Dawn isn’t something I see very often. The hours between 2 and 6 in them morning are usually off limits for me. But today, my dedication to the exploring Australia cause possessed me to set an alarm for 3:10 a.m. to go to the ANZAC Day dawn service at the Sydney Cenotaph.
I walked to the bus stop where two old ladies were sitting. I bet they’d be fun to talk to. After 10 minutes of waiting for the bus, I spoke up. “Well, I guess I coulda gotten a little more sleep.” The women told me they never went to bed. Instead they stayed up watching “Cape Fear” and whatever else was on. They each had sprigs of rosemary, which I had read was important to Anzac day. They couldn’t tell me why exactly rosemary was significant, but they said poppies were important too. The one woman broke off a piece for me and the other offered me a pin.
They joked about bringing a flask to the service. I told them, “Oh, no, I’m going to get in trouble with you two.” The one responded, “It’s good to get into trouble now and then,” and said something about it making life worthwhile.
Another ten minutes passed and they started to complain about the bus being late.
“I’m starting to lose my sense of humor.”
“This is absolutely ridiculous. The paper said it was supposed to be here. We rang up to check and they said it’d be here.”
I said I’d be happy to share a cab with them, but they weren’t interested. “No, love, we’ll just go back home if the bus doesn’t come. We’re getting tired.”
A group of students who had come from a night of barhopping joined us at the stop.
“I don’t think the bus is coming,” one of the women said. “We’ve been waiting for 40 minutes. It's absolutely ridiculous.”
The bus came five minutes later but was so full it didn’t even bother to stop.
“Absolutely ridiculous. Let’s go.”
I told them I’d pay for the cab if they wanted to come.
“It’s not about the money, dear. We’re just cranky at this point.”
“Yeah, we’re going to call and complain.”
“First person who picks up, we’ll let em have it.”
So the women left and the group of kids hailed a cab. There were four of them so they couldn’t fit me in their taxi, but they decided to split up so I wouldn’t have to pay the whole fare myself. During the ride I learned they went Sydney Uni with me.
We arrived at Martin Place just after 4 a.m. The street was packed and there was no way to get anywhere we might see anything so we just listened. The MC introduced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other important attendees. The service began with a hymn and a prayer. A general gave a speech, which was followed by more hymns.
Rain started to fall and everyone’s umbrellas went up. Now I really had no chance of seeing the band or choir up front. The service closed with the New Zealand and Australian national anthems, which I had never heard before. Listening to thousands of people sing the anthems just before sunrise was a great experience.
My new friends, who had been up all night, offered me to join them on their ride back to campus, but I decided to stick around for a little since I hadn’t actually seen anything during the service. As people cleared out, I moved toward the cenotaph monument where some were laying wreaths and flowers.
I watched the bagpipe players play.
And pitied the journalists who got stuck with the Anzac story — the same story written every year, which bonus! has a 7 a.m. deadline. It was amusing to watch them fight for quotes from the oldest veterans.
I decided to walk back as the sun came up. It was a good idea until I was 15 minutes away and contemplating how comfortable it would be to curl up on that curb. I finally made it back in bed just after 6:30 and slept until 10.
My final Anzac Day story will have to wait for another post.