They came from all over to stand as one, reflecting in silence as the brutal sounds of war rang out.
Emerald’s Anzac Day dawn service gave a packed crowd the chance to stop and gain some much-needed perspective about just what it means to live in such a privileged, free country. Gembrook MP Brad Battin and interim CEO of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, Steve O’Brien, were among those in attendance.
And after The Last Post, kookaburras burst into song in the trees surrounding the now iconic Anzac Place, while the Puffing Billy whistle echoed throughout the town centre.
What Emerald’s dawn service has become, and what it means to its people, is the legacy of the town’s RSL branch, and in particular its tireless members – including the likes of Matt Cocks, and former president Peter Maloney.
“We’re very proud of our dawn service,” Mr Maloney said in his opening comments.
“It’s become part of Emerald now.”
Mr Cocks, the master of ceremonies, spoke in depth about the full meaning of the ANZAC acronym.
“This will be the 14th Anzac Day I’ve been involved in,” he explained.
“In that time we’ve well and truly covered the ‘A’ in ANZAC, but it was brought to my attention more recently that I’ve not really paid respect to the ‘NZ’ – the New Zealanders, the Kiwis, the neighbours of ours over the ditch.
“This year, we’ll do exactly that for you today – pay homage to the New Zealanders.
“At the outbreak of World War I, New Zealand – although another world away from the mother country – did not hesitate to come to the aid of the Commonwealth.
“There was one condition that Bill Massey, the New Zealand Prime Minister, insisted on – that the Kiwis would serve together with the Australian forces: hence the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the ANZACs.
“Although a small nation in population – (then) approximately one million – but big in heart, 120,000 Kiwis volunteered for service with 100,000 serving in combat areas.”
More than 18,000 of those perished.
This Anzac Day was also one in which the Emerald RSL officially recognised the region’s own servicemen – in its own, unique way.
As Mr Maloney explained to the Mail, the First World War had just ended when Emerald residents decided to honour the locals who’d served by erecting in the Emerald hall and honour board which recorded 135 names of men from Emerald and the surrounding district.
When the hall burnt down in 1955, so did that honour board, and since that time the town has been without a memorial to show who from the area served and died in conflicts Australia has entered into.
Only one photo of the original honour board has been found, and that photo was taken in 1936 at the Emerald gymnasium ball. In the early 2000s, Emerald RSL historian – and former Cardinia Shire Mayor Graeme Legge – transcribed, with the aid of a magnifying glass, over 80 names in the photograph. Jan Shaw, the Emerald RSL’s research officer, has since confirmed 100 of the 135 names and remains confident that, over time, she can shed light on even more names on the list.
In honour of these 100 who served their country, a plaque was unveiled this Anzac Day. The eligibility criteria for the 100 is “those soldiers identified as being strongly affiliated with Emerald at the outbreak of WWI”.
As Mr Maloney also explained to the Mail, the next job for the RSL will be erect a similar plaque for those who served during World War II, and it’s expected this will be done in time for Remembrance Day later this year.
The RSL’s latest research has identified that 34 local men died in World War I, but only three during World War II.