BLESSED with clear skies and an unseasonably balmy morning, Hunter people flocked to the popular seaside Anzac Day dawn service at Nobbys on Monday to mark the 101st anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli conflict.
A crowd estimated by organisers to be up to 50,000 stood solemnly on the beach, across the sprawling lawns surrounding the stage and and silhouetted atop the Fort Scratchley hill to pay respects to men and women who have served in all theatres of war.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with veterans and serving personnel were families who had roused young children from their beds hours before dawn, dignitaries, schoolchildren and a number of players from the Knights and Manly-Warringah rugby league teams, who sacrificed a sleep-in ahead of their match at Hunter Stadium later in the day to attend the ceremony.
Newcastle RSL sub-branch president and master of ceremonies Ken Fayle said the unique elements of the Nobbys service, with its beach location and the firing of cannons from the fort overhead, gave it a sense of theatre and reverence that continued attract large crowds.
“There is something about standing here, just before dawn. It’s quiet, in that minute of silence, you can hear the surf breaking – it just resonates with people,” he said.
“It gives you a real buzz when the sun goes up to see that sea of faces. You know that all the work you have put in for 12 months has come to fruition, and to see the young people come out is just terrific.”
Rebecca Longfield, of Cessnock, who woke at 2.30am to attend the service with her extended family, including rugged-up six-month-old baby Flynn, agreed the Nobbys ceremony offered a special Anzac Day experience.
“To have the sound of the waves in the background, and the cannons firing, it’s very realistic. You can imagine it is just like it would have been at Gallipoli,” she said.
Also among the early starters in the crowd were Sharon and Marc Lane, of Wallsend, with children Courtney, 13, and Jordan, 20, attending their first Nobbys service. Mrs Lane’s grandfather served in the Light Horse and the family makes a point of attending a dawn service together each year.
“It’s nothing to get out of bed early one day a year to remember those who made sacrifices,” Jordan said.
Knights coach Nathan Brown, who laid a wreath on behalf of the club, was clearly moved by his first Nobbys dawn service.
“Well, it’s a great location, for starters, and the man upstairs produced some beautiful weather for us, which made it even better,” he said.
Brown said it was a very early start on a game day for he and the players who attended, but justified by the occasion.
“My dad is Vietnam war vet and I know how all these wars can have effects on people, but it’s a great occasion and obviously very well supported,” he said.
Also in attendance was Commander Mark Sirios, of the HMAS Newcastle, who led a contingent of about 40 of the ship’s company. He, too, found the service very moving, and was particularly impressed by the Maori translation of the Ode of Remembrance, a feature introduced last year.
“Just being by the ocean, being a Navy member, hearing the waves go by … it’s very moving,” he said.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, who addressed the service, said Anzac Day for her evoked memories of her “pop” Ted Tillman, who served in Laos and Papua New Guinea in WWII, and her husband’s great grandfather, Arthur Reginald Nelmes, who served and died in Gallipoli.
“This Anzac centenary continues to be a time to honour the service and sacrifice of our original Anzacs and the generations of Australian servicemen and women who have defended our values and freedoms in wars, conflicts and peace operations through a century of service,” she said.