SA film revisits the first Anzac Day

Apr 24, 2015
The first Anzac Day procession in 1915. Photo: State Library of SA

The first Anzac Day procession in 1915. Photo: State Library of SA

New Adelaide documentary The First ANZAC Day tells the story of the 10th Battalion, a South Australian AIF force created in 1914 to fight in the Dardanelles.

They were among the first soldiers to land at Gallipoli, and Arthur Blackburn and Philip Robin were the only two soldiers to make their objective (Scrubby Knoll) on the first day.

They saw the large numbers of Turkish soldiers gathering on the other side of the hill and, as there were no troops nearby to support them, they had to return. No other Australian soldier made it as far as they did for the rest of the campaign.

Created by Adelaide filmmaker Ash Starkey, The First ANZAC Day explains how the Trades Hall union movement decided to devote the celebrated Eight Hour Day holiday in October 1915 to a fundraising venture for wounded soldiers and their families.

There was an opportunity for the public to provide an alternative name for the day and Anzac Day was chosen. South Australia then hosted the first official Anzac Day.

Starkey’s documentary features a constant display of original photographs, maps, posters, sketches, paintings and newspaper reports which are very engaging. Descendants of soldiers who served in the 10th Battalion have been filmed speaking of their knowledge and memories of them.

Several historians also share their knowledge of aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, while World War II veterans provide insight into the beliefs, attitudes and experiences of soldiers in Gallipoli (and those who went on to serve on the Western front in France).

The First ANZAC Day also serves to remind us of the lasting impact of war, not only on returned soldiers, but also on loved ones and families.

The Dardanelles Cenotaph Memorial, located in the Lundie gardens on South Terrace, is highlighted as the first memorial erected in Australia to soldiers who fought in Gallipoli. It was created so early in the war that the inscription on the memorial refers to “Australasian” soldiers who fought in the Dardanelles (this was before Anzac and Gallipoli had come into common use). This monument became a location where mothers and widows of the young fallen soldiers could place wreaths and mourn the loss of their sons and husbands.

Starkey has re-created the sense of occasion of that first Anzac Day parade, and the subsequent fairground atmosphere at Adelaide Oval. As it was intended to be a fundraising day, the organisers needed to attract patrons, so various shops were on hand as well as the entertainment provided.

The film gives a sense of the time, with the major attraction being the crashing of two trams on rails that exploded and burst into flame on impact. The spectacle was widely publicised and billed as “American-style entertainment”.

Not surprisingly, given that this is the centennial year of the Gallipoli campaign, we have been inundated in all forms of the media with programs about Gallipoli. What is surprising is that there is still new information to be discovered.

Ash Starkey’s The First ANZAC Day is informative and entertaining: the visual juxtaposition of historical graphics with contemporary figures illustrates effectively the significance of commemorating fallen soldiers on this day.

A premiere screening of The First ANZAC Day was held last night at St Peter’s Town Hall. Further screenings are likely in other venues in the near future, so keep an eye on the documentary website, where DVD copies can also be ordered.

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