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Anzac Day bagpipes strike a chord

Curly Duff playing his bagpipes at dawn on Anzac Day. Photo: Cate Duff.

Click the image above to watch the video

“I struggle to look at the photos, I get really emotional,” says Mount Maunganui photographer Cate Duff.

She has taken numerous photographs of Mount beach sunrises, but ANZAC Day this year was especially unique for two reasons.

Her husband Alistair, or Curly as he is usually known by, walked through the shallows playing his bagpipes, and creating an unforgettable and poignant moment.

“I never ever see a sunrise that set the scene like that one did,” says Cate. “And I think the people who witnessed it feel the same. It was pretty special.”

Curly has played the bagpipes for more than 30 years.

The kiwifruit packhouse groundsman first started playing in South Taranaki when he joined the Auroa Highland Pipe Band which had been founded by his grandfather James Duff.

He usually practises at his home at Mount Maunganui.

“He’s been playing weekly during the lockdown. He plays out front and the neighbours have been very supportive,” says Cate.

Early on ANZAC Day, Curly and Cate woke, walked to the end of their driveway where Curly started playing a medley of songs including ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Scotland the Brave’, and ‘Flowers of the Forest’ which is often used for wreath laying.

The plaintive bagpipe sounds could be heard all around the Mount as people stood silently, listening from their driveways and balconies.

“We gathered about 5.55am,” says Cate. “We had a minute’s silence and then he played for about five to ten minutes.”

Cate then noticed the spectacular sky lighting up, turned to Curly and said: ‘Look at that sunrise! Let’s go to the beach!’

Curly had only intended to play out the front of their house but the vivid sunrise was too much to resist, so they headed down to the local beach near their home.

“It was so spontaneous. I thought it would be nice if he stood on the edge, but he took his shoes and socks off and walked out through the water.”

All around Curly the sky and sea lit up with stunning deep orange and mandarin colours, enhanced by the melancholy bagpipe sounds.

Cate caught the striking silhouette on video, uploading it to Facebook, where it has been shared thousands of times.

“It was amazing to see how moved people were seeing that footage. It brought the community together in a special way.”

Another video of Curly playing was also screened on Australian television, the poignancy in the moment resonating across the Tasman as well as around New Zealand.

“So many people came up to Curly afterwards, keeping a safe distance and thanked him saying: ‘you really lifted our spirits’,” says Cate.

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