Anna Verney
Canberra Girls Grammar School
Australian Capital Territory

Gallipoli was the turning point in Australia's history because it was the moment when Australians began to define their national identity. The Anzac experience at Gallipoli has become a symbol for the Australian spirit and tradition in war of courage, identity, practicality and mateship. Australia became a nation in 1901, and was still suffering in 1915 from "the colonial cringe, the idea that everything done by and produced in Britain was great, and that everything Australian was inferior".

Originally a convict colony and a nation for only fourteen years, most Australians in 1915 identified strongly with the British Empire. During the Gallipoli campaign and later in France, Australian troops fought to prove Australia was worthy as a nation, and to prove they "measured up" to a pre-conceived British standard. Many Australian boys were brought up on tales of the stuff of "Beetons Boy's Own: Brave British Soldiers and the Victorian Cross." However the war and the Gallipoli experience "amended the former balance in Australian minds between national and Empire, a change which endured in their own lives and in the history of their country". This is why the ANZAC experience was the turning point in Australia's history.

In the accounts from Gallipoli of soldiers and war correspondents, what emerges is not only the extraordinary bravery, endurance and initiative of the soldiers, but also the soldiers' consciousness of their contribution to the creation of a national legend. For example, Captain Stanton of the 14th Battalion wrote in 1915, "to have leapt into Nationhood, Brotherhood and Sacrifice at one bound… what a year - never can Australia see the like again."

From the landing on Anzac Cove on April 15th 1915, the Australian troops distinguished themselves with acts of courage and self-sacrifice. They were establishing the spirit of the ANZAC. The landing was mismanaged; the troops were landed north or the proposed landing sit. Surrounded by steep cliffs and bombarded by Turkish fire, the ANZACs followed orders and "dug in". Of the 16 000 men landed on the first day, 2000 died. Yet, as ambulance men noted, "I really believe today will mark an era in Australian history. On this day Australians proved themselves". At home British press statements admiring the ANZAC's courage and determination were read to school children, as though Australians needed the reinforcement of praise from the British. "These raw colonial troops… proved themselves worthy to fight side-by-side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle". The exploits of the ANZACs were seen as a confirmation that the Australian nation and its sons had not been found 'wanting'.

Battles like those of Lone Pine and the Nek, which were ultimately a futile waste of heroic Australian lives, led many soldiers to shed their feeling of colonial inferiority to the British. As Gammage in The Broken Years says of the battle of Nek, where 234 Lighthoresemen lay dead in an area the size of a tennis court, "All the tragic waste of the Great War was contracted into their passing, for as they died the English troops at Suvla, plainly visible from the Nek, were making tea."

Many realised that they would not see home again, but the troops were conscious of the importance of the tradition they were establishing. As the official war historian C.E.W Bean, who covered the campaign from his tent, wrote in July 1915, "The fond dream of the return home was silently surrendered by many without a word or a sign in their letters. The ambitions of civil life had been given up; men's keenness now was for the A.I.F - for their regiment, battalion, company - and for the credit of Australia." Or in the words of one soldier "Each day Australia seems to fade further and further from my longing eyes. Still we are out to do the job."

The deeds of Albert Jacka, Private John Hamilton and John Simpson, who epitmosied the growing image of the ANZAC, were celebrated in Australia and overseas. Their self-sacrifice, their courage and the principle of 'mateship' became legendary. In all, 9 Victoria Cross decorations were awarded throughout the Gallipoli campaign. Gallipoli heralded the start of the ANZAC tradition. In other theatres of the war Australian soldiers continued to fight with trademark individuality, a sense of duty, practicality and immense courage. They were recognised as among some of the Empire's best soldiers.

In France, during the Western Front campaign at Pozieres in 1916, Australians fought tooth and nail to hold their ground where other forces failed. Exposed completely to the enemy, they did not relinquish their position. Pozieres was the forerunner of the Australian experience in France, where they were called upon many times to take the brunt of battles. In the Middle East, the capture of Beersheba, in 1917, was due to the bravery of the Australian Light Horse Brigade. Mounted troops charged at and captured Turkish trenches, in what was one of the last great cavalry charges of modern warfare.

After the Great War, it was clear to Australians that they no longer needed to feel inferior, or in debt to the British. The changed relationship between Britain and Australia was symbolised by Billy Hughes' insistence on an Australian voice at the Versailles Peace Conference. With the return of the ANZACs to Australia, they became custodians of Australia's nationhood, symbols of Australia's identity and spirit, "upholders of what it meant to be Australian". Today, the Gallipoli legend sustains Australians' sense of national identity. On Anzac Day the increasing crowds of young people who attend the Dawn Service or the marches are drawn there by the Gallipoli experience and what it means to Australia.

Because of the ANZAC experience at Gallipoli, Australian troops no longer feel the need to prove their equality. They feel instead the need to live up to the ANZAC legacy, that of courage, individuality, duty, practicality and mateship. These sentiments have been expressed when Australian troops have departed for service, in World War II, Vietnam, Somalia and East Timor. The ANZAC experience at Gallipoli was a turning point in Australian history and the ANZAC spirit will always be part of Australia's national identity.


Anzac Day - The First Commemoration Australia's Heritage Vol 9 Lansdowne Press N.S.W 1992

Bean C.E.W Anzac to Amiens Halstead Press Sydney 1968

Beeton S O (ed) Brave British Soldiers and the Victoria Cross Ward, Lock and Tyler London no date

Gammage B The Broken Years Penguin Victoria 1974

White R The Australian Experience: Inventing Australia George Allen an Unwin Sydney 1981

Winter J.M The Experience of World War 1 Equinox (Oxford) Ltd 1988

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