This Veteran Will Stand In His Driveway At Dawn On Saturday. Thousands Of Australians Will Do The Same.
The plan to observe Anzac Day while obeying social distancing laws came from a conversation between two veterans.
In a short Facebook video on Wednesday, prime minister Scott Morrison addressed how the coronavirus pandemic is going to affect one of Australia's most solemn days.
"This year, Anzac Day will be delivered at home," Morrison said, standing in front of a flag and a statue of an Australian WW2 soldier carrying a wounded US soldier. "And I want to give you a few ideas about how you and your friends and family can participate."
Instead of the usual dawn services and marches to commemorate those who served in wars and peacekeeping missions, the prime minister suggested an alternative: Australians could tune into an early morning broadcast of a dawn service before heading to their driveways to stand for a minute of silence at 6am on Saturday.
The Driveway at Dawn plan — now a national movement endorsed by the nation's top leaders — can be traced to a Facebook post made just over a month ago.
Terry James, 46, lives in Townsville in Australia's northeast and was discharged from the Australian Army after 27 years of service earlier this year.
On March 16, he was chatting with fellow veteran and friend, Bill Sowry, about the cancellation of this year's Anzac Day commemorations due to mandatory social distancing. James had heard from other veterans who were lamenting the loss of the ceremonies.
James told BuzzFeed News he recognised the need to avoid public gatherings — "We've got a lot of Korean and Vietnam vets who wouldn't do too well if the virus went through them" — but both he and Sowry wanted to come up with a way to commemorate the day.
"Bill made a comment saying there's a raft of other things we could do," James said. "We came up with the idea of doing a moment of silence in our driveway."
Later, James expanded on the idea, creating a short run sheet for DIY ceremonies with links to YouTube videos, and posted to his personal Facebook page.
"Here's a brilliant idea for ANZAC Day from a conversation between Bill Sowry (an EX CO 3 CER) and myself," he wrote on March 16.
"That [post] absolutely exploded, and then I posted it onto another couple of veteran Facebook pages and they exploded, too."
James' post has been shared more than 1,600 times. But it was a slightly altered version of the text that went really viral the following day.
The post was shared in small neighbourhood Facebook groups before being amplified by larger public pages. EASE WA, an animal rescue group, shared it and garnered more than 1,000 likes and hundreds of shares. That evening, military fan page Royal Australian Infidel and meme page Aussie As shared it with their hundreds of thousands of followers.
Large right-wing and nationalistic Facebook pages were also some of the earliest and biggest supporters of the plan. Stand Up For Australia- Canberra — a page that frequently shares xenophobic and racist content — shared the post with its 146,000 followers that evening. It was soon followed by similar pages such as Take Back Australia, Stop Foreign Ownership, Jace Falkenberg — Make Australia Great Again! and Exposing ISLAM in Australia.
Around the same time Justin Wilbur launched an idea to observe Anzac Day ceremonies. He created the Facebook group Aussies & Kiwis for Anzacs on March 17, and it has about 240,000 members. An app for the service is being downloaded 1,000 times an hour.
Media outlets soon spotted and amplified the idea. By March 18, social media accounts for regional broadcasts of radio station Triple M and TV station 7 News had posted about the driveway service.
The next day — just 36 hours after James' initial post — Australia's most watched breakfast television program Sunrise promoted the plan.
Australian senator Jacqui Lambie, who is also a veteran, got on board.
Together with Wilbur, Lambie has launched the The Poppy Pledge, a website where people can add a poppy pin to a map to show they will taking to their driveways at 6am. (And also sign up for campaign emails from Lambie, if they choose.)
More than 30,000 people have signed up to say they will be taking part on Saturday morning.
Other high profile people and institutions have since thrown their support behind the plan including the national Returned And Services League, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian Football League, several federal ministers and the prime minister.
And what does James think about the runaway success of his idea? He's pleased. James said it shows just how universal the support and respect is for those who've served Australia.
"I think it's quite important to still remember those veterans who have served in the past, that haven't come home, or aren't themselves if they did make it back," James said. "It's important to continue on that tradition — on that one day of the year, we can just pause and reflect."