Paul Hansen stood underneath the Australian flag as it waved gently in the early morning breeze.

The sunrise beamed a kaleidoscope of red, orange and yellow onto the cliffs lining the Murray River.

A bugler played the Last Post through the crackling AM radio to create an Anzac Day dawn service that is a little different to official events.

“We have a dawn service on the banks of the River Murray, with a backdrop of the red cliffs, corellas and cockatoos and gum trees all around,” Mr Hansen said.

Paul Hansen in a deep moment of contemplation.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The sunrise casts a glow of colour on the River Murray cliffs.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

Since the 1980s, down-to-earth bushy Paul Hansen has welcomed folks to his riverside rural homestead. 

The 64-year-old is the owner and operator of Kulcurna Station in south-west New South Wales.

It has been in his family for generations and his days are spent caring for the land and his stock.

Whether it’s along the winding river or a rough road, travellers are welcome at Kulcurna Homestead.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

Mr Hansen says rain is overdue on his dry, nearly arid land.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The tradition has brought together farming families and river travellers as they park alongside his picturesque Murray River property and remember those who served.

“There were some people on a houseboat one year, and they saw us and asked what all the noise was about,” Mr Hansen said.

“We replied, ‘We’re just getting ready for a dawn service’, and they said, ‘Oh, can we come?’. 

“So they came across the river with their houseboat and then somebody further up saw them moving on, and they came to have a look as well, and we went from there.” 

Starting with a bang 

The day began with a bang as Mr Hansen yelled “fire in the hole” and fired two shots from a rifle into the sky.

It was a summons to this years’ guests to wake up and warm their stomachs and hands with a cup of coffee.

Their bellies are happy from a good feed the night before — rabbit stew with potatoes and carrot — and a glass or two of red wine.

Paul Hansen’s 5am gun salute beckons nearby travellers.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

Stories are shared around the campfire as guests dig into a traditional bush meal.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The dawn service tradition came to Mr Hansen later in life, having not attended many in his youth.

“I don’t, as a little bloke, ever recall going to a dawn service in Renmark,” he said.

“So we started doing it ourselves here, my mother and I.”

Paul Hansen and Jenny Richards converse with old and new friends.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

Mr Hansen’s grandfather and uncle, Jack and Alick Higgins, served as light horsemen in WWI.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

What started as a quiet family affair with his mother Denys Hansen and sister Belinda Hansen quickly grew to a strong community event.

“During the 2015 centenary people came from all over,” Mr Hansen said.

“Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne — a lot of them were tied to this district through their families.”

Remembering friends

The 5th generation custodian observes the solemn proceedings with the same reverence, whether it is packed to the shearing shed or just a handful of friends.

A calm, serene backdrop for the Kulcurna Station dawn service.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

Early birds arrive at the welcoming homestead.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

Some of the regulars who attended have passed the tradition down to their children. 

“Bruno Stolze used to come here every year and his ashes have made the trip tonight,” Ms Richards said.

“Bruno used to come and camp on the river.

“His son and grandchild are here and that’s beautiful. It is fantastic to see the tradition carried on.” 

Anzac biscuits are a favourite for many, not just on the day they’re named after.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The hospitality at Kulcurna Station is second to none.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

Ms Richards said the experience was one of a kind. 

“What I love about the night before Anzac Day is people coming in with fishing lines down, the fire’s going and the wood is burning in the urn. Everything is ready,” she said.

“The birds, the river, the quiet, the smell of smoke and the sounds of the little boats, the lights on the water, rosemary that’s freshly picked — that’s Australia to me.”

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