Anzac Day observance in Australia did not begin as a government initiative, nor was it instigated by returned services associations. Indeed, in the lead up to 25 April 1916, the date of the first anniversary of the landing, acting Prime Minister
George Pearce was less than enthusiastic about the event, suggesting that the nation might wait for a military victory before setting a date for commemoration.
The idea of an ‘Anzac Day’ had been mooted since shortly after the Gallipoli landing in 1915 – and there were a range of events in 1915 so-named – and it was in Queensland that the first major organisational endeavours towards an anniversary commemoration began. In the wake of a public meeting in the Exhibition Hall in January 1916 – attended by many influential public figures including the Premier
T J Ryan, the Governor Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams and the Mayor of Brisbane, George Down – an Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (ADCC) was formed.
Anzac Day was then, in part, conceived as a solemn memorial day to honour those who had given their lives for the nation and the British Empire.
Not a government agency per se, the committee consisted of Cabinet members, including the Premier, as well as members from the opposition. Its executive comprised a significant number of clergymen, the most energetic and influential being Anglican Canon
David Garland. It was under his stewardship that much of the planning of the first and subsequent events was carried out.
Portrait of Thomas Joseph Ryan, Premier of Queensland, c1915
Premier Ryan actively promoted the idea of commemoration within the state and among the other state Premiers. Without his considerable influence, Anzac Day would doubtless not have been established as a significant civic event at this time. The Minister for Education,
Herbert Hardacre was also a member of the ADCC and establishment of commemoration in the school calendar and curriculum was a high priority.
A number of factors – apart from the organisational zeal of Garland and the ADCC – contributed to the event’s efficacy. Anzac commemoration first emerged at a time where the initial public enthusiasm for the war was on the wane. In December 1915, the AIF had withdrawn from the Dardanelles to lick their wounds. Enlistment figures, boosted by the public euphoria created by the reportage of the Gallipoli landing, had peaked in July 1915. It was never to return to such heights for the duration of the war. Compulsory military conscription, introduced in Britain in early 1916, was suggested by some as a solution in Australia. While Australians had yet to experience the blood bath that occurred at Pozières and Fromelles in the European summer of 1916, the casualty lists from Gallipoli had brought home the reality of war to many.
Anzac Day was then, in part, conceived as a solemn memorial day to honour those who had given their lives for the nation and the British Empire. The grieving might be consoled by the public acknowledgment that their loved ones had died in a just and honourable cause. From its inception though, the day served many purposes. Its organisational origins lay with the Queensland Recruiting Committee. The military march was specifically designed to promote enlistment and to galvanise the nation’s war effort. The notion that 25 April 1915 constituted the ‘birth of the nation’ had been articulated since Empire Day speeches in May 1915. By April 1916 that rhetorical figure had wide currency. A powerful mythology had been built up around the military prowess of the Australian soldier which accompanied that narrative of national birth. The first Anzac events in Brisbane and elsewhere were a combination of civic requiem, recruiting rally, fund-raising carnival and celebration of nationhood – with different representative phases of the commemoration emphasising those aspects. People thronged the streets in April 1916 to cheer the parading soldiers in such numbers that there were major issues of crowd control on some parts of the march.
Anzac Day March, Brisbane 1916. Image courtesy of the State Library of Queensland
It was these ‘multiple valences’ of Anzac Day which underwrote debates about whether the day should be a ‘holy day’ or a holiday. Though the Premier had appealed for businesses to voluntarily close, it was not formally gazetted as a public holiday in Queensland during the wartime commemorations. Some public servants were granted leave to attend the church memorial services in the morning.
Letter to the Commisioner of Police regarding arrangements for Anzac Day, 26 April 1917
In fact Garland and the ADCC had resisted the declaration of a public holiday, insisting that the day’s distinctive status as a day of ‘solemn commemoration … might be easily lost if gazetted’. While returned servicemen who were state and federal public servants were typically given time to attend the commemorations, decisions about the others were left to their private employers. After the war, there was increasing unrest amongst working ex-servicemen who were denied access to Anzac Day through work commitments. Queensland’s
Anzac Day Holiday Act of 1921 began the process of assuring the day’s status in the memorial calendar, but it did not confirm it. While the Act ensured the closure of hotels and race meetings on the day, it was not formally inscribed as a close holiday until amendments were legislated in 1930.
The tensions between the day’s solemn elements and the need for returned soldiers to ‘let off steam’ are evidenced in the large numbers of police reports in the archives in the 1920s and 1930s from the Licensing Department for the prosecution of hotel owners for illegal opening. Some anonymous informants insisted on advising police of those establishments which they considered were in ‘scandalous breach’ of the
Despite the entreaties of its organisers, the tensions at its inception between the day’s funereal elements and its celebratory ones continued to characterise it. They still remain part of its make-up today as planning for the centenary event on Gallipoli in 2015 escalates. It might be argued that both modes of commemoration have contributed to its lasting hold on the Australian national imagination.
 John Connor,
Anzac and Empire: George Foster Pearce and the Foundations of Australian Defence, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2011, pg 62.
 Gareth Knapman, ‘Adelaide and the Birth of Anzac Day’ in
Legacies of War, ed. Nigel Starck, Australian Scholarly, North Melbourne, 2012, pg 177-80.
The Brisbane Courier, 11 January 1916, pg 8.
 Joan Beaumont,
Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013, pg 90-91; Ernest Scott, ‘Australia During the War’ in The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, ed. Robert O’Neill, University of Queensland Press in association with the Australian War Memorial, St Lucia, 1989, pg 871.
 Mark Cryle,
Recruitment and Enlistment, Queensland State Archives, http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Researchers/History/HistoricalEssays/Pages/recruitment_and_enlistment.aspx.
Maitland Weekly Mercury, 29 May 1915, pg 6; Marilyn Lake, ‘Mission Impossible: How Men Gave Birth to the Australian Nation- Nationalism, Gender and Other Seminal Acts’, Gender & History 4, no. 3, 1992, pg 305-06.
 E M Andrews,
The Anzac Illusion: Anglo-Australian Relations During World War 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, pg 60-63.
 Acting Sergeant E J Blackmore to Superintendent of Traffic, 26 April 1917, Letter Number 13332. Queensland State Archives
Item ID 319339
 Martin Crotty and Craig Melrose, ‘Anzac Day, Brisbane, Australia: Triumphalism, Mourning and Politics in Interwar Commemoration’,
The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 96, no. 393, 2007, pg 679.
 Home Secretary to Commissioner of Police, 24 April 1918, Letter Number 15314. Queensland State Archives
Item ID 319339
 Honorary Secretary’s Report, Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, 1924. Queensland State Archives
Item ID 862860
 Close holiday is the term used at the time to describe what is now known as a public holiday such as Good Friday or Christmas Day.
 Correspondence. Queensland State Archives
Item ID 319339 and Item ID 319340
 “Ex-Digger” to Licensing Inspector, 23 April 1928, Letter Number 2753. Queensland State Archives
Item ID 319339; [Unsigned] to Police Commissioner, 23 April 1930, Letter Number 14342. Queensland State Archives Item ID 319339