ANZAC Covid confusion

Piper Iain Townsley plays the bagpipes in Mount Evelyn during a previous Anzac Day service.

Plans for ANZAC Day commemorations across the Hills remain in limbo, with local RSL branches grappling with confusion over ever-changing Covid restrictions and crowd limits.

Stringent State Government restrictions continue to require the sub-branches to apply for permits, comply with social distancing square-metre rules and adhere to strict record keeping protocols, with events categorised in ‘tiers’ dependent on the number of attendees expected.

Events for less than 1000 patrons are considered tier three, with organisers able to register the event online and submit a Covid-safe event checklist.

Larger events with between 1000 and 5000 attendees are considered tier two, with State Government approval required to be applied for up to six weeks in advance.

Covid marshalls for every 100 people, as well as PPE for volunteers and Covid-safe training all form part of the attestation event holders must give the State Government when applying for approval.

With Covid-19 canning public commemorative events last April, some Hills sub-branches remain determined to “conquer Covid” with Covid-safe events planned, but for the larger clubs, the restrictions have made it “virtually impossible” to go ahead with usual services.

Vice-President of Mt Evelyn RSL Roger Boness said the village service “normally achieves numbers up to 3,000” to its ANZAC Day dawn service.

“We had a difficult 2020 with everyone being locked down. This year, there is scope to move, but it is still impossible for clubs like ours to be able to comply with government restrictions,” he said.

The one person per two square metre rule applies to all non-fixed seated areas, including grassed areas.

“Imagine us trying to ensure that each of those 3,000 people are afforded a certain number of square metres per person, how the heck do you manage that,” he said.

Mr Boness said the registration of the event and need to record the details and phone numbers of patrons were just the start of the “hurdles” required for an event to go ahead.

“It is very disappointing for our community because they do look forward to remembering our fallen and it is important for future generations,” he said.

While plans are still being discussed, Mr Boness said last years Lighting up The Dawn campaign was a success in Mt Evelyn, with residents lighting fires out the front of their homes and holding lights in honour of the fallen.

“You could hear The Last Post echoing around the Mt Evelyn landscape in the dark, it’s looking like a similar sort of activity like that might be achievable this year,” he said.

Upwey-Belgrave RSL President, David Eaton said the club will be “requesting that the general public do not attend” its commemoration services but is hopeful restrictions may ease.

“We are doing a very small dawn service with just a few veterans. We will be doing our normal march from Upwey at 9.30am but stepping off at 9.45am to get back to the RSL for our main service at 10am.

The march is only for veterans, carers and their families, with everyone who enters the RSL required to give their details for contact tracing.

“We are requesting the general public do not attend but instead stand in driveways with a light as a mark of respect for veterans.

It’s business as usual in the Dandenong Ranges, with President of Dandenong Ranges RSL Bob Richards looking forward to “a normal range of events”.

“We will have our dawn service at ANZAC Avenue of Honour in Ferny Creek from 6.30am on the Sunday, which normally attracts a couple of hundred.

The sub-branch will also host its usual main service at Sassafras Reserve, with QR codes displayed around the park for visitors to register.

“We are pretty small compared to some down off the hill but we expect a good number seeing as it is a Sunday and people were not able to commemorate last year,” Mr Richards said.

Mr Richards said “it isn’t too hard” to go ahead with commemorations this year despite restrictions.

“There are things you have to follow and an extensive checklist, but the two areas that are most difficult are registration of attendees and we are covering that, and the other area is making sure any food is done in a Covid-safe way, for which we have put in Covid-safe arrangements,” he said.

Cockatoo RSL also plans to go ahead as normal with its dawn service, gunfire breakfast and march from Cockatoo Primary School.

President Carol Thompson said the club hope to confirm a flyover during the march and plans to have live music in the afternoon.

“We have to put a form through to the state government but with restrictions we can continue with our usual events outdoors,” she said.

Emerald RSL is hosting a significant ANZAC weekend, with plans for military aircraft and a cannon to form part of commemorations at a football match on Saturday 24 before a live-streamed dawn service on 25 April.

The State Government recently confirmed the annual ANZAC Day March in the city can go ahead but will be capped at 5500 people, after an application submitted by RSL Victoria was approved by Victoria’s Public Event’s Network.

Minister for Veterans Shaun Leane said there are many ways to honour the hard work and sacrifice of our returned service men and women closer to home this year.

“With hundreds of local services across Melbourne and Regional Victoria, I encourage people to stay local this ANZAC Day,“ he said.

A statement from the State Government also said Victorians can share their show of remembrance from home by taking part in #lightupthedawn on social media while observing the traditional minute’s silence from their driveways, front yards or balconies.

Eildon MP Cindy McLeish hit out at the State Government, calling on them to provide a clear way forward for local RSL branches.

“COVID restrictions cancelled our local commemorations last year. At a time when the Andrews Government is saying it’s safe to reopen nightclub dancefloors and have large crowds at festivals, it must find a way for us to remember our veterans,” she said.

Shadow Minister for Veterans Tim Bull also urged for further direction for smaller clubs.

“Setting out clear, common sense guidelines will ensure we can all safely come together on ANZAC Day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, those who came home and those who still serve today,” he said.