Last year Shaun McGill spent the morning of Anzac Day in a crowd of more than 30,000 at the dawn service in Canberra.
“I was just thinking about everything that those people who had gone through before us. So many of the people there were serving members or have a family member who served.”
This year, at 5.30am, McGill stood at the end of the driveway, joined by only his wife and two daughters, with a homemade cross and paper poppies.
An active air force officer, McGill stood to attention in full uniform, as a live stream of the national dawn service played through a small speaker.
Despite thousands doing the same across the country, it was a much lonelier start to the Anzac Day than McGill was used to.
“It’s really hard to compare to such a big gathering, but I don’t think too much about that.”
McGill said that no matter what was going on around the country, it was important this day wasn’t skipped over.
“It’s something that should never be forgotten. We have come a long way since the late 70s and 80s where the Vietnam veterans were treated with absolute disgust. I think we are a lot more educated now about what it means to serve your country – kids understand much better … but still, there are so many people who are still affected.
“Everyone knows someone whose family served in Gallipoli or died in Gallipoli.”
The idea for the driveway dawn service came from two former Townsville defence force personnel, Warrant Officer Terry James and Brigadier Bill Sowry, who were discussing a Covid-19-friendly way to commemorate the day on social media.
The plan quickly gained popularity and RSL branches and politicians across the country encouraged people to take part.
In previous years once the trumpets fell quiet, and the crowd at the dawn service dissipated, McGill would ring up a few friends from the defence force to see if they were free for lunch.
“We would just have a few beverages and catch up. Last year I ended up at my local establishment and chatting to a group of people for hours.”
Pubs are now closed and meeting with friends is off the table, but McGill still plans to fulfil this informal tradition.
“It’s tough from a physical perspective, but it’s important to reach out, to pick up the phone and connect with people, to make sure they are alright.”