A much lower-than-expected crowd of just 4400 pilgrims has gathered for the 99th anniversary Anzac Day dawn service in Gallipoli.
The official crowd of 4393 is about 1000 fewer than organisers expected and compares with 5200 in 2013.
Numbers were thought to be down last year because people were waiting to see if they could secure a ticket to the 2015 centenary commemorations.
But the 10,000 successful ballot applicants, who will join 500 official guests on the peninsula next year, were only notified earlier this month meaning those who missed out didn’t have time to book a trip in 2014.
Organisers are therefore expecting a spike in numbers in 2016.
It’s estimated that 10,000 pilgrims attended the 90th anniversary at Gallipoli in 2005.
Counts have been conducted since with numbers subsequently staying high for three years before declining to this year’s low.
The head of the Villers-Bretonneux dawn service this week argued the Western Front is likely to surpass Gallipoli as the focal point of Anzac Day commemorations beyond next year.
But that’s not the view of Gallipoli services director Tim Evans.
He acknowledges people are starting to understand more about Australia’s military heritage and the “life changing experience” of being on the Western Front, and that’s attracting a lot of people.
“But Anzac Day at Gallipoli will always remain a very significant and resonant part of the Australian experience of our military experience,” Mr Evans told reporters in Gallipoli this week.
He said while numbers had “ebbed” at Gallipoli over the past three years, that had more to do people pacing themselves ahead of the centenary.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said while numbers at Villers-Bretonneux had been increasing dramatically over the past few years “the Gallipoli dawn service will be, in my view, a defining day for this nation for a long, long time to come”.