The Anzac tradition: inspiring a nation

The Anzac tradition: inspiring a nation

Government Protocol and International Visits
Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Former Australian Prime Minister, Right Honourable William Morris (Billy) Hughes (standing on four ammunition boxes), addressing Australian soldiers, one and a half miles from Amiens, France in 1918.

Image caption: Former Prime Minister Billy Hughes addressing Australian soldiers – Amiens, France 1918. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial (E02533)

Born of the horrors of the First World War (WWI), the Anzac tradition continues to shape Australia by inspiring the words and actions of our Prime Ministers. 

It began almost immediately.

While the Australian Government was not consulted about the start – or the end – of WWI, Prime Minister Billy Hughes made sure our country was independently represented at the peace negotiations. When he was later questioned by the US President, Woodrow Wilson, about his authority to intervene in world affairs, Mr Hughes famously responded:

‘I represent sixty-thousand dead’.

Under Prime Minister John Curtin, the Anzac tradition was enshrined with the opening of the Australian War Memorial on Remembrance Day in 1941. Three years later, Australia’s place on the international stage was cemented with the signing of the Australian-New Zealand Agreement. This was Australia's first international treaty signed independently of Britain and asserted our autonomy in the region.

In the following decades, the Anzac tradition came to represent all Australian servicemen and women. In 1990, Prime Minister Bob Hawke held the first official Anzac Day ceremony in Gallipoli, and set the tone and format for future commemorations.

At the Lone Pine Ceremony in Gallipoli, Mr Hawke spoke about the meaning of the Anzac:

'Its meaning can endure only as long as each new generation of Australians finds the will to reinterpret it to breathe, as it were, new life into the old story: and, in separating the truth from the legend, realise its relevance to a nation and a people, experiencing immense change over the past three-quarters of a century.'

One-hundred years on from allied soldiers landing at Anzac Cove, Australians around the world came out in record numbers to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli campaign.

At the 2015 Dawn Service in Gallipoli, Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke of the Australian soldiers who fought there as founding heroes of modern Australia, and emblematic of our nation.

Since WWI, seven Australian Prime Ministers served in the armed forces and carried the Anzac tradition into office. This included Stanley Bruce, who fought and was wounded in the Gallipoli campaign, and John Gorton and Gough Whitlam. The latter two men joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) shortly after the start of the Second World War and served in the Asia-Pacific.

This year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be in France to deliver the Anzac Day dawn service address. The service will take place at Villers-Bretonneux to commemorate one-hundred years since Australian soldiers bravely led a counter attack to recapture the village.