Huge crowds turned out to this 1950’s Anzac service at the Botanic Gardens Cenotaph.
Huge crowds turned out to this 1950’s Anzac service at the Botanic Gardens Cenotaph.

Rockhampton held nation's first dawn service in 1916


That was Rockhampton Regional Mayor Margaret Strelow's stunned reaction when she learned about the city's hidden piece of Australia's Anzac history.

A Morning Bulletin report on April 26, 1916 recounts an Anzac Day Dawn Service in Rockhampton a year on from the historic Gallipoli landings.

Research revealed last month shows that it was the first Anzac dawn service in Australia.

The Australian War Memorial reports on its website that the tradition may have begun in Western Australia with a private requiem mass at Albany in 1918, followed by a wreath laying and commemoration in Toowoomba in 1919.

But in March, University of Hull lecturer Dr Jenny Macleod told the Gallipoli 1915: A Century On conference in Canberra, organised by the Australian War Memorial and Australian National University, the earliest recorded dawn service she could find was in Rockhampton.

Yesterday Cr Strelow said it was "extraordinary" to think Rockhampton would have held a service in 1916, even if it was not the only community to do so that year.

"I'm struck by the dignity of the occasion, by the numbers in attendance, by the beauty of the words spoken and by the sensitivity of the reporting," she said.

"That our community intuitively recognised the historical importance of the Anzac landing to our national story speaks of a well-developed sense of who we were and a pride in who we were becoming."

Cr Strelow said it the events of Gallipoli, and the continuing war, would have been "so raw and fresh" to the parents and loved ones who attended the service.

The Morning Bulletin yesterday asked the Australian War Memorial if they were able to confirm Rockhampton's service was the first in Australia.

They said they were unable to verify or research the dates further within yesterday's print deadline.

Following the 1916 service, The Morning Bulletin reported 600 people attended the sombre occasion.

"The morning broke dull and cheerless: but just as the service started the sun burst through the clouds and shone as gloriously and as brightly as it did on that memorable and never-to-be forgotten 25th of April, 1915, when the Australian and New Zealanders, with no tradition behind them, emerged from the obscure, and, with one magnificent achievement, gained a niche in the temple of fame and performed a feat which will live so long as time en- dures. " the article read.

Continues tomorrow.