With a volcano erupting and disrupting people’s plans to make a pilgrimage to Gallipoli, a virtual ANZAC Day commemoration is looking more likely. As couples decide to have an internet wedding due to travel plans being disrupted by the volcanic ash, why not remember ANZAC Day online through an internet site? Social networking has been used for love before. Lots of people have an emotional attachment to ANZAC Day. With real travel plans disrupted, virtual tours may become more popular.
Whether or not this version of the online experience is used to commemorate ANZAC day, people are turning to new ways to celebrate national identity in an increasingly online world. Web sites provide a virtual experience for tourists interested in ANZAC stories. ANZAC stories provide some of the most significant chapters in Australia’s history. The Dawn Service in 2005 marked the 90th anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand (and other allied) soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in the First World War in 1915. Since then, changes have occurred in the marking of the landing.
I examined 30 webs sites about ANZAC Day, from museum web sites to twitter and Facebook pages to school educational web sites. This allowed me to study ANZAC Day devotees who are divided into pilgrims, participants and partners. Pilgrims are enthusiasts who find out about or tell the ANZAC story. They are characterized by passion for the story, a nostalgia for the past, often a sense of spirituality, personal dedication and deep knowledge through education (self education or formal education) of the story. Participants keep in touch online, through interaction with one another, telling and retelling stories. Partners add a further aspect to the online ANZAC story, telling a formal, organizationally constructed experience that supports the physical experience. They are the least emotive of the three categories.
ANZAC Day has become a virtual brand as well as a physical presence.
Some ANZAC devotees have started to realize that one-way communication for mass media is unsuitable for the online environment. One-way communication is being replaced by two-way and many-to-many communication where devotees are allowed to tell their own stories and interact with other devotees online. For example, the Australian War Memorial web site and the SWIRK educational web site from the New South Wales government, both allow on line interactive engagement, encouraging learning from doing. SWIRK is directed to year 9 children in school, who need to know about ANZAC Day, whereas the Australian War Memorial has a broader remit covering all interested parties from “diggers” to the general public. These two different web sites show the high-growth mode of ANZAC Day web sites, the way the ANZAC Day “brand” is being built not only in content but also in the context surrounding it. As the web is all about experiences, the role of the devotee is an active one.
Web devotees of the Australian War Memorial site create personal experiences, for example, by creating conversations on line:
‘Well, by the look of all the comments we don’t have to tell you what we’ve been up to, as you’ve seen us in action on TV…the importance of keeping in touch is already in evidence with our group, sharing an amazing experience that will stay with us for a long time. Thanks again for all the comments – it’s a great way to share the experience we are having together.’
Personal experiences are relevant in telling ANZAC stories. Just as my grandfather landed at ANZAC Cove in 1915, and I made my way there to retrace his footsteps, finding his enlistment details through the Australian War Memorial web site, so becoming part of the ANZAC story, increasing numbers of others are doing the same. People are attracted to the ANZAC story for diverse reasons which appear to fulfil a range of psychological, social and leisure needs, varying from history and heritage interests to fact and fantasy. Identity formation, celebration, remembrance, and social and spiritual connection are also part of this attraction to the ANZAC story. The web provides a wider forum for telling and retelling the ANZAC story. Perhaps a volcanic eruption will provide the impetus for the online ANZAC Day story to become a “real” alternative to the physical experience.