The 17th of August. The day I was born.
The 17th of August. A different year, a different time. The day the Australian base at Nui Dat was attacked by Viet Cong. In response, a force of 28 Australians of 11 Platoon fought off 2,500 North Vietnamese in the battle of Long Tan. A day that will always be remembered as a remarkable embodiment of the Anzac spirit, which was first born on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915. A spirit which has resurfaced in times of hardship throughout Australian history.
The Anzac spirit. An eternal flame which bums brightly in all Australians and New Zealanders. A light created through unity, stoicism, commitment, sacrifice, comradeship and unwavering belief. A spirit achieved by the attitudes of the common soldier who landed at Anzac Cove in pursuit of an unattainable victory.
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As the Anzacs alighted from their barges, which had landed one kilometre along from the intended site, Turkish machine guns roared into action – heralding a long and bloody battle.
Trenches were dug, firearms loaded, body parts lost in the chaos of remains, a dinner of bully beef and dry biscuits to go. This painful routine was experienced each day for eight months, as the Turks slowly forced us to retrace steps into the inky black sea. A military defeat.
Comrades learnt to trust, were reassured through passing stories of courage down the line. A time to hang on until the bitter end with many a man to back you. To put all troubles behind and set out for the unknown with steady step. This is what the Anzacs did. A moral victory.
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From this new perspective on war, the Anzacs learnt to transform atrocities into action and hunger into hope. A mind game which preserved the soul and created the spirit. The first teachers of these strategies were the water carriers and donkey men of Gallipoli. 'Furphys' would carry water through the trenches and the men would give updates on the progress up the line, sometimes blurring horrific circumstances in order to lift morale and cushion soldiers from the truth. Henceforth, the use of this word became known as a rumour or untruth. Donkey Men such as John Simpson Kirkpatrick rescued the wounded from the battlefield and were well known for their unshaken bravery under fire. These men placed themselves in extreme danger for others, their actions becoming prime examples of the Anzac spirit, which would be passed on through many generations to come.
World War II involved Anzacs fighting in all corners of the earth. Countless victories against the odds were achieved through sheer determination and perseverance, the Kokoda Track Campaign being one that stood out from others. 1942. Australians were threatened by the advancement of the Japanese Army. In a desperate attempt to protect their country, the Anzacs were transferred to Port Moresby, the only remaining garrison outside Australia. After losing the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the Japanese were forced to alter their plan of attack, landing on the northern shores of Papua to ambush the Anzacs and take Port Moresby via the Kokoda Track. This was the beginning of one of the most gruelling and purposeful battles for the Anzacs. For four months soldiers endured the rugged conditions. Torrential downpours created tracks like a "boot-sucking porridge", whilst a lack of supplies, soldiers ill-prepared for jungle fighting and constant Japanese bombardment took their toll. However, in the face of defeat the Australian troops fought back. They maintained the true characteristics of those original Anzacs – fighting bravely, overcoming the adverse conditions and refusing to concede defeat.
In the same year, Edward 'Weary' Dunlop was the doctor in charge of Bandoeng Hospital in Java. As the Japanese approached, he stood boldly by his post, giving staff and patients the opportunity to flee from the hands of the enemy. To tend to the wounded was Weary's mission, even after being captured and contained as a prisoner by the Japanese. Forever at the side of the sufferer, Weary withstood the overcrowded and miserable squalor of numerous camps with dignity and courage. After being elected as camp commander, he energetically set about tackling issues such as diet, hygiene, discipline and morale. Through Weary's passionate leadership, a revival of spirit occurred. Along with 200 men, Weary was then sent to work as a forced labourer on the Burma Railway. They worked in intense heat and humidity, often while chronically sick. Weary's style of command was to lead by personal example. He was the buffer between the prisoners and their Japanese captors, many times facing beatings or the threat of instant death for acting on behalf of his men. Weary was a symbol of determination and helped many prisoners survive the ordeal. The Anzac spirit shone not only in the battlefield but also in the prison camp and Weary claimed "it was a matter of ultimate pride to me that the Australians outworked, outsuffered and outlived every other national group on the Burma-Thailand Railway".
On the home front, the Bushfire Brigade has become the modem-day Anzacs. Just as the soldiers at Gallipoli united as one to combat the overwhelming force of the Turks, the firefighters join together to battle the extreme rage and strength of the fires. They plough their way forward through heat with heads bowed, making ground and holding off the 'enemy' with tenacity, always finding time to rescue someone in need and trade their lives for the survival of another. With the modem Furphy filled to the brim, they ladle out life-support. As the menacing flames cease to lick up the dirt walls, now drenched in water, the fire-truck moves on. In 1983, the Ash Wednesday fires tested the true existence of the Anzac spirit. Volunteers worked through strongholds of towering inferno, water being their only weapon. For eighteen hours straight, some worked relentlessly, witnessing nature destroying most things in its path. As soldiers of the forest fire, these volunteers lay down their lives, give of their time, utilise all of their expertise and embrace each other and their community in a camaraderie only seen in exceptional circumstances. They are true Anzacs.
The Anzac spirit was born on the battlefields of Gallipoli. Through bullet, shackle and flame this spirit has continued. Here am I. Writing about extraordinary deeds achieved by the ordinary Australian. The 17th of August 1966. Twenty years before my time. I can hardly begin to understand. For evermore a personal reminder of outstanding feats which have brought me here today.
Brown, M., (1985) Australia at War The Kokoda Campaign, Hodder & Stoughton (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney
Cochrane, P., (2001) Australians at War, ABC Books, Sydney
Denton, K., (1986) Gallipoli One Long Grave, Time-Life Books (Australia) Pty Ltd, Victoria
Higgins, D. (1 996) Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, Reed International Books Australia Pty Ltd, Victoria
Macintyre, S., (1999) A Concise History of Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Mundie, E., (198 3) Cockatoo Ash Wednesday 1983 The People's Story, Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd, Melbourne
Pugsley, C., (2000) The Anzacs at Gallipoli, Thomas C. Lothian Pty Ltd, Victoria
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