Matthew Davis
Rushworth P–12 College
Winner – Victoria

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

The ANZAC spirit, born on the beaches of Gallipoli on the 25th of April 1915 has become an integral part of Australia’s cultural identity. The acts of bravery and courage that the ordinary, workingmen of Australia and New Zealand demonstrated during the campaign were a prime example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The union and close bonds shared by all Australians to this day have descended from the fortitude that those young men showed in such terrible conditions. The fact that they persisted, didn’t give up, didn’t say that it was ‘too hard’, and gave their own lives for others as a volunteer force is what being an Australian is all about.

As described by C.E.W. Bean at the time, Australians have immortalized the feats of "reckless valor" and "comradeship" (1) over the past eight decades as they have given us the cultural foundations and national pride that have allowed our country to prosper. As the years rolled by however, the foundations of our much-loved culture were moved to one side as other events came into the frame. We have however; never really forgotten the contribution that those young Australians made to their country all those years ago and we continue to see examples of the ANZAC spirit of ordinary people doing extraordinary things demonstrated to this day. This is especially so during times of hardship or disaster where communities have had to pull together, co-operate and contribute so that a normal way of life could return.

Some wartime examples that have seen this ANZAC spirit shine through include the experience of the Australian army in New Guinea during World War 2. The untested, young and poorly armed force had to hold off better-equipped and better-trained Japanese invaders. The acts of valor and determination despite the horrendous conditions earned them admiration of the battle-hardened soldiers of the Second Australian Imperial Force who reinforced the struggling battalions later on.

These battles saw the emergence of the ANZAC spirit time and time again in the Australian’s fierce defense of their positions despite facing overwhelming opposition as well as disease and lack of supplies. However, they refused to give in despite the odds. These ordinary men performed many extraordinary acts, which, in the end, protected their homeland from possible Japanese invasion.

One particular example that stands out is the courageous and inspiring acts of Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner. A scholar steeped in the classics who later became a lawyer, Ralph Honner was an ordinary man with a typically Australian upbringing who was thrust into the horrors of war. He was put in command of the troops assembled at Isurava. His mission was to delay the Japanese on the Kokoda track. At his disposal was an Australian force containing men who had had far less training than the enemy and were armed with inferior weapons. He did not say ‘it’s too hard, let’s go home’ nor did he whine about the state of affairs, rather, he said, "They were the only troops I had. I had to make them as good as possible" (2).

From there he set about holding the Japanese back, keeping them on their guard and not allowing them to overwhelm the small Australian force. In doing this he contributed to gaining time for reinforcements to arrive and prevented Port Moresby from being overrun. He did not achieve this by standing back and watching those under his command do the dirty work, rather, he faced every challenge with his men. He was with them every step of the way and was involved in every battle and skirmish they undertook, inspiring not only those under his command, but those around him also. Sergeant Jack Sim of the 39th Battalion said of Ralph Honner "I think the battalion’s spirit may have been inspired, it was certainly exemplified by Ralph Honner the leader…" (3). This was where the creation of the Kokoda legend began, with a determined look at the situation and the courage to stand up and fight despite the hardships that may be faced.

However, combatants in war are not the only ones displaying some truly extraordinary characteristics. The workings of the Salvation Army during numerous wars cannot be forgotten. Comprised almost entirely of volunteers the Salvation Army is one fine example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The members of the Salvation Army who gave counsel, practical and spiritual assistance to anyone who asked for it without complaint and asked themselves for nothing in return. They were certainly examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The Salvation Army could be found anywhere that an Australian serviceman served even if that meant risking his own lives by being right behind a front line. A good example of this unwavering dedication was in 1943 when the men serving with the Salvation army moved right up to the constantly shifting front line to offer support to the soldiers serving there despite the hazards. At Wau, these hazards were clearly demonstrated after the Japanese forced the Australian 2/6th Infantry Battalion to retreat after twelve days of some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific war. Eight members of the Salvation Army were wounded as the front line moved upon them. Despite the many hazards and terrible conditions, the men and women of the Salvation Army who cared for their fellow Australians through some of their darkest hours did it asking for absolutely nothing in return and without complaint.

Of course, ordinary people do not always perform extraordinary acts during times of war; a crisis or civil emergency can also see some extraordinary qualities emerge from ordinary citizens.

The reaction of people to the bushfires in Canberra during the earlier stages of 2003 and the severe ongoing drought in rural Australia are fine examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is this kind of thing that shows we as an Australian community with the actions of other ordinary Australians to inspire us, can work through almost anything

Organizations such as the Country Fire Authority in Victoria and the other volunteer fire services across the country see ordinary men and women sacrificing there own time and energy to protect the lives and property of others. Towering flames and intense heat draw from within these ordinary people an inner strength and determination. Like the ANZAC’s or the men of Kokoda they do not just give up in the face of extreme adversity.

Even in less extreme conditions you can find ordinary people doing extraordinary things. At sporting venues all over the country you can see young, ordinary Australians demonstrating great sportsmanship to their fellow players. Those who stop to check on a fallen mate or stand up for a friend when he or she is facing a bully are the kinds of things that once again re-emphasize ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Even eighty-eight years after the landings at the Gallipoli beaches, the extraordinary spirit and courage that those ordinary young men showed is still apparent in the Australian community. An Australian community which has shown that organizations and individuals that strive to help those in need or to protect the innocent have based their values on the spirit of "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things".

(1) - The Spirit of ANZAC [online]. Available:

[Accessed 5 August 2003]

(2) - Brune, Peter We Band of Brothers [online]. Available:

[Accessed 27 September 2003]

(3) - Brune, Peter We Band of Brothers [online]. Available:

[Accessed 27 September 2003]


Cochrane, Peter (2001) Australians at War. Sydney: ABC Books.

Paull, Raymond (1958) Retreat from Kokoda. Melbourne: Heinemann

ANZAC Day (2001) Woden: Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Fire in the Australian Landscape (1999) Melbourne: Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Country Fire Authority.

Soldiers of the Cross [online]. Available:

[Accessed 5 August 2003]

The Spirit of ANZAC [online]. Available:

[Accessed 5 August 2003]

Battle of Isurava Recalled [online]. Available:

[Accessed 25 September 2003]

39th Infantry Battalion [online]. Available:

[Accessed 25 September 2003]

Being a CFA Volunteer [online]. Available:

[Accessed 1 September 2003]

Brune, Peter We Band of Brothers [online]. Available:

[Accessed 27 September 2003]

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