Why we wear rosemary and other ANZAC Day rituals explained (plus, a great ANZAC biscuit recipe)



wearing rosemary
We wear rosemary, an ancient symbol of remembrance, on ANZAC Day.


By Maxine Brown

ANZAC Day is one of the most iconic days of the Australian calendar – packed full of military traditions and ceremonial rituals.

Here, we break some of them down to allow the community to fully embrace this special day by respectfully honouring those who served, and those who continue to serve today.

Wearing rosemary

This scent-packed herb is an ancient symbol of fidelity and remembrance. So it’s fitting that it’s become the commemorative symbol for ANZAC Day (the red poppy is worn for Remembrance Day), helping us remember those who served and the fallen.

Rosemary grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey, where many Australians served in World War I – and from where the ANZAC legend was born. In the 1980s, cuttings from shrubs in Gallipoli were planted in nurseries and sold throughout Australia to support Avenues of Honour.

Rosemary is an emblem of remembrance. It is traditional on ANZAC Day to wear a sprig of rosemary pinned to the breast or lapel (it does not matter which side, but left seems most common), or held in place by medals.

ANZAC biscuits

The origin and invention of this sweet ANZAC treat is a hotly contested subject. Made from oats and golden syrup, these biscuits are a far cry from the hardtack biscuit rations supplied to Diggers in Gallipoli, which were savoury and used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods. anzac biscuits

From the 1920s onwards, Australian recipe books nearly always included ANZAC biscuits but exactly how this recipe became identified with ANZAC, or WWI, is unknown. Since they keep pretty well before going stale, it’s believed they became an accepted addition to comfort/care packages sent to our troops overseas.

Australians love to make these biscuits to commemorate ANZAC Day and many take immense pride in their family recipes. The big question is: do you prefer your biscuits crunchy, or chewy?

Best ANZAC biscuit recipe:

  • 1 cup (90g) rolled oats
  • 1 cup (150g) plain flour
  • 1 cup (220g) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (40g) desiccated coconut
  • 125g (4 ounces) butter, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda


Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease biscuit trays and line with baking paper. 2. Combine oats, sifted flour, sugar and coconut in a large bowl. Place butter, syrup (spray the measuring spoon with cooking oil, so all the syrup comes away) and the water in a small saucepan; stir over low heat until smooth. Stir in soda, then stir into dry ingredients. 3. Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls; place 5cm apart on trays, flatten slightly. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden; cool on trays. Your biscuits should feel soft to touch, even when they’re done; they will become firmer on cooling. If you like the biscuits soft, decrease the oven temperature and/or the baking time; experiment with a few biscuits until you achieve the texture you like best. Make a note on the recipe of the time and oven temperature that the biscuits were baked.

Wearing of medals

The awarding of medals remains one of the most time-honoured, cherished, and sacred traditions in the culture and history of the Australian Defence Force.

Only the women and men who were issued medals may claim them as their own – by wearing them on their left breast.

Family members of veterans, who did not earn the medals but choose to honour their loved ones by wearing them, may do so on the right breast.

If you spot someone wearing medals on each breast, it is safe to assume they are wearing their own on the left and a relative’s on the right.

The medals and the ribbons they come attached to provide a very unique roadmap of each veteran’s service history. At a glance, veterans can see which service and unit the wearer was attached to, where they served, if they deployed overseas on operations, as well as whether they served with great honour, bravery or distinction.

Some medals denote extraordinary service in aerial flight, some are specific to ground operations, while others are reserved only for those who served at sea.

The Dawn Service

The incredibly moving Dawn Service is a public ceremony conducted by RSLWA, with involvement across all three services of the Australian Defence Force.

It is the first commemorative event of ANZAC Day and begins before sunrise, starting at a time that allows the minute’s silence to fall at dawn.  The significance of this is that it’s the same time of day that the ANZACs first landed on the beach at Gallipoli.

However, the origin stems back to the traditional military stand-to: a state of readiness assumed by ground troops at dawn and dusk in wartime, in case of a surprise enemy attack.

Where and when the first Dawn Service took place is another hotly contested debate. But the 1923 Dawn Service in Albany – conducted by the Reverend Arthur White, Rector of St John’s Church and a former padre with the 44th Battalion on the Western Front – is a strong frontrunner for the honour.

This year, for the second year running, the traditional Dawn Service is being run in conjunction with driveway commemorations – called Light Up The Dawn – to allow those who can’t attend due to COVID-19 concerns or poor health to pay their respects.

The Ode

The Ode comes from the fourth stanza of the poem For The Fallen, by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon. It was first published in 1914 and, by 1921, had been adopted for use at Australian commemorative services

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.

At ANZAC Day commemorations, an invited speaker often recites The Ode and upon completion, attendees repeat the last words “We will remember them”. After a short pause, this is followed by “lest we forget”.

The State War Memorial in Kings Park is considered one of the most stunning Dawn Service locations, underpinning the power of those words.

Bugler david scott
Bugler David Scott is one of the best in the business.

The Last Post

A lone bugler sounding the Last Post has become one of the most distinctive sounds in the world. Eerie and evocative, it exists beyond all the usual barriers of nation, religion, race and class, charged with the memory of generations of the fallen.

This is one of a number of bugle calls in the military tradition to mark phases of the day. Traditionally, it signifies the end of the day’s activities.

The Last Post was incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell, and symbolises that the duty of the fallen is over and that they can now rest In peace.

On ANZAC Day, it is followed by one minute’s silence, then a second bugle call, Reveille (also known as The Rouse).

Laying a wreath of flowers

A wreath or a small bunch of flowers is traditionally placed on memorials in memory of the fallen.

They usually contain laurel, the traditional symbol of honour, and rosemary, or they may be native or other flowers.

Wreath-laying also comes with its own protocols, with representatives for the Governor of WA, State Government, ex-service organisations such as RSLWA, and the ADF called up individually to lay their tributes first.

All attendees are invited to lay wreaths once the dignitaries have moved through.

If laying a wreath, here’s what to do:

  • Move up to the memorial with the wreath in both hands, entering from the left;
  • Halt, pause, bend at the knees and gently lay the wreath;
  • Upon rising, adopt the attention position before taking one pace to the rear, pausing and then saluting (if wearing military uniform and headdress). For those not in uniform, it is customary after taking one pace rearwards to bow your head and pause to remember after taking the one pace rearwards; Pause again and move away from the memorial to the right.

Gunfire Breakfast

The Gunfire Breakfast was the name given to the breakfast that the troops had prior to a morning battle – and was named as such by the Brits.

During WWI, this breakfast may have consisted of biscuits and jam, or tinned bully beef, served with coffee laced with rum or condensed milk.

It was prepared and eaten in darkness to the likely sound of exploding munitions and served cold as any fires or smoke would have given away their position to the enemy.

The breakfast has since evolved into a more recognisable hot meal with lashings of bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, tomatoes, damper and tea. Rum is often added to coffee or cold milk as an accompanying drink.

Today, this ANZAC Day tradition usually follows straight after the Dawn Service – with the community invited to partake in exchange for a small donation to charity.

The March

From cities to small country towns, the March carries enormous weight with Defence veterans, as a way to honour those friends and comrades they have lost along the way.

It became popular in the 1920s for veterans who saw active service to honour their mates, but was later relaxed to include those who served in Australia in the armed services or land armies during WWII.

Today it is run by RSLs and has been relaxed further, with some encouragement or acceptance of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren marching, to assist aged veterans or to represent relatives. Veterans of Allied defence groups are now also invited to March.


It’s customary for veterans to gather after the March to catch up with their service buddies over a beer or a meal – with reunions and lunches put on by local establishments and ANZAC House Veteran Central.

This is also the one day of year that the traditional game of two-up may be legally played at venues.

Bets are placed on how two pennies, thrown into the air off a section of wood called a kip, will fall. The Ringer (in charge) is usally responsible for explaining the rules and betting procedures. Only people of legal gambling age are welcome to participate, with the Ringer calling “Come in spinner” when all bets are placed and the coins are ready to be tossed.

In World War I, Australian soldiers played the game in trenches and on troop ships, so it has a strong association with ANZAC Day. The game was also played to celebrate the return of the soldiers.

How to play:

  • A designated ‘spinner’ tosses two coins into the air off a bit of wood known as a ‘kip’.
  • The players stand in a circle known as the ‘ring’. They will bet on whether the coins will fall on both heads, both tails, or a head and a tail (known as odds).
  • Two heads mean the spinner wins; two tails mean the spinner loses their bet and the right to spin; while odds mean the spinner throws again.
  • The coins must rotate 3m into the air, not touch the roof and have to fall within the ring.
  • The other members around the ring place side bets against each other on whether the spinner will win or lose, and the results of the next throw.

Please note that ANZAC Day is the only time of year that playing two-up is not illegal to play outside of licensed gaming venues.

Lest we forget!

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