Glenn Williams
Forrestfield Senior High School
Western Australia

The Anzac Spirit

The Brookton/Pingelly Bushfires

"The Anzac Spirit was born at Gallipoli in 1915. Since then it has been demonstrated not only by Australians in war but also by those whose contribution has been in other fields. "

The Gallipoli Campaign, during the First World War (1914-1918), was the first time that men and women served as Australians in a war situation. The campaign was part of a plan to expel the Turks from the war and thereby weaken Turkey's ally Germany. At first the Australians were considered by some to be "untried soldiers, second raters and six-bob-a-day tourists. By the end of the Gallipoli campaign Australian troops had demonstrated some remarkable characteristics and were respected soldiers acknowledged around the world. An Anzac tradition of bravery and service was clearly established from 25 April 1915 onward.

The Anzac tradition was established on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli from 25 April 1915 to the evacuation of the beaches in December 1915. This tradition has continued through other military conflicts in which Australians have been involved. The Anzac Spirit defines Australia's military past. No other name so represents the idea of unity in Australia. It was born in a terrible military defeat; a time marked by great bravery, by common soldiers and great acts of arrogance and stupidity by their commanders and political leaders. At the height of the campaign, for almost six weeks, Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick put others before himself and saved many lives on the frontlines of the Gallipoli battlefield until he was shot down by a sniper at close range while serving others in the frontline. This was typical of the spirit of the beaches of Gallipoli. This spirit has lived on ever since as a part of the Australian way of life.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in South Shields in Yorkshire in England on 6 July 1892. He had "illegally" immigrated to Australia prior to the war in 1910. His formal education was slight, but when writing letters to his mum, he wrote "of his pleasure, as a committed socialist, in discovering an egalitarian society. He hung around the bush for a while carrying a swag and writing home every month. Kirkpatrick was known as Simpson to most, and was in Western Australia when the war broke out in August 1914. Like many migrants Simpson was among the first to enlist joining up under the name Simpson and volunteered medical corps (Third Field Ambulance). He went ashore at Gallipoli on the very first day and became distressed by the agonies of the hurt and the lack of medical attention. Finding a group of stray donkeys in a hidden valley, he asked an officer if he could use one to aid the wounded from the frontline to the hospital on the beach under the cliff. He soon became popular at Anzac Cove; Simpson named his faithful donkey "Duffy" and gave it a Red Cross hatband. He was said to have lived a charmed life, but was killed tragically by a sniper's bullet in Shrapnel Gully on 19 May 1915.

Simpson and his donkey have now been known as Australian legends; the pair's story, known to all who served on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli, have promoted three talented biographies of Simpson as a parable of Christian compassion and an example of the famous Anzac Cove.

Not just one person, but the group of people I have chosen to write about that have displayed the same spirit and self-sacrifice are the townspeople of Pingelly. They demonstrated this spirit and self-sacrifice when the entire town pulled together at a time crisis, a time when a 30 000 acre bushfire with a 17 km front traveling up to 60 km/h with 70 foot high flames.

On 15 December 1998 a natural disaster struck the small wheat belt towns of Brookton and Pingelly. A huge bushfire stretching like the fingers of a hand across almost 30,000 hectares of fires ripped through the land reaching speeds of 60 km/h with a 17 km front and up to 70 foot high wall of flames bore down on the town of Pingelly 150 km south east of Perth. Four severe victims of the harsh fires were airlifted to Royal Perth's Burns Unit with over 40 minor injuries treated at the local hospital. The fire claimed the life of an 18 year old, Joanna Bowles, who left her utility in an effort to evade the fires. Over 600 firemen (bush fire brigade volunteers) raced from the neighboring communities of Corrigin, Cuballing, Beverley, Brookton and Wickerpin. The damage bill exceeded the 16 million dollar mark.

During the fire hospital staff was stretched to the limit and with the help of Dr Gogna, flown in from Beverley, treated in excess of 70 patients throughout the day and into the night, with some of the nurses working up to 40-hour shifts. With the help of Lee Steal working the phones, "two ways" and radio for the hospital and the shire offices from the base at the hospital, all the patients got a bed or mattress on the floor and some returned to the frontline into the night. No one went untreated or was turned away.

Many heroes emerged from the disaster. These heroes were the men who saved mates, animals and themselves, and demonstrated incredible bravery. Les Marshall and Michael Page pulled workers and mates from the fire and threw them into empty dams and smothered them in mud as the main fire wall passed over and burnt their ute which left them to walk back to the farm house, where Les' worker, Gary Briggs was airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital by the fantastic crew from RFDS (Royal Flying Doctors Service) who that day had made three trips to Perth and from Perth to Pingelly. Lynsey Corke's worker and fireman was thrown from the ute into fire, burning his hands in the fire, now has lost the use of his left hand from severe bums.

In the aftermath of the fires the railway line, the Great Southern Highway and all the electricity were down and unable to operate. 30 000 sheep had to be cleaned up and more had to be shot to end the suffering. All the farmers helped to draft and shoot sheep the next day, giving up their own time to help others before working on their own farms while the guys from Western Power worked into the night to restore the power to the area within four days with temporary poles and stays. The workers from Main Roads and the Shire workers worked 13-hour days to reopen the Great Southern Highway with detours in three days. Within two days the Rail workers had the train lines up and running after working 12-hour days.

Some farmers suffered terribly, some having no insurance what so ever and found it so hard to keep going through the hard times. Thanks to the counselors provided by the Court government to assist with the crisis, also it was all helped by the group of ladies who made over 3000 sandwiches between them and would prefer to stay anonymous. In 1998 in the face of crisis an entire town pulled together, as did Simpson and displayed an amazing level of Anzac Spirit. Many people made great sacrifices to help their neighbors before thinking of themselves and the horrifying consequences. This example displays that the Anzac Spirit is still alive in today's society.


Andrews, Michael, The Anzac Spirit, Grolier Books, Lane Cove, 1996.

Benson, Irving, The Man with the Donkey, England, 1965.

Laffin, John, Gallipoli., Kangaroo Press, Australia, 1999.

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