Anzac Celebration During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Observations from Fieldwork in Katoomba, New South Wales
Keywords: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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