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What is Anzac Day? An International Student’s Guide

A national day of commemoration and remembrance, Anzac Day falls on 25 April each year. As an international student, you may be wondering: “What is Anzac Day?” In addition to being a national public holiday, this day carries great significance in Australia’s history. Here is everything you need to know about the spirit of Anzac Day and what events and activities to anticipate. 

What is Anzac Day?

Anzac Day is a very important day in Australia and New Zealand’s history. To understand this important history, it’s key to know the basics. 

So, firstly, what does ANZAC stand for? ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. On 25 April 1915, the Anzacs first landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula to capture the Turkish capital of Istanbul (known then as Constantinople) during World War I. After eight months of brutal warfare and eventual defeat, the Anzacs evacuated from Gallipoli. But by that point, over 10,000 soldiers’ lives were lost and many others were severely injured. 

One year later, on 25 April 1916, Australians and New Zealanders commemorated and paid respects to the sacrifice of the nations’ Armed Forces, both past and present. The tradition has continued every year since.

Why is Anzac Day important?

Anzac Day is more than just the remembrance of the fallen soldiers who served at Gallipoli. It is a day to honour those who have served these countries on other occasions and to pay respects to the family and friends of fallen soldiers. Moreover, this day of remembrance continues to play a major part in forming the Australian identity of courage and mateship, which is held in high regard even today. 

What happens on Anzac Day?

Anzac Day traditions involve rising for a dawn service because it was in the morning that the Anzac soldiers arrived on Gallipoli shores. The service typically includes a commemorative address at War Memorials across the country, followed by wreath-laying, hymns and prayers, sounding of the Last Post, one minute’s silence, and the national anthem. Later in the day, many ex-servicemen and women take part in Anzac parades or marches.

At these events, it’s common to hear Anzac Day poetry or ode recitation. Usually, the reading of choice is the fourth verse from English poet Laurence Binyon’s “For The Fallen”:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

The Anzac Day match is an annual football match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Essendon Bombers held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is at this match that Anzac Day medal winners are recognised for their personification of the spirit of Anzac Day (i.e., for demonstrating traits like courage, self-sacrifice, teamwork, and fair play). 

What are some Anzac Day symbols?

There are some important Anzac Day symbols and emblems that you may recognise when you see them. One of them is the Anzac biscuit, mainly made of rolled oats, flour, sugar and desiccated coconut. These biscuits were eaten by the Anzac soldiers during wartime as a substitute for bread as they lasted a long time without spoiling. Hence, it was originally known as the army biscuit or the soldiers’ biscuit. 

Another Anzac symbol is the red poppy flower, which was one of the first flowers growing on the French and Belgian battlefields after WWI. Rosemary flowers, which were found scattered in the Gallipoli Peninsula, are also seen as significant. Even today, wreaths of these flowers are laid down in remembrance of fallen soldiers.

Another Anzac Day symbol is the slouch hat, which is made of khaki felt. It has gone from being recognised as part of a standardised military uniform to a national symbol, particularly on this public holiday.

What’s open on Anzac Day?

Since Anzac Day is a national public holiday, trading hours for shops and businesses may vary. Most restaurants, bars and cafés will be open (some only after the dawn service). On Sunday, the night before Anzac Day, pubs typically stop serving alcohol at midnight. Keep in mind that many venues may impose a surcharge on Anzac Day. 

Major supermarkets will open after midday, either from 12pm or 1pm, and this varies state by state. We recommend checking the store websites or ringing the shops to ask if they will be open and what the hours of operation will be. You can also learn more about what to expect from trading hours in your state here.

Celebrating Anzac Day in Australia 2024

Now that you know more about Anzac Day, you can be part of the commemoration yourself.

You can attend a local service at a war memorial near you; for example, if you are in Canberra, attend the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial. Alternatively, you can remember from home by watching a live memorial broadcast on ABC News Channel or holding a vigil in your driveway. 

You can also attend an Anzac Day parade or march in your local area, or visit a local museum to learn more about Australia’s history.

Learn more about Anzac Day services across Australia.