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Anzac Day at Gallipoli.

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Anzac Day At Gallipoli

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Young people wept on the shores of Gallipoli at the Anzac Day Dawn Service, because on this solemn day an historical event was transformed into a commemoration of their own personal loss.

You simply cannot visit Gallipoli without being gripped by this loss, but also pride in your Australian heritage. This was something I felt as an Australian at Anzac Cove in the early hours of April 25.

It is the key to understanding why this day and this location have come to embody our nationhood.

It is also why I support the awarding of military and bravery medals on Anzac Day, because I believe Australians want more of the Anzac tradition incorporated and absorbed into our current endeavours.

This increasing relevance and resilience of Anzac Day has brought with it record attendances at commemorative services both in Australia and at Gallipoli. It has also brought challenges and problems. Gaining access, catering and caring for the growing number of visitors in a Turkish national park is not easy.

The media in recent weeks have focused on the problems rather than the growing sense of affiliation between Australians, particularly young Australians, with the Anzac spirit and the fantastic logistical achievements of staging such a professional event on foreign soil.

The estimated 20,000 patriotic and passionate Australians who attended the 90 year anniversary services at Gallipoli have been sadly misrepresented. Some say they comprised drunken yobbos and littering back-packers. Wrong.

The overwhelming majority travelled 14,000kms or more at their own expense to have an experience of a life time. They were motivated to do this because they love Australia and the qualities demonstrated by our Anzac Diggers.

They had to undergo personal inconveniences not normally experienced in Australia. Having flown for 24 hours or so to Istanbul they then bussed six hours to the Gallipoli Peninsula where they were confronted with a further 800 or 900 buses full of people with the same objective. Yes, a logistical nightmare for the organisers.

Access to food, water and other refreshments as well as temporary toilets were all limited or restricted, and travel was at a snail’s pace to get from one part of the Peninsula to the other. For the Anzac Dawn Service which started at 4.30am they gathered on site from the afternoon of 24 April staying up all night in the freezing cold - there was no accommodation nearby, so it was camping out without the tent, thousands then travelled, many on foot in the hot sun, 5 kilometres-plus to Lone


Pine for the Australian Anzac Service and many others continued further to the Turkish and New Zealand services elsewhere on the peninsula.

On occasion there was rowdy comradeship, but nothing disrespectful. At each service they participated fully. The spontaneous applause for the veterans at the Lone Pine service was fantastic. For nearly all in attendance it was a deeply emotional experience.

A spirit of helpfulness and care for one another amidst the trying conditions was obvious - a reincarnation of the mateship back in 1915. The positive interchange amongst us ‘Aussie’ and other visitors was apparent as indeed was the respectful comradeship with the Turks.

The lack of refreshments and access to basic facilities caused discomfort, especially for the elderly. The security arrangements were tight, causing further delays and inconvenience, including the searching of bags and the prohibition on all rubbish


How gracious of our Turkish hosts to allow Australian and other visitors to hold commemorative services on their land. It is difficult to conceive similar Japanese services in the USA or German services in London. This Turkish hospitality must not be taken for granted.

It is disappointing that some of the pre-dawn service music was inappropriate and rubbish was left. I am sure these issues will be addressed at future services. Road works in any national park, let alone at Gallipoli, will always need special care and attention.

To suggest that the recent road works destroy the Gallipoli experience is purely a political beat-up. It is easy for the glitches to overshadow an Anzac service of outstanding success with record numbers in keeping with the Anzac spirit of courage and compassion, mateship and respect for the adversary.

For me, touching the stones on the beach at Anzac Cove, where the Diggers landed, and standing on the hills where they raced and then dug their trenches, was both an awesome and solemn experience. You felt and sensed the plight of our sons, 90 years ago. You were overcome.

The Tasmanian Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray, VC of the 16th Battalion, was one of those Anzacs. He received a distinguished service order at Pope’s Hill, defending the position and saving his mates. Following his service in France he became Australia’s most decorated soldier, and the most decorated soldier in the British Empire in World War I. Touching the soil where he fought with his mates was a memory I will cherish.

It was a tragic military outcome and we were defeated. 8,700 Australians died with over 19,000 wounded. In total, 44,000 allies died and 86,000 Turks - more than 130,000 deaths and around 500,000 casualties over the 8 month battle. Yet the Anzac’s have left us a profound legacy that endures today.

Like those who invested so much to attend the 90 year anniversary at Gallipoli, I hope and pray that as we reflect on our diggers who made the ultimate sacrifice and the Anzac legacy which lies at the spiritual heart of this country, our response would make our Anzac’s proud.

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