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Gone but not forgotten on Anzac Day


Fr Mark Sexton has lived a life comprised of many chapters; the most interesting lives often are. It is a life the Northern Light parish priest will never take for granted.

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When the opening credits roll on 1981 Australian war drama film Gallipoli, Fr Mark Sexton is reminded of his time in the Australian Army.

He enlisted in 1976, after completing school at Saint Ignatius’ College in Athelstone.

“I was in what was known then as the Royal Military College, Duntroon,” Fr Mark said.

“I had three years at RMC before they discharged me and I joined the Army Reserve and was commissioned as a lieutenant in December 1982. I remained there until the beginning of 1996 when I went to the seminary to train as a priest.”

In an unexpected twist, Fr Mark’s time in the military led him to the big screen.

Fr Sexton (front row second from left) during the filming of Gallipoli in Coffin Bay.

Fr Sexton (front row second from left) during the filming of Gallipoli in Coffin Bay.

When director Peter Weir began work on filming Gallipoli, Fr Mark was one of the defence force crew who were enlisted as an extra.

“They needed people who could teach the cast the ins and outs of a firing squadron,” Fr Mark said.

“Much of the battalion served as extras. Those of us who had served moved differently to the ones who hadn’t. The first thing we’d do when we picked up a weapon was to check to make sure it was empty. Normal actors certainly didn’t do that.”

Fr Mark was just 22 at the time and was in good company. Among the lead actors were Mel Gibson, Mark Lee and Bill Kerr. The film tells the story of two Australian sprinters and mates who are sent to fight in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during World War I.

Filming took place across Australia and Egypt. The setting for Anzac Cove was Coffin Bay, South Australia. Look closely and you’ll spot Fr Mark in three scenes throughout the flick.

“The director made a point of walking around the set before filming and asking everyone for the time, just to make sure they didn’t have watches on,” he said.

“In 1914 and 1915 wristwatches were not commonly worn by men. WWI led to them becoming popular because if you had a pocket watch on, you had to reach down to check the time and it made you vulnerable.”

Fr Mark was the last graduate of St Francis Xavier Seminary which closed in 2000. He was ordained on September 20 2001.

With 18 years as an army chaplain, he is currently the longest serving ‘padre’ in the state.

Mel Gibson (right) and one of the Gallipoli directors.

Mel Gibson (right) and one of the Gallipoli directors.

Fr Mark was also a teacher. For more than 14 years he passed down knowledge on history, geography, English, legal studies, social studies, Australian studies and public speaking at Banksia Park, Tintinara Area School, Mount Carmel College and Millicent where he taught for
12 years.

In June 2011, he had a six-month stint as army chaplain in Afghanistan where he was based at Tarin Kot in the country’s north-east. There, he was one of three chaplains assisting defence forces from Australia, the United States, Singapore and Slovakia.

He also has come to the aid of people affected by bushfires, returning from a sabbatical in the United Kingdom in 2015 to witness the impact of the Pinery fires on his Lower Mid North parish, and he spent time on Kangaroo Island working as a chaplain for the Australian Defence Force after the devastating bushfires in 2020.

For all his experience in helping others in times of adversity, watching Gallipoli still floors Fr Mark.

He continues to do his bit to commemorate the contribution of those who served Australia in time of war.

During the filming of Gallipoli, a classic iconic photograph was recreated showing a soldier looking at his mate’s grave.

During the filming of Gallipoli, a classic iconic photograph was recreated showing a soldier looking at his mate’s grave.

“For most of the last 15 years, I have led the Anzac Day Dawn Service and the after-march service for my RSL branch in Tanunda,” he said.

Anzac Day, which falls on April 25, is the anniversary of the day when Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on Gallipoli in 1915 as part of the Allies’ invasion. Dawn services and marches are held around the country to acknowledge the devastating dawn landing on Gallipoli and the countless lives lost.

These days, ceremonies and marches include Australians representing all conflicts, including veterans who served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste, and veterans from Allied countries.

“Fr Mark is a valued member of our sub-branch and has been a staunch supporter of our commemorative events for many years,” said Robin Henry, secretary for the RSL Tanunda Sub Branch.

Everyone is welcome at Tanunda RSL’s Anzac Day event on April 25. The Dawn Service (conducted by Fr Mark Sexton) begins at 6.15am at the Tanunda Memorial Gardens, Murray Street.

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