearly hosted a lot of Aussies and Kiwis. He had our lingo and sense of humour down pat. So, yes, Gallipoli is a nice little earner for that region of Turkey but even so, it's pretty remarkable. Would we do it, at any price?

The question only occurred to me this year because I'm still disappointed we could not find room in our Anzac Day services for a Muslim prayer. It would have been perfectly fitting in recognition of what this country has experienced this year. I don't mean the hate, I mean the complete opposite.

I mean the recognition of our common humanity that emerged instantly from the crime against Muslims in Christchurch and emerges eventually from war. Ataturk's message expresses it perfectly but our Anzac Day service does not.

We let an emissary of Turkey lay a wreath along with representatives of many other nations, some of them former adversaries. But after all this time, I think we could give modern Germany, Turkey, Vietnam and others we have fought, a more prominent part in proceedings.

Very few veterans of World War II are still alive. Vietnam veterans are still with us and it was one of them who triggered opposition of the idea of including a prayer from the Quran this year. But there are not many of them and RSAs should not let them hold back the maturing of Anzac Day.

Turkey’s generosity is enshrined in Ataturk’s words at Anzac Cove. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Turkey’s generosity is enshrined in Ataturk’s words at Anzac Cove. Photo / Mark Mitchell

I was so disappointed I was not going to attend a dawn service this year. But I did, hoping a better spirit might quietly have prevailed. It hadn't but nevertheless I'm glad I went. There is much to admire about the way local RSAs do Anzac Day.

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I love that they are locally organised and so not grand. I love the gruff, unpretentious solemnity of the service. I love seeing old men enjoying a march again, having hated it probably when they had to do it.

Hearing the power of the thud your feet are making in unison must be thrilling.

I love the crowds that come. Young couples and families with children have got out of bed at 4.30 in the morning to assemble in the dark. There were thousands at Browns Bay — and no armed police that I could see.

I especially loved that Australian soldiers were at our service. They were here to play hockey in a curtain raiser for transtasman internationals at a nearby stadium. What better way to mark Anzac Day.

Last year I happened to be on the Gold Coast at this time and went to a small dawn service at Coolangatta. There I was moved to tears by them singing our national anthem. After Advance Australia Fair, the Aussies all around me launched into God Defend New Zealand with the familiarity of folk who heard it often.

I couldn't remember singing their anthem at our service but of course we do. As people we are very close, closer than we know. Anzac Day could make more of that.

It could also provide a more mature reflection on war. With the passage of time we no longer need to believe men died for "freedom" or "peace". They were serving their national interest as were the other side.

There is honour in that, for both sides. Speeches by school students at services this year seemed to appreciate this. Anzac Day is going to get even better.