I woke to a big, blue, clear sky. The sun shone strongly and hot; the breeze, especially in the shade, chilly with the plateau’s autumn. They’ve planted many exotic deciduous trees in New England and their red and golden dying leaves frame each roadway.

At 9:45 am the great majority, it seemed, of Uralla residents lined the main street waiting for the balance of their neighbours and most of the district’s school children to parade past to mark Anzac Day: returned servicemen and women came first followed by children marching for parents, then those in local services – the Red Cross, Fireies, Police and Ambos,  next groups from all the local schools in their uniforms, some trying to march, some wearing family medals and lastly a couple of army horsemen and an officer leading a riderless horse with backward turned boots in the stirrups. The whole thing passed in 10 minutes – greatest Anzac Day Parade I’ve ever attended as it did all it was supposed to do without taking the whole morning.

The crowd moved to the memorial gates at the park to await the parade participants and for the official service to begin.  The program took rather longer than the parade and followed the usual script: various dignitaries spoke saying things about the horror of war and place of mateship, a local pastor spoke of Jesus and the RSL president of the Queen, several school kids read prepared remarks nearly inaudiably, hymns were weakly sung and wreathes laid. We turned to the West for the playing of the Last Post; and turned to the East for Reveille.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

We finished by singing Advance Australia Fair with gusto accompanied by a twee electronic keyboard. I may not speak with an Australian accent but I do sing the national anthem with one.

The whole thing was genuinely lovely.

Later I went to the footy – a local second-division derby of the Country Football League with the Uralla boys hosting the Walcha lads from up the road. For a while it was a close run thing but the hosts came good in the end and retired to the Bottom Pub for two-up through the afternoon and evening. (Uralla has two pubs – each with some proper name – but one is slightly uphill from the other thus known to all as the Top Pub and the Bottom Pub.)

In the evening Paul, Judy, their neighbour Annie, and I made our own way to the Top Pub – where one drink and dinner became several drinks and weird and wonderful conversations with various bar flies. Bernie – who lives 20 km out of town and was on the ABC’s Outback House some years ago – regaled us with a tale of riding his horse bareback up the main drag (because he sometimes rides into town) – getting the horse to weave through the white lines like obstacle cones. He has a vision of a new horse-based sport that would somehow involve the horses swimming. It was something we brainstormed for a while.

We weaved home in crisp damp air beneath a black sky salted with stars.

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