Changing face of Anzac: Women urged to march together
FEMALE service and ex-service women are being urged to march together with pride this Anzac Day in Toowoomba to commemorate and celebrate their service.
The move is part of the By the Left initiative, run by the Women Veterans Network Australia, aimed at broadening the public's perception of exactly what a veteran looks like.
Within three days of going up, the local Facebook site for the event had registered 89 people as interested.
By the Left co-ordinator Kellie Dadds, a former army officer who served for 22 years in multiple deployments, said the aim was to make Anzac Day more inclusive, and get away from the traditional perception that every Australian veteran was an elderly, white medal-wearing male.
The initiative takes nothing away from those veterans, Kellie was quick to point out.
But veterans can be male or female, young or old, have served full-time or part-time, and been deployed at home or overseas, in combat or peacekeeping.
The one thing they have in common cannot be seen from the outside - having served their country.
Lee Withers is an 11-year army veteran, part of the Toowoomba Anzac Committee and the region's WVNA co-ordinator.
She said it was a sad fact, that a lot of our female and younger male veterans felt they simply didn't "fit" or weren't "worthy to march" according to the classic model of a veteran.
As a result, too often they, and other veterans who have not served overseas and hence not earned medals, have stood on the sidelines during marches, if they go at all.
By the Left is the word of command in the military when soldiers are about to step off on a march, but also denotes that only veterans are allowed to wear their medals on the left.
Sadly, over recent years, a number of females and younger veterans nationwide have been challenged - sometimes aggressively - about wearing their medals on the left.
When 100 ex-service women at a Department of Veterans Affairs meeting were asked in 2016 if any of them had been challenged about their medals, the whole room put up their hand - something had to be done, and By the Left was born in September last year to make a difference this Anzac Day.
So this year in Toowoomba, female veterans are being encouraged to march as one under the WVNA banner at both the Dawn and mid-morning services.
Young veterans and other veterans who want to show their support are welcome to march under the same banner or under the "miscellaneous units" banner.
"Indications so far are that hundreds of women around the country will be marching, many for the first time," Kellie said.
The important thing, Lee said, was for everyone who had served to find somewhere they felt welcome to take pride in that service.
"I think while at the moment it is just seen as a one-off, it is definitely something we should try to promote into the future to have an influence on community perceptions and pass the banner to a younger generation of veterans so that the Anzac Day tradition is not lost," she said.
This year's Toowoomba's march, which will as usual culminate in a service at the Mothers' Memorial, will be led by the aviation corps, which celebrates its 50th year.
For a full rundown of all the regional Anzac Day services, see Toowoomba Regional Council's events register.