Harbour Bridge dawn climbers share their ANZAC Day experience

As the sun rose on ANZAC Day this year, millions of Australians remembered the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families by attending a Dawn Service or Lighting up the Dawn from home. One of the most unique locations this year was on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge where our partner charity RSL LifeCare hosted a Dawn Service.

Two veterans who entered the RSL NSW giveaway were awarded tickets to participate in the Service which was widely reported in the media, including primetime coverage by Nine News and ABC News.

Having won the giveaway by describing their most memorable ANZAC Day and what the experience would mean to them, we checked in with the winners after ANZAC Day to see how it all went.

Emma Burr

Able Seaman Emma Burr, a Dental Assistant in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) said she felt honoured to be one of the participants in the climb and Dawn Service, “It was very special”.

AB Burr, whose husband David joined her for the commemoration, said it was an occasion to reflect on the meaning of ANZAC Day and experiences of recent years. “In 2015 I was in Canberra for the 100th anniversary Dawn Service at the War Memorial in full ceremonial uniform with my SLR. Prince William was there along with tens of thousands of spectators.”

Not one to be troubled by heights, she observed that she “felt more relaxed” climbing the bridge than being on parade at the 2015 Dawn Service in the nation’s capital, and while Sydneysiders might have found dawn in 2021 was chilly, she said “It wasn’t as cold as Canberra!”

The other year that came to mind for her was 2020, when the nation was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Living in Adelaide at the time, AB Burr remarked that she stood in the driveway with David and their three children. “We lived in an area where there were quite a few defence families – from the air it would have looked excellent, families had commemorative displays they had made together.”

She said that while location is obviously an important part of ANZAC Day and the BridgeCimb Dawn Service was unforgettable, what Australians have experienced last year and this year shows the ANZAC spirit transcends time and place: “it doesn’t matter where you are, you can come together as a community.”

Danielle Couch

Lieutenant Danielle Couch, a principal warfare officer in the RAN also remarked that she felt privileged to be able to commemorate ANZAC Day at such a location along with her husband Ben.

Like her RAN colleague, Lt Couch’s entry to the giveaway also recounted a memorable 100th anniversary Dawn Service. On ANZAC Day in 2015, she embarked on HMAS ANZAC as an Officer of the Watch. At dawn, the ship sailed past the Gallipoli landing site at Anzac Cove with Turkish and New Zealand ships to commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC legend.

When asked what parallels she drew between the two experiences, Lt Couch said in both cases she was aware that it was something only a small handful of people were able to experience in their lifetime: “To have been able to experience both occasions within ten years of each other, and the Gallipoli experience coming first… it makes me grateful that the ANZACs did what they did so that we could freely experience what we were able to do in 2021.”

Leaders reflect

RSL NSW President Ray James, who adjudicated the entries, called both winners before the climb to wish them all the best and to say they were doing the country proud through their service.

General Manager of Veteran Services at RSL LifeCare, Nicki Young, who took part in the commemoration, said it was an opportunity to reflect and think about those who have come before.

“For us in the military and veterans, camaraderie and mateship are some of the key cultural aspects of our service and probably what keeps us serving.

“It was great to have Emma and Danielle join us and to introduce them to the services and support RSL LifeCare and RSL NSW can provide.”

With thanks to RSL LifeCare for providing the tickets for the RSL NSW giveaway, and BridgeClimb for donating a portion of ticket sales to RSL LifeCare.

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