The Traditions of ANZAC Day

17 March 2022

While ANZAC Day is a tradition of its own, 25 April also brings with it many other traditions that hold equal amounts of meaning and reverence. Do you know what they are and how they came to be?


Pinned to lapels, held in place by medals, or in gardens on driveway edges, rosemary signifies remembrance and plays a lead role in the traditions of ANZAC Day. Its woody, evergreen fragrance is a reminder of the fallen.  

From the native seaside of the Mediterranean, rosemary grows wild on the slopes of the Gallipoli Peninsula and so the tale goes that a wounded Digger brought home a small bush from ANZAC Cove. Once home, he planted it in the grounds of the Army Hospital at Keswick, South Australia and cuttings have been used to propagate plants across Australia. 

Traditions of ANZAC Day - Rosemary


Have you ever wondered what the four members of an armed guard are at memorials or days of remembrance like ANZAC Day? These four people – most commonly of the Defence Force – are known as a catafalque (cat-a-falk) party and act as a mark of respect for the fallen until the end of the service.  

They stand, head bowed and with the weapons they are carrying reversed, around a cenotaph or shrine. The party is posted at the start of any ceremony and leaves their posting after the playing of the National Anthem.  

While the origin of this tradition is not clear, it’s thought to have been used by a Commonwealth soldier at the execution of Charles 1st in 1649 and again at the funeral for Marlborough in 1722. Today, you are most likely to see this tradition carried out during ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day services, while a person such as a politician or member of royalty lays in state for the public to pay their respects after they have died, or during a military funeral in a church.  

Traditions of ANZAC Day - catafalque


The haunting sound of a lone bugler sounding the Last Post is possibly one of the most emotionally evocative tunes Australians know. And perhaps the only that sees people acknowledge it with a moment’s silence as it plays.  

The Last Post was initially one of the many bugle calls sounded daily in British Army camps and was played to signal the end of a soldier’s day. It has since been adopted in commemorative services to herald the service people who have gone to their final rest. 

At Dawn Services, the minute’s silence is broken by the Reveille – traditionally, the first call of the day to wake sleeping soldiers. 

Traditions of ANZAC Day - The Last Post


Less than two months after WWI was declared, with heavy casualties already being reported, English poet Laurence Binyon wrote For the Fallen. 

Since 1921, the fourth stanza – known as The Ode – has become a central part of ANZAC Day ceremonies, encapsulating Australia’s collective sense of respect and loss for the service people who gave their lives during World War I, and in all conflicts since: 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them. 

And as a new generation of veterans emerge, passionate and revered veterans such as Dr O’Hagan, have paid tribute to the original Ode while inviting acknowledgement of the positive contributions younger veterans have made to the services.  


Your local RSL Sub Branch may host a Gunfire Breakfast following the Dawn Service, but do you know why? 

Rather than artillery, ‘gunfire’ refers to the rum-laced coffee or tea that is served alongside the bacon and eggs. It harks back to the measure of liquid courage that was served up at the beginning of the day to help soldiers face the coming battle. 

Traditions of ANZAC Day - Gunfire Breakfast


What began as a response to the global pandemic, Light Up the Dawn has become a new ANZAC Day tradition, allowing people to commemorate the day, their way. When we couldn’t gather in person to honour veterans, past and present, it let us safely commemorate in our driveways, on our balconies and from home.  

From the trumpet playing the Last Post across Alderley to whole streets marking the moment from the end of their driveways – it has been embraced across the country. 

The tradition continues to evolve as we are once again able to gather in person, allowing everyone the opportunity to commemorate in a way that means something to them – whether at traditional services or personally at home.  

Traditions of ANZAC Day - Light Up the Dawn


The combination of pantry staples turned into a biscuit has become an iconic symbol of 25 April. But did you know that this humble bite was originally known as the ‘Soldiers’ Biscuit’? 

They were made from ingredients that were easily available in most homes at the time – oats, sugar, flour, butter, golden syrup, bi-carb, and water. The biscuits would remain edible without the need for refrigeration, and they became a ‘go-to’ for families to send to men fighting on the front lines. 

Check out our tried-and-true ANZAC biscuit recipe.


Traditions of ANZAC Day - ANZAC Biscuits


Commemorate Your way on ANZAC Day

The ANZAC spirit lives on in us all, and on 25 April we invite you to honour our Defence community and commemorate in a way that is meaningful to you. On ANZAC Day, you can attend your local RSL ANZAC Day service, light up the dawn at home at 6am, participate online, or hear stories of inspirational Australians who embody the characteristics of the ANZAC spirit.


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