"The legacies of valour and of national identity and sentiment outlive them and will outlive all of us". (From William Deane's tribute at the funeral of Ted Mathews, the last of the Australians to land at Gallipoli. December 9 1997)
In the light of dawn on April 25 1915, ANZAC soldiers, the spearhead of the Gallipoli campaign to open up a southern supply route through the Black Sea, leapt from small boats and charged. They went cursing, swearing and yelling up the cliffs that soared above them to strike fear into the hearts of the Turks and to mould forever, the Australian spirit and identity.
Young men from the different states of Australia had already gained a reputation for courage and had established, to some extent, a feeling of self-confidence during the Boer War, but Gallipoli was the first time men had gone to fight from Australia, as Australians. In a constitutional sense, they had only been a nation for thirteen years when World War 1 broke out and in a time when countries proved their greatness on the battlefield, there had "been no act of valour to crown its coming of age". Within just eight months, the deed had been done.
Gallipoli may have been a tragic and inept campaign and a defeat in military terms, yet it was a victory in creating a national pysche that shrouded Australia with "an aura, a legend". It was a defining moment for our fledgling nation, where time and time again, the Australian Diggers displayed courage, stubborn determination, initiative, greatness and mateship in the face of overwhelming odds that proved to the rest of the world that they had special qualities in them which didn't exist in "people from older and more cynical nations". They may have gone for 'King, Empire, God and Country', yet at the same time, they were battling Britain and all her prejudices about rough colonials and were resolved to show that Australians were aggressively themselves - "independent-minded, brimful of enterprise and initiative, energetic and self-reliant".
Their deeds were the "baptism of a new nation" . As General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote,
"Before the war who had ever heard of Anzac?
Hereafter who will ever forget it?"
In Alan Seymour's The One Day of the Year, a character, Wacka, sums it up when he says,
"When we went in there we was nobody.
When we came we was famous. ANZACS"
Australian heroism was such that nine men won the Victoria Cross, but to me, the most enduring hero was a man who never won a medal - Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick - a "boozer, a brawler and a larrikin" who ran the gamut of Shrapnel Gully bringing down the wounded on his little donkey and who died just a few months into the campaign. Exposed to constant shelling and sniper fire, he scorned the danger and kept on going, whistling and singing. He was a real man and it is said that real men wept in the sight of others when he died.
By December 1915, when the Peninsula was evacuated, the actions of the ANZACS had made it "hallowed ground, the forging place of a nation." The Australians then carried their special qualities into the killing fields of the Western Front - where history has recorded for all time the heroic and fearless valour of their charges at places like Poziers and Villers-Bretonneux - and the deserts of Palestine. They made an impressive sight,
"There was no mistaking them They have a distinctive type of their own which marks them out from all other soldiers of ours along these roads of war".
World War II, when for the first time Australians were not only defending distant lands but faced a very real threat on their doorstep, carried on the tradition of courage and gallantry that was established at Gallipoli. Australian soldiers were at it again, forging new ANZAC legends, that impacted on the making of modern Australia, in the heat and dust of the desert campaigns of North Africa, in the mud and sweaty ambushes of Malaya, Papua New Guinea, Timor and Borneo, and in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Later, it was to be in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf.
As a young Australian living at the start of a new millennium, I have wondered whether the impact of ANZAC is still seen today. Does it still matter? When the last of our Gallipoli veterans dies, will community interest decline and the legend fade away to nothing more that a myth? I am certain that it won't! We can see, everyday, that the legacy of ANZAC is still relevant. For example, the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces in their roles in the recent East Timor peacekeeping campaign, serve to ensure that future generations of Australians will inherit the legacy. We have given Major-General Peter Cosgrove and his troops, the praise they deserve just as my great-grandfather and his generation were awarded theirs. Again, we can see it in the actions of our State Emergency Service personnel, voluntary fire-fighters and ambulance workers who carry on the legend of Simpson and calmly expose their lives to danger to save others in a "tradition of selflessness and cool courage".
Perhaps the ANZAC spirit that was born in 1915 has come to full bloom in this the year of the Sydney Olympics. Our Australian competitors will unite us all. They will display the Australian principle of "having a go" and their discipline, pain, sacrifice and courage will propel them along the path to greatness just as our ANZACs stormed up the cliffs. They, like the Diggers, are prepared to give their all for a true-blue Aussie flag in a quest for glory and exaltation of a nation. An indelible image for me was the recent 'meeting' of the Olympic flame with the Eternal Flame on our nation's most sacred ground at the Australian War Memorial.
It may be a cliché, "but a country that ignores its past has no idea about its future." The ever-increasing crowds at Dawn Services and ANZAC Day marches prove to me that the impact of the ANZACs on our national pride not only survives, but grows. As the dawn rises on the memorial at Lone Pride and the cemeteries scattered throughout Gallipoli this year, and in years to come, those who made the ultimate sacrifice there will sleep contentedly, knowing they have given us a heritage "that every Australian since that day has been born with."
Adam-Smith Patsy (1978) The ANZACS Thomas Nelson Pty Ltd Melbourne Victoria
Batstone Kay (1999) Our Century (From the Nine Network Television Series presented by Ray Martin) ACP Creative Books and Penguin Books Australia Ltd
Bean C.E.W. ed (1916) The Anzac Book Cassell and Company Ltd London
_____ (1948) Gallipoli Mission Australian War Memorial, Canberra
_____ (1921) Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol 1, The Story of Anzac. Angus & Robertson Sydney
Laffin John (1995) We Will Remember Them: AIF Epitaphs of World War 1 Kangaroo Press Pty Ltd Kenthurst NSW
Luck Peter (1980) This Fabulous Century Landsdown Press Sydney
Scott D &Dann L (1995) Australia in the twentieth century Oxford University Press Melbourne
Seymour Alan (1962) The One Day of the Year Angus & Robertson Sydney
Brice Chris 'The heroes of the South' The Advertiser. Adelaide November 11
_____ 'Gallipoli: Hell and Glory' The Advertiser Adelaide 21 April 1990 Magazine Section p 2-3
Haran Peter 'We are at war!' The Sunday Mail Adelaide 3 September 1989 p69-70
Keneally Tom 'Why the Anzac Spirit Lives On' The Advertiser Adelaide 21 April 1990 Magazine Section p1
Holman Andrew 'On the road to gold and glory' The Sunday Mail Adelaide 10 September 2000 p 48
Carylon Les Why 25 April is Australia's True National Day (online) www.theage.com.au/daily/news/news5.html Monday 27 April 1998
Deane Sir William The Last Anzac - Eulogy presented at the Funeral of Ted Mathews (online) http://www.ukans.edu/~kansite/ww_one/memoir/lastanzac.htm December 9 1997
Maloney Shane Warriors and others share burden of memory (online) http://www.theage.com.au/dail/news/html Sunday 26 April 1998
Scott the Hon Bruce They Answered the Call to Defend Australia (online) Department
of Veterans' Affairs 6 September 2000
_____ Anzac Passes the Tradition to a New Generation (online) DVA 10 April 2000
_____ Educating 3 Million Younger Australians About ANZAC (online) DVA 16 March 2000
_____ We Will Remember Them (online) DVA 3 November 1999 http://www.afssse.asn.au/simpson/simpson_menu.htm
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