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  • intouch Magazine

Students Honour Families of Service Members

The annual Combined Schools ANZAC Service – which brings together students from public, Catholic, and independent sector schools across the region – will take place in Newcastle on Tuesday 4 April.


High-profile special guests this year will include the inaugural Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner, Gwen Cherne. Commissioner Cherne has lived experience of military family life, which is the focal theme for this year's commemorative event, "We Who Remember – Families of those who have served and sacrificed".

The event will be staged at the Civic Theatre, thanks to renewed major sponsorship from the City of Newcastle and the Newcastle Permanent.

The service, nationally recognised as unique in its focus on education, has been created by students for a young audience. Based on the true stories of Australian families, the service incorporates the ASPIRE Catholic Schools Drama Ensemble and music performed by Hunter Singers, accompanied by the Hunter Wind Ensemble. The event also incorporates aspects of a traditional ANZAC service, including a catafalque party comprised of cadets from the 321 Air Force squadron.

Commenting on the theme, event coordinator Michael Voorbij said it enables students from schools across the region to develop an appreciation of the families' perspective of veterans' service and sacrifice.

Representing the City of Newcastle, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Newcastle has a strong military heritage, and it is important to acknowledge sacrifices have been made, not only by individual service personnel but also their families.

Also in attendance, Paul Juergens, Chief Customer Experience Delivery Officer for Newcastle Permanent, acknowledged the importance of the theme for the 2023 service, which marks 21 years of continued sponsorship from the Newcastle Permanent.

To research this year’s theme, Year 11 students from Merewether High School, Saint Francis Xavier Campus, Callaghan College Jesmond Senior Campus, and St Philip's Christian College, interviewed families affected by military service and created a verbatim retelling of their stories.

A focal point of the service highlights the story of Sergeant Brett Till, who lost his life while serving in Afghanistan in 2009. The event features a retelling of the impact his death had on his family, particularly on his wife Bree Till. At the time of his death, Bree was just 24 years old and was eight weeks pregnant. The drama students have used Bree's own words to convey the challenges her family faced in the aftermath of Sergeant Till's death. Bree reflects on how difficult it was to navigate the hurdles that came with being a young widow and mother.

Reflecting on reality, the service tells both sombre and celebratory stories, including the unique adventures and cultural encounters some military families experience during their service. The family of retired Major Peter Green, who were relocated an impressive 15 times throughout his service, share their reflections on the enriching experiences they gained. Despite the challenges that come with frequent relocation, the Green family sees it as a positive aspect of their family's service to the nation. "We got to experience cultural adventures that many other families would dream of," explained Mrs. Min Green.

The service, which is free for groups of primary and high schools to attend, is fully booked out, with more than 2,500 attendees.

Service Details: Date: Tuesday 4 April 2023

Location: Civic Theatre Newcastle

Start Times: 10:30AM or 1:00PM


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