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People have lined a perimeter fence around Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to watch the dawn service as COVID-19 restrictions limited the event to just 1,400 attendees.

Key points:

  • Crowd limits across the country have been capped in line with coronavirus restrictions
  • RSL Victoria chief executive Jamie Twidale says the event is no less special for the rules
  • Smaller numbers of veterans and their descendants are expected to march through Melbourne CBD

The crowd is still larger than the 2020 service, where tight restrictions saw people stand distanced in driveways and front yards to commemorate Australia’s service men and women.

But it was more subdued than years past, with the cap on capacity in place and a requirement to check in to the event.

Similar crowd limits are in place across the rest of the country, with physically distanced seating and QR codes a feature at most of the official services.

Many still turned up to the Shrine of Remembrance on the clear Melbourne morning but had to view the service from outside a fence.

Many who stood behind the perimeter expressed disappointment, although they were grateful to be able to pay their respects.

The ceremony was capped at 1,400 people at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.

“You’re standing here paying tribute and respect to Australia and the men who gave their lives, for the freedom of Australia and this doesn’t represent freedom,” attendee Jonathan Vaughan said, as he grabbed the fence.

“Given what we’ve gone through and now that we’ve come this far I don’t feel this brings us close together.”

Sisters Bronwyn Casey and Michelle Reid regularly attend the service and said this year lacked atmosphere.

“It makes it a bit sad because there’s not enough people around and you’ve got all this fenced off,” Ms Casey said.

Ms Reid said the pair didn’t register to attend but were aware there would be some restrictions in place.

“But I didn’t realise there would be barriers that would keep us so far back,” Ms Reid said.

“I think a lot of older people who normally would come would find the registering difficult.

“They’re not tech savvy so it restricts a certain age group.”

Attendance was capped in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

RSL Victoria chief executive, Jamie Twidale, said it was amazing for the crowd to be able to gather at all.

“After 2020 when nobody could get out commemorate at all. And unfortunately, that’s happening in Perth,” he said.

“And how lucky are we in Victoria, that that’s happening today.”

Many veterans now in the most vulnerable age group for COVID-19, and a focus has been on keeping them safe from the virus.

Crowds at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance at dawn on April 25, 2021.

Mr Twidale said it was “unfortunate that we’ve had to do it this way this year”.

He said he wanted to thank people who gathered at the fence for paying their respects.

“And it matters not how you commemorate,” he said.

“What matters is that you do and the fact they’ve come in and stood in the dark is really testament to the Australian spirit.”

The caps at the official Anzac Day events have come into sharp focus this year in contrast to the 85,000 seats available at the traditional AFL clash between Essendon and Collingwood in the afternoon.

Some veterans had urged players to boycott the game in light of what they said was a double standard.

Mr Twidale said safety was at the centre of everything the RSL had done to prepare for the event. 

“And of course we’ve seen the COVID outbreak in Perth and, and our fellow friends in Perth are not doing Anzac Day at all this year,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve done what we had to do.

Numbers are expected to be down for this year’s physically distanced Anzac Day march through the CBD.

The Victorian Government has granted permission for 8,000 people to attend the march — up from 5,000.

However, the RSL said that numbers may remain low. Registrations were allowed up until midnight, with QR code check-in available for veterans and descendants available this morning.

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