Fieldwork on Anzac Day

A Performance Analysis of the Dawn Service and Other Rituals, 25 April 2015


  • Zoe Alderton University of Sydney
  • Christopher Hartney University of Sydney
  • Daniel J. Tower University of Sydney



ANZAC, grief, Indigenous Australians, performance analysis, remembrance, state ritual


In this research, a cohort of Australian scholars document one particular example of the Australian sacred ritual of Anzac Day, and apply Gay McAuley’s model of performance analysis to this and other associated rituals. To analyse any performance, McAuley suggests that the observer investigate four distinct stages of the performative action: (1) the “material signifiers” in the performance space; (2) the “narrative content and/or performance segmentation”; (3) the “paradigmatic axis” of the performance; and (4) the “global statement” of the performance. In this article, Hartney examines the “material signifiers” that mark this pilgrimage the authors make to Canberra and the construction of the Anzac Day Dawn Service. Alderton examines the narrative content and performance segmentation by focusing on how the ostensibly “White” performance of the Dawn Service relies on a narrative that excludes Indigenous voices. She does this through her analysis of the subsequent Indigenous remembrance service held on the same day, and other unofficial protests for recognition of Australian frontier wars. Tower then examines the paradigmatic axis of the ritual through a strategy of examining light and vision in the ritual, how light is connected to remembrance, and the manner in which an analysis of light focuses attention on what Max Frisch calls the magnetic field between perception and imagination. All three authors address McAuley’s concept of the “global statement” that the performance seems to manufacture. They examine how this fits into the Australian national religious system. Finally, they assess the relevance of McAuley’s schema for understanding national sacred rituals.


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Author Biographies

Zoe Alderton, University of Sydney

Zoe Alderton has a PhD from the University of Sydney. She currently teaches Academic Writing at this institution, and Theology at the Australian Catholic University. She is author of The Spirit of Colin McCahon (Cambridge Scholars, 2015).

Christopher Hartney, University of Sydney

Christopher Hartney is senior lecturer in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. His most recent book, Religious Categories and the Construction of the Indigenous (edited with Daniel J. Tower), was published by Brill in 2016.

Daniel J. Tower, University of Sydney

Daniel J. Tower is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney. His current research examines the relationship between religion, conflict and resources in Northern Iraq.


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How to Cite

Alderton, Z., Hartney, C., & Tower, D. (2017). Fieldwork on Anzac Day: A Performance Analysis of the Dawn Service and Other Rituals, 25 April 2015. Fieldwork in Religion, 11(2), 170–198.




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