Geraldton RSL cancels public Anzac Day services due to cost of COVID-19

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Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian
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Geraldton's Anzac Day dawn Service usually attracts hundreds to thousands of people.
Camera IconGeraldton's Anzac Day dawn Service usually attracts hundreds to thousands of people. Credit: Adam Poulsen/The Geraldton Guardian

The Geraldton RSL Club has defended itself against outrage at its decision not to hold a public ANZAC Day service or march this year, citing costs in excess of $20,000 and COVID-19 restrictions making the event impossible to run.

The news broke in the club’s recently published autumn newsletter, which revealed the dawn service would go ahead for members and veterans only, while there would be no main service or march on April 25 “due to COVID-19”.

Geraldton City RSL Club president Barry Stinson said after a lot of “soul searching” and discussions with the City of Greater Geraldton and the Mid West-Gascoyne Police , the club made the decision to cancel the event.

“It was a very reluctant decision that we finally made in consideration of the conditions of COVID-19, regarding State Government restrictions and complying with the City’s requirements to hold an event,” he said.

“There are considerable costs to the RSL to run ANZAC Day for the public...Things like traffic management alone can cost anything up to $10,000, with services coming to around $25,000 which is money we just don’t have.

“During the Centenary of ANZAC in 2014, we received a grant from Lotterywest in excess of $20,000, but since the centenary finished there’s nowhere near that sort of money available.”

The crowd waits silently as wreathes are laid during the Anzac Day dawn service at the RSL's Birdwood House in Geraldton.
Camera IconThe crowd waits silently as wreathes are laid during the Anzac Day dawn service at the RSL's Birdwood House in Geraldton. Credit: Anita Kirkbright/The Geraldton Guardian

Local Government requirements for Geraldton events include the outdoor area being fenced, while maximum of 1250 people can attend who all must be ticketed and seated.

Mr Stinson said he didn’t find the State Government or CGG’s restrictions unreasonable.

“In WA we are in a fantastic state, one of the safest places in the world and the Government has to be commended for keeping it that way,” he said.

“Four or five thousand people cramming onto a street corner isn’t in keeping with social distancing. We want to keep our older members, particular veterans, safe. People are saying that we don’t have COVID here, but what if we did? It would be a disaster.

“They’re saying we can have gay Mardi Gras and sporting events, but what they are forgetting is these are in venues where the crowd can be controlled through ticketing or seating, which we don’t have the resources to do.”

He said the City was continuing to support the event as they had in previous years by live streaming the service for the second consecutive year so the public could participate in the national Driveway at Dawn initiative.

CGG chief executive Ross McKim said Anzac Day was not a City event and any decisions to modify its format were a matter for the RSL, although the council provided support through funding and logistics.

“We will continue to provide support this year to deliver the service in the modified format – as requested by the RSL,” he said. “The City has also offered to live-stream the event so our community can watch the private service in their homes.”

Mr McKim said Anzac Day was treated no differently by the City to any other event in regards to the advice it gave the RSL — that State Government rules dictate events involving more than 500 people must have an approved COVID plan.

“The City are more than willing to work with the RSL to ensure an appropriate COVID event plan is in place and all necessary measures are met,” he said. “As per other events including Shore Leave, SummerSalt, and this weekend’s Harmony Festival, COVID event plans have to be submitted and approved before the event can proceed.

“We hope the community understand the undertaking when hosting a COVID-safe event and we will continue to support RSL.”

Mr McKim said the City has been in contact with RSLWA who have said: “We understand the disappointment by other people when services are cancelled and there are more than a few RSL sub-branches around WA that have advised their local council that the compliances required for COVID-19 were simply too much to tackle.”

Last month, RSL WA revealed Perth’s traditional dawn service at Kings Park and Anzac Day CBD march are set to go ahead as normal pending any COVID outbreak.

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