My body groans as I step into the steaming shower and with every movement my joints ache in rebellion of the early hour. Today is the 25th of April, Anzac Day, and the time is 4:13 AM.
By the time I shower and dress, the old ute is already loaded with the items we need to carry out our annual Anzac tradition. The Studio sits in the back, nestled amongst blankets to protect it during the short drive from my parents' house to the river behind their property.
The old wooden deck by the river has been torn down and built anew, though it's impossible to tell in the darkness. The only light visible is coming from the barbecue and the television as the dawn service airs live from Perth.
We unload the eskie and the food from the back of the ute, taking special care with the Studio as we set it up on the long bench that’s been placed on the deck. Belatedly, I notice that the TV is already on, and two of my parents’ neighbors are there before us, lighting the barbeque flames and drying off the damp chairs.
More neighbors arrive, until our group grows to thirteen participants, barely fitting on the little riverside deck. My father offers champaign around as I take coffee orders and prepare them.
I pause what I am doing and stand in silence as The Last Post plays on the television, and no one speaks while we listen to the solemn tune permeate the morning air. It is beautiful and haunting, and I know that more than one person here is remembering the loss of a loved one who gave their life in service of this country.
One neighbor, who lost her son, an airforce pilot, before his 40th birthday, comes to this deck every year to honor his memory. It is a time of gratitude and pain, but also a time of togetherness and a way of showing our love for one another as a community.
There is a coffee in every hand now, the steam highlighted in the twilight as hands and bodies are warmed by the hot liquid. My father is putting lamb on the barbecue and someone has pinned a poppy to my chest.
As is our tradition, we will listen to three services this morning from three different Australian states. We will pause in silence three times and listen to The Last Post play as the sun slowly rises. Everyone will eat too much lamb and be champaign-tipsy by the time they make it back to their homes for an early nap.
We say goodbye to the last neighbor as we finish packing up the contents on the bench. I carry the Studio back to the ute and wrap it carefully up again. Nobody asked about it today, it wasn’t the star of the show, just a supporting character in making this event possible, like the barbeque, or the chairs, or the deck itself.