"Gallipoli was a turning point in Australia's history".
The 25th April 1915, is a day that will always be remembered by Australians for generations to come. This national day of remembrance for the ANZACs that fought to defend the honour of our country is perhaps the most important day on the Australian calender. The Gallipoli campaign was not a successful one, but nevertheless a very important one. The ANZAC experience had a huge impact on both Australia, and its people. It was perhaps one of the few events that really shaped Australia and the Australian spirit that is so famous worldwide.
The Australian spirit is something that we owe to a number of people and events in our history but probably the most significant being the ANZACs that fought at Gallipoli. Before the ANZAC experience people who lived in Australia used to call Britain home and liked having binding ties with the British Empire. "We were all cradled by the great Mother of the British Race." (Watt, W.A in D. Cole, 1971,p521 in Pook p36) Australia was simply known as 'The British Colony'. After Gallipoli, Australians become proud of being Australians. "We are at last a nation, with one heart, one soul and one thrilling aspiration." (Freeman's Journal, in Crowley, Vol 4 pp 255-256, in Pook p95) We finally had a reputation of our own as being brave, determined, athletic, resourceful, trustworthy and people who got the job done without complaining. We were known for our great sense of team spirit and willingness to help others . And so the Australian spirit was born.
Throughout the short time that Australia has been colonized, there have been many fine examples of this Australian spirit but few as prominent as that shown by Private John Simpson of the Australian Medical Corps at Gallipoli. The story of Simpson and his donkey is one that is famous Australia wide, and no doubt worldwide. In the 24 days that Simpson served at Gallipoli, he managed to gain the respect of his fellow comrades, the enemy and every Australian for generations to come, something that is not particularly easy to do. He did this by saving hundreds of injured men on the battlefields from certain death, risking his own life each time. (Ross, 1993, p 494). His willingness to help others, eventually cost him his life but his efforts will never be forgotten. A part of him lives on in each Australian, without them even knowing it. It lives on in something that we were all born with and will die with too, our Australian spirit.
Although no one person has quite matched Simpson's efforts, a recent crisis hit a neighbouring country of Australia and our response to it shows that the Australian spirit is definitely not dead but is very much alive. East Timor has faced some very tough times due to political problems. Armed militias were roaming the streets leaving many civilians too terrified to leave their homes. After much debate about what to do, Indonesia's President Habibe invited a UN peacekeeping force into Timor in an effort to restore peace. The Australian's swiftly arrived leading a multinational force known as INTERFET. Just their presence in the streets was enough to drive many militias out of the largely populated areas and forced others to disband. Australia's armed forces willingness to help, even at the risk of their own lives, proves that the team spirit that we were guided by on the battlefields at Gallipoli still guides us today. This side of the Australian spirit can perhaps be summed up by simply looking at the statement made by the Minister for Defence after the announcement of the peacekeeping force. "Australian stands ready to assist the United Nations in any way that we are asked." (Moore, 12 September 1999, Sunday)
One of the most important aspects of the Australian spirit is our ability to get the job done and not complain about it. A prime example of these personal qualities can be seen in the experiences of Albert Jacka. Jacka was put in a situation most would consider impossible. He was alone, in a trench, fighting against a group of Turks. The Turks were trying to recapture ground that they had previously lost to the ANZACs. Jacka killed 7 of them and the rest retreated. When he was found he had a cigarette in his mouth and said, "Well I managed to get the beggers, sir" (Ross, 1993, p 495). He didn't complain about not having anyone else to fight with, he simply got the job done and was ready to move on.
One of the best present day examples of the Australian ability to get the job done was shown a few years ago. In 1997 Australia saw the worst landslide it had ever seen when a large section of steep mountain collapsed at Threadbo, in the NSW Alps. Approximately 1 000 tonnes of earth, rock and trees slipped and completely crushed two major lodges in the height of the ski season killing 18 people. Emergency rescue teams relentlessly worked 7 days and nights searching through the rubble to try and find any survivors. This was made even more dangerous considering the sight was very unstable and a few minor slides occurred. They didn't complain at all and just concentrated on getting the job done. Their hard work and determination was rewarded by finding one person alive and will never be forgotten.
The 'Australian identity' didn't really come about until after the first fearful landing by the ANZACs at Gallipoli. The spirit that guided not only the fighters but also those at home, brought the country together in what was arguably the toughest event that had hit Australia since colonization. Australia as a whole united as one great force not to be reckoned with and aptly earned international respect. Perhaps this is why the ANZAC experience that gave us our spirit was referred to by many as Australia's 'baptism of fire', and why Gallipoli was seen as a major turning point in our nation's history.
"The children unborn shall acclaim
The standard the Anzacs unfurled,
When they made Australia's fame
The wonder and pride of the world"
(Edgar Wallace, The Anzac Book, p95 in Pook p 87)
1. Fraser B and Weldon Keven 1983, The Macquarie Book of Events, Macquarie
2. Moore John 1999, "Australia Welcomes Peacekeepers Decision" (online)
3. Pook Henry 1993, Windows on Our Past, Oxford Uni Press, Melbourne
4. Ross John (ed) 1993, Chronicle of Australia, Chronicle Australasia, Victoria
5. State Counter Disaster Organisation 1997, Threadbo - An Australian case study (online), http://www.disaster.qld.gov.au/htm/landslides/landslides.htm
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