THOUSANDS of people on the Far South Coast turned out for Anzac Day services and marches.
RSL sub-branch organisers in towns from Bermagui to Eden reported that all services, from those held at dawn to marches and commemorations later in the morning, had crowds substantially up on previous years.
Bruce Crane of the Bega RSL sub-branch believed a “genuine appreciation” by the community of the sacrifices by those in the armed services was behind the growth in numbers.
In Tathra over 300 people crowded around the town’s small cenotaph at dawn for a brief service.
“It’s the largest crowd I’ve seen, and it just gets bigger every year,” Allen Collins of the Tathra RSL sub-branch said.
In Merimbula almost 1500 came for the 11am service in addition to the estimated 500 that attended a dawn service.
In Bermagui, around 350 attended the dawn service and 300 the main service.
Bermagui RSL sub-branch treasurer Bob Shearing said those numbers were well up on previous years.
“I’m not really sure why, but it’s something happening nationwide particularly with the dawn service,” he said.
“With Easter and Anzac Day being so close we had a lot of holiday makers still in town and quite a few of them took the opportunity to attend our services.”
In smaller towns such as Wolumla and Bemboka the service has always attracted a large proportion of the community.
In Bemboka the main street is closed to traffic along with local businesses on a day where large tourist numbers are travelling back to Canberra – however, this mark of respect continues.
In Bega, over 150 braved the cold for a dawn service and a record number, estimated to be over 700, attended the 11am march and commemoration.
Mr Crane, who is also the Bega Legacy representative, was the emcee at both Bega events.
“I’m a little confused to be honest at the surge in crowd numbers this year,” he said.
“I was a bit concerned that perhaps there was somewhat of an ‘Anzac industry’ developing, with people just showing up to be seen as I think there is a little element of that in the larger capital city services.
“However, I really believe people coming to services in Bega have a genuine feeling about this.”
Mr Crane doesn’t think this groundswell of interest in attending Anzac Day will be confined to the next four years in which various 100th anniversaries of the events of World War 1 will be marked.
“It’s not just about centenary celebrations, I believe something has hit home with people.
“Just today I got a phone call from Bega High School, they would like someone from the RSL to come and give a talk this week.
“Younger people are embracing it, not as a culture, but with a genuine feeling of appreciation.
“I don’t think it’s got much to do with Afghanistan and the withdrawal, although it’s in the news a lot.
“I really think it’s just time, that the nation as a whole is just rallying behind the concept that, ‘Yes someone went overseas and fought for us’.
Mr Crane also praised the work of RSL sub-branch members in commemorating the fallen.
“The Anzac Day services all run very smoothly and that’s because of the work behind the scenes and the sub-branch members deserve a lot of credit,” he said.
“This work develops an interest by the community and an awareness.
“It’s then up to the general public act on this information and awareness, and I think the large numbers of people who attended on Friday shows they really are acting on it.”