Alexander Dawson
Canberra Grammar School
Runner-up – Australian Capital Territory

‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

Today in Australia there exists a strand of ANZAC spirit in parents and their sacrifices to give their children a happy, healthy future; in families and their compassion and help with another and in individuals and their courage to voice support for a cause in which they believe, at the risk of rejection and perhaps worse. That very spirit was born when Australia and New Zealand’s sons, brothers, fathers, husbands and mates volunteered for a cause they believed was worth fighting, and dying for.

Demonstrating the same selflessness, as had the legendary ANZAC John Simpson Kirkpatrick at Gallipoli, these are indeed ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They are living, with pride, a life unique and defining to Australia; a life that continues the value of the ‘others before self’ philosophy. Those who volunteered after the Canberra bushfires, after the Bali bombing, and those who work tirelessly for charities and organisations such as The Salvation Army, The Smith Family, Care Australia, Canteen and numerous more localised organisations such as Lifeline Australia and The Royal Flying Doctor Service, make an extraordinary contribution to the lives of others without expecting any sort of thanks – a peculiarity which is perhaps the most defining facet of the ANZAC spirit.

Australia and New Zealand’s soldiers went into the war much like Australia and New Zealand did as countries: young, free and proud, but nothing more. Our soldiers were ordinary people, but by the end of their ordeal they had demonstrated extraordinary characteristics. These were to gain worldwide respect and stand as a great and shaping part of our heritage.

The spirit of the original ANZACs did not end with the war, nor have we as nations grown out of the spirit since, for it permeates many aspects of Australia’s and New Zealand’s society, influencing how we see ourselves, and how we are viewed by the rest of the world. A fundamental part of the ANZAC spirit is to care for others – mateship. That mateship is the very heart of the "Australianism" which unites us all.

At times other than Gallipoli, the ANZAC spirit has shown itself in our military campaigns and experiences including the Boer War, in Vietnam, El Alamein, Kokoda, Kapyong, Long Tan, East Timor and most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 100,000 Australians have died in the military service of their nation, a vast number considering Australia’s population, and youth as a nation. In the years that followed Gallipoli, "Anzac Day has remained the story of an aspiring nation's courage. It has remained relevant not to glorify war or to paint some romantic picture of our history but to draw upon a great example of unity and common purpose". This unity and common purpose is not only evident in our values of mateship, courage, sacrifice, determination, selflessness, decency and humour in adversity; but in our ingenuity, resourcefulness, initiative and improvisation.

The qualities of ingenuity, resourcefulness, initiative and improvisation, which constitute a great portion of the ANZAC spirit, were evident in Gallipoli with Lance-Corporal Beech’s invention of the periscope rifle, the invention of self-firing rifles and their use during the December 1915 evacuation (where water dripped from one suspended tin to another, which after about 20 minutes overbalanced and caused the rifle to fire), and with the improvisation of ‘jam-tin’ bombs "making do" with available jam tins filled with pieces of scrap metal, stones and explosives with a fuse. Other improvised bombs included ‘hair brush bombs’ and ‘stick bombs’; all three proving very useful in trench warfare. As C.E.W. Bean describes on numerous accounts, following the Turks, the greatest enemy at Anzac was the terrain, which was largely overcome with ingenuity and improvisation in tasks involving the transport of water tanks and supplies.

The same aspects of the ANZAC spirit have been evident at other times in the Australian invention of polymer banknotes (developed by CSIRO and Note Printing Australia), the Black Box Flight Recorder (invented by Dr David Warren), Xerox Photocopying (the technology behind xerography developed by Professor O U Vonwiller), the Sarich Engine (Invented by engineer Ralph Sarich) and cochlear implants also known as the Bionic Ear (by Professor Graeme Clark). They have also appeared in Australian society at other times, most notably with the work of the late Fred Hollows and his foundation, the pioneer of an affordable, resourceful technique of the treatment and prevention of avoidable blindness. These qualities are also evident in the work of Australia’s Dr. Catherine Hamlin, Co-founder and Director of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Hamlin is a world leader in the treatment of fistula, an almost always-curable condition that deemed the women it affected social outcasts, much like lepers were once treated. Both Hollows and Hamlin, and Australia’s previously mentioned inventors, embody ordinary Australians who have done extraordinary things, following in the ANZAC spirit and its inherent qualities of ingenuity, resourcefulness, initiative and improvisation.

In a quintessentially relaxed, but nevertheless hardworking Australian manner – largely based upon the ANZAC spirit – we stand at the forefront of numerous international endeavours such as medical research and agriculture. The newly appointed President of the international medical emergency aid organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, is Australian Dr Rowan Gillies, a volunteer of his medical expertise for just less than ten years. He is one of innumerable Australians doing extraordinary things in the tradition of the ANZAC spirit. In this sense it is evident the ANZAC spirit not only means a great deal to our past, but also plays a great role in our future.

Every day ordinary Australians are doing extraordinary things, be it in their sacrifices as parents and carers, their support for others, their expression of beliefs in spite of possible adverse consequences, in volunteer work or in innovation. The contribution these Australians make to society – in the tradition of the ANZAC spirit and its values of mateship, courage, sacrifice, determination, selflessness and decency – is an intrinsic part of what renders Australia the nation it is today. It is through these people that at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we have and will remember them.


Bean, C.E.W. (1921) Volume 1: The story of ANZAC. Sydney: Angus & Robertson

Bean, C.E.W. (1946), Anzac to Amiens. Canberra: AWM

Weir, Peter (1985), Gallipoli (video cassette), Roadshow Home Video

Thompson, Alistair (1994), Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Andrews, Michael (2000), The Anzac Spirit. NSW: Grolier Books Australia

Carlyon, Les (2001), Gallipoli. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

Word count (excluding footnotes): 1,013

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