Dawn of the Legend: The Anzac spirit

The legend of Anzac was born on 25 April 1915, and was reaffirmed in eight months' fighting on Gallipoli. Although there was no military victory, the Australians displayed great courage, endurance, initiative, discipline, and mateship. Such qualities came to be seen as the Anzac spirit.

Many saw the Anzac spirit as having been born of egalitarianism and mutual support. According to the stereotype, the Anzac rejected unnecessary restrictions, possessed a sardonic sense of humour, was contemptuous of danger, and proved himself the equal of anyone on the battlefield.

Australians still invoke the Anzac spirit in times of conflict, danger and hardship.

The meaning of Anzac

During the war the legend of Anzac became the proud possession of all in the AIF and most Australians. Since then, the anniversary of 25 April 1915 has been commemorated each year as Anzac Day.

The first Anzac Day was conducted in 1916. The troops observed it in various ways, and in London large crowds watched 2,000 Australians and New Zealanders march to Westminster Abbey. In Australia there was strong support for the day, with between 60,000 and 100,000 people packing the Domain in Sydney for a service.

By 1925 huge Anzac Day marches were being conducted in all the main cities. Smaller places had their own observances. Most states marked the day with a public holiday, and within two years they all did. Second World War ex-servicemen, and later others, accepted Anzac Day as theirs too. In immediate post-war years they swelled the numbers of veterans marching.

In 1990 a few ageing Gallipoli veterans, accompanied by the Prime Minister, went back to Turkey for the 75th anniversary of the landing. Australians watched emotionally as a handful of representatives of a near vanished army received their salute.

Ninety years on, there are no longer any living survivors of the campaign, but the parades, services and rituals of Anzac Day have survived, and some have expanded. Large crowds now go to Gallipoli each year. The legend of Anzac remains relevant to many Australians.

The word "Anzac", however, has different meanings for different people, and so remains open to interpretation.