ANZAC Day & How we Hope for Meaning


I’ve just returned from the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Blackwood Soldiers Memorial.

In Australia, this annual ritual commemorates those soldiers who lost their lives in war. It was, as usual, a packed affair, with the main intersection blocked off due to the several thousand people of all ages in attendance.

From 6pm last night, a series of young people form several local community service groups have kept vigil around the Memorial through the night.

During a debate at Mitcham Council the other night, I mentioned ANZAC Day as being a commemoration of what many Australians see as a sacred narrative at the heart of our history and identity.

Gary Bouma, in his excellent study of Australian spirituality Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-first Century notes the continual growth of participation in ANZAC Day as an example of the search for meaning within the lives of Australians.

The explicit values of mateship, solidarity and sacrifice are are the heart of this ritual, which he notes are signs that Australians are looking for a unifying story, and this one, deeply rooted in our history, provides the meaning we search for in our lives.

In doing so, he notes that within our contemporary society today, the religious and spiritual is often reflected in a set of activities which produce hope’.

He suggests this as an example of the vital point of participation in people’s search for meaning and ritual in their identity.

He identifies this kind of remembrance event as being a set of activities, ‘…rituals, dawn services, the blare of the bugle, getting together with friends…The very activity of engaging in these events promotes hope, gets a person going and provides something to look forward to’.

This fits with my observation of the excitement amongst young people who participate in such a service, it is the experience primarily that they hunger for, to access the meaning. Asking young adults about ANZAC Day, they talk of wanting to one day visit Gallipoli, just to ‘be there on that day, to have experienced it’.

The place of experience and activity to provoke meaning is profoundly central to understanding the spiritual temperature of Australia.

Bouma further notes, ‘Meanings alone are much less likely to achieve the end of movement into the future resolution of conflict, expression of grief, joy, deliverance or whatever’.

People seek out meaning through participation in a set of activities that produce hope.