Anzac Celebration During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Observations from Fieldwork in Katoomba, New South Wales


  • Zoe Alderton University of Sydney
  • Christopher Hartney University of Sydney



Anzac Day, COVID-19, public health, civil religion, Australian religion


This article examines the tension between traditional participation in a potently religious state ritual of war remembrance and the injunction to remain at home during a pandemic crisis. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) led to the cancellation of numerous religious gatherings across Australia, with the notable inclusion of the Christian Good Friday services and Jewish Passover celebrations in large groups—the first time these celebrations were universally cancelled. The injunction against gatherings was still in place on Anzac Day, April 25, 2020. As the most significant date in the religious life of “secular” Australia, we examine how the populace was encouraged to participate in this war remembrance ritual without forming into groups. Here, the two authors—scholars based in Katoomba, a city on the Western periphery of Sydney, NSW—share their fieldwork observations of dawn activities that took place in their immediate vicinity. They confront a very particular fieldwork question—how to do fieldwork when there is technically no field, yet there is an intimation that some participants may try to gather despite official expectations? They also consider how prevailing conditions may have created a specific COVID-19-influenced field methodology—one that limited their work on this morning. Overall, despite significant governmental efforts to showcase the “Anzac Spirit” on the day, without the typical ceremonial infrastructure, the rituals of the day had an unusually flat and prosaic feel, which, they argue, may not be fully accounted for by the general negativity and confusion surrounding the pandemic. 


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Author Biographies

Zoe Alderton, University of Sydney

Zoe Alderton holds a PhD in Studies in Religion from the University of Sydney. She has published extensively on religious belief and behaviour in Australia and New Zealand, including her first monograph The Spirit of Colin McCahon (2015). She also has an interest in self-harm and disordered eating and is author of The Aesthetics of Self-Harm (2018) and Harmful Behaviour in Online Communities (forthcoming).

Christopher Hartney, University of Sydney

Dr Christopher Hartney is a senior lecturer in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. His teaching includes extensive investigations into civil religion and he researches on new religions in particular those of Vietnam.


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How to Cite

Alderton, Z. ., & Hartney, C. . (2021). Anzac Celebration During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Observations from Fieldwork in Katoomba, New South Wales. Fieldwork in Religion, 16(1), 8–34.




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