On 25 April, we commemorate one of the most significant events in our national calendar with dawn services and the Anzac Day march which are supported by many people in our community, especially our younger generations. Former Coolum-Peregian RSL Sub-Branch President Bill Powell has actively worked to bridge the gap with young people to help them understand why we remember Anzac Day with gratitude, and today enjoy the benefits of the peace and easy existence obtained at the cost of many lives.
Bill Powell is proud to admit that he’s a big fan of young people.
He believes there are many ‘great kids’ in the community who have the potential to make a positive contribution to the world. And it all starts with respect.
In 2006 Bill, a retired Air Force Warrant Officer and Chairman of the Anzac Day committee at Coolum-Peregian RSL sub-branch, decided to involve children in the dawn service to teach them about respect as well as bridge the gap between seniors and young people.
Over the years, he has built a close relationship with Coolum Public School and Coolum High School and has spoken about Anzac Day to many students. Rather than providing a history lesson about war, Bill focuses on the importance of respect.
“I said to the kids: you should respect your parents, teachers, and school. And above all, you should respect yourself. We’re very fortunate we have a great life here in Australia. All the good things that you can do, such as go to school and learn, and play sport is because the servicemen who fought in the wars went there to make a better life for everyone and protect us,” he said.
“When you go to the Anzac Day service it’s about thinking of all those people - who sometimes gave their life or were injured - so you can have this life. That’s why I ask them to give their respect.”
Unique services attract the community
Each year Bill also introduced new elements to the dawn service to help increase and maintain attendance. This has included school choirs and drummers, Rhodesian servicemen marching, and servicewomen leading the parade one year.
“Our services always have something different and unique.”
Despite initial doubts from the veterans, they quickly changed their minds about having children involved in the dawn service.
“I had trouble getting a veteran to deliver the speech of the day, so I asked the Coolum High School captains to deliver a speech. They were wonderful speeches and all the veterans said it was a great idea to have them involved,” Bill said.
In 2006 1250 people attended the dawn service, up from 500 the previous year. The service at the Coolum-Peregian RSL now attracts more than 6000 people, many of them families and children.
Bill recalls that first year when several women told him how much they enjoyed their first dawn service.
“It was wonderful to see so many there. When I asked them what made them come along, they all said their young kids said, ‘Mummy, you’ve got to take me to Anzac Day’. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was the one who told the kids you’d better get your mum to bring you.”
That was the year he also brought replica service medals to show the Grade 1-3 students how to wear them.
“I explained that if they wore their grandfather’s medals, to make sure it was on the right side, as only those people issued with medals wore them on the left. I remember when I put those medals on one of the kids, they went from one arm to the other arm and took up their whole body!
“Those little ones absolutely adored the medals. They were like sponges absorbing the information.”
A platform to showcase young people
Bill has had equal success with Coolum High School students who didn’t miss the dawn service the year it fell on a Saturday.
“I asked the music teacher if I could talk to kids after practice, as she thought they wouldn’t turn up. I said: I realise it’s going to be very early in the morning, and you’ll have to wear your school uniform on a Saturday but think of this – you’re all musicians and you’ll never get to play in front of such a large crowd. If you miss that, you’ll regret it all your life, so don’t give up this opportunity.
“The teacher said, ‘Great speech Bill, but you won’t get them to turn up’. Well, we had 100 percent attendance that Saturday.”
Bill believes the involvement on Anzac Day is a confidence boost for young people.
“Just imagine, you have thousands of people at the service and those kids in the band are playing, they keep the beat to the marchers, and the school captains get up to speak. What a wonderful platform for them all,” he said.
“If we can also teach respect to the students who are involved in Anzac Day, that’s going to advance our community. If we can guide young people into the right ways of thinking, then aren’t we going to end up with a better society?”
Bill, 76, retired to the Sunshine Coast 30 years ago with wife Maxine after almost 25 years in the Air Force, starting as a cook and rising to Command Caterer. He spent 10 years on the executive committee of the Coolum-Peregian RSL Sub-Branch, serving 18 months as Deputy President, then eight-and-a-half years as President. Although he retired from the executive committee two years ago, he will again MC the Anzac Day dawn service this year.
Story and photo: Hari Kotrotsios
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