Anzac Day back at Albury-Wodonga border after two years of disruption

Anzac Day 2022 and High Street in Wodonga are lined with people – children cling to flags as they watch the parade crowds, a whole family stand in Collingwood Guernsey, elderly people in wheelchairs cheer, teenagers take pictures on their phone.

Due to years of COVID-19 chaos, this is the first time Wodonga residents have been able to celebrate Anzac Day as a group since 2019, and they turned out in large numbers to watch the march.

Allan Skinner is a Vietnam veteran and proudly wore not only his own medals, but also those of his stepfather who was in the Pacific during WWII.

Mr Skinner said he ‘ditch Victoria’ last year to walk in Albury but was delighted to be back on his side of the river this year.

“This is my home, this has been my home for almost 20 years,” he said.

People were again able to attend a ceremony in Wodonga, laying wreaths at Woodland Grove. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

Mr Skinner said the day was a time to mourn and remember those lost, even those who did not die in war.

“After the COVID experience, I think it’s important to recognize the aspect of remembering. It’s about losing and remembering the things that people have been through,” he said.

Two men wearing suit jackets with war medals stand side by side and smile
Comrades James Armstrong and Alan Skinner are delighted to celebrate Anzac Day again in Wodonga. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

The Albury RSL also wanted to recognize the impacts of COVID on Anzac Day, inviting frontline health workers to march.

“The last two years have been difficult for everyone, I don’t care who it is. It’s been difficult for everyone,” said RSL chairman Graham Docksey.

“This is the first opportunity, and probably the only opportunity, that the community has to be able to thank the health workers, doctors, ambos, nurses and all others who have protected us during the COVID pandemic.

“They [led] the march right behind me as president of the RSL.”

Family ties

A sense of family was strong for many in the crowd and the parade.

Craig from Albury walked hand in hand with his grandchildren Isaiah and Matilda.

“We march for my father. He fought in the Kokoda countryside of Papua New Guinea. So that means a lot,” he said.

A man and two young children hold a sign reading 39th Battalion 1941-1943 Association Kokoda Trail
Craig marched with his grandchildren Isaiah and Matilda to honor his father who fought at Kokoda. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

Robin Ellison was on duty at the Cenotaph when he was a Sergeant in the 8th/13th Victorian Mounted Rifles and has marched every year since retiring from the Army.

He said he walked for all the light horse units and for his father who served in the navy in World War I.

“He walked every year until the day he couldn’t. So now I wear his medals in his honor every Anzac day,” Mr Ellison said, his eyes filling with tears.

“It is a very sad day. We acknowledge the dead on both sides, friend or foe.”

He also said he was marching for Ukrainians who are now dying in the service of their country.

Tribute to Sir Murray Bourchier

This year’s Shepparton Anzac Day commemorations drew some of the biggest crowds ever.

They came a day after a new statue of local hero Sir Murray Bourchier was unveiled in the Queen’s Gardens.

Formerly Deputy Prime Minister of Victoria, Bourchier also played a pivotal role in World War I during the Battle of Beersheba.

A large bronze statue of a man on horseback and brandishing a gun
Sir Murray Bouchier is now honored with a statue in the Queen’s Gardens in Shepparton.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

Jeanette Powell, the former MP for Shepparton, campaigned for the statue for 14 years alongside Shepparton RSL and Greater Shepparton City Council.

“I know we have Bourchier St and Bourchier St School, but not many people know about its history and its services, not just to its community but to its country,” Ms Powell said.

“He is one of those people to whom the name ‘hero’ belongs.”

A new generation

There was also a special unveiling in Albury.

The council’s $1.35 million war memorial upgrade over the past two years has revealed new plaques commemorating all the engagements the army has taken part in since the Boer War.

A long line of people march along Dean Street in Albury.  Someone is holding a sign indicating Albury's own division.
There was a strong turnout at the Albury Parade which also honored frontline health workers. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

Mr Docksey said it was very important that Afghan veterans do the unveiling, as it underscored the ongoing need to support those returning from conflict.

“It’s not about glorifying the war, it’s about respecting and understanding what was the consequence of the war,” Mr Docksey said.

But to be able to do that, he said they needed the next generation to step in and help.

The Secretary, Treasurer and Mr Docksey as RSL President are all in their late 70s or early 80s and they need a break.

“So, young veterans, it’s time to step in.”

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