Helen Dziedzic
Hornsby Girls’ High School
Winner – New South Wales

‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ Refer to the original Anzacs and to the ANZAC spirit evident in Australian society at other times, to explain the extent to which you agree with this statement.

Word Count: 1193

In an increasingly globalised world, Australia’s need for national identity has never been so vital. Australian historians used the Anzac Campaign of 1915 to create the Anzac legend and from this the belief in the Anzac spirit has evolved. Some even say this Anzac spirit is the very backbone of Australian society, shaping what we regard as uniquely Australian. The "Diggers" are seen as ordinary people doing extraordinary things, often for the protection of their mates. However, while this heroism did occur, it wasn’t only the Anzacs who displayed it. Furthermore, the Anzacs consisted of ordinary people doing things that were both ordinary and extraordinary. This is the case right up to the present day. Today, the Anzac spirit means different things to different people, but the legend will always embody both the ‘Australian’ qualities and the "sweet, purifying breath of self sacrifice". Whether there is any evidence to prove that such a spirit exists, so long as the Australian people believe that Australia has a special unity arising from the Anzac spirit, belief in this spirit will bring Australia together in times of need.

A popular theme of the Anzac legend involves ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Defining what makes someone "ordinary" and what makes something "extraordinary" is subjective. In those times, many might have said an ordinary person was not famous or a professional. In the context of the Anzac spirit, what was considered an extraordinary act was generally not for your own benefit but in the true spirit of mateship. These extraordinary things done by the Anzacs were partly due to the near impossible task set for them by Great Britain of knocking Turkey out of the Dardenelles and forcing Germany to open another battle front. In reality, the Anzacs had to endure nine long months of Turkish snipper fire; "on Gallipoli, from first to last, I lived with fear all the time, 24 hours a day"

It was here that the Anzac characteristics were supposedly revealed: mateship, larrikinism, selflessness, heroic bravery, endurance, equality and dislike of authority, initiative and integrity. The typical characteristics of the bushman provided the digger archetype where the "empire’s glorious, most far-flung struggle occurs". However even though Bean claimed that it "lay in the mettle themselves", this doesn’t account for the fact that when the situation calls for a certain qualities, such as courage, people can discover that they can put their fears aside. People are influenced by the situation they are put in and I believe that, just like the Anzacs, the whole population would have done the same in their circumstances; some acting courageously, others not.

The Anzac legend was developed by the official historian, Charles Bean. Australians at home were eager to hear of how their soldiers were coping and also hoping to use the war to find an identity for their newly federated country. Thus the media felt obliged to give a positive account of Anzac involvement. The "Anzac Book" sold tens of thousands of copies in Australia. In it, Bean constantly referred to these Anzac qualities, rather than to military successes. However, by comparing Bean’s recount of the Anzacs to other historical recounts, Bean’s account is found to be both inaccurate and idealised. Bean himself admits the Anzac qualities are merely ideals "aspects of character that all Diggers aim to acquire" although he presents them as the norm. This doesn’t provide an accurate account of the diversity of humanity found in any large group; "mythology often portrays the Anzacs as fearless. This tends to ignore what we know about human nature…Of course fear was there: it had to be." Any account of fear in an Anzac was written off as being un-Australian, unmanly and such soldiers were obviously of "weaker fibre". Bean’s account of Anzac qualities is that the Australians show such "heroism beyond almost anything shown by any other force throughout this great conflict". These superhuman Anzacs portrayed by Bean were found totally the opposite by the British Commanders, such as Major Guy Dawney. Whereas Bean claimed that "there is next to no fighting among the men", Dawney said that the Anzacs were "remarkably vicious, violent and ill-tempered… not a day goes past without a scuffle breaking amongst them". Also, a reliable primary source from the time, Baylebridge, observed some of the very ‘ordinary’ qualities of the Anzacs; "…reports of violence were common, and the Anzacs often featured in the complaints of abuse". The Anzacs were neither the ideal, bushman- like saints depicted by Bean nor the violent, disrespectful men portrayed by many British commanders.

While there were ordinary diggers doing ordinary things, there were cases of ordinary Anzacs doing extraordinary things. John Simpson Kirkpatrick, an Anzac, saved hundreds of men with his beloved donkey. He made the one and a half-mile trip, through sniper fire and shrapnel 12 – 15 times a day. He supposedly embodied the Anzac spirit, but was in fact born in England! In fact, he had enlisted hastily in the hope of a free trip back to England. Despite these ironies, Simpson is an example of what Australians wish to believe: that an ordinary person can achieve something extraordinary.

War invariably brings out the best and worst qualities in most. Heroic deeds are performed by ordinary soldiers of all nations at all times. The British troops at the Somme in 1916 threw themselves into machine gun fire with exactly the same heroic disregard for their own lives that the Anzacs did. ANZAC is an acronym for both Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Why is it that the "Anzac spirit" is a purely Australian quality? "There has been a tendency in Australia to take the NZ out of the acronym, and to use the word to denote purely Australian endeavour in the First World War." World War Two was a case much like World War One: ordinary people doing ordinary things as well as ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as Weary Dunlop. In the 1950’s and 1960's, the Anzac spirit lost public favour, especially during the Vietnam War. This is an example of how people still associated the Anzac spirit mainly with war. In recent times, this spirit and recognition of ordinary people doing extraordinary things has expanded. Bush fires, East Timor, the Olympics and the Bali Bombings are examples.

The Anzacs contained both ordinary people doing extraordinary things and ordinary people doing ordinary things. I believe ordinary people do extraordinary things and ordinary things all the time, in many countries, capacities and professions. We should not venerate the Anzacs’ extraordinary deeds because they were performed in a theatre of war. Despite this, so long as Australians believe in this Anzac spirit, it will draw the community together in times of need. "It is a legend…derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity". While the statement "ordinary people doing extraordinary things" is universal and makes a case for favourable bias, it will continue to define Australia, interest the media and, most importantly, make us feel that we have a secret resource that sets us apart.


W Baylebridge (1922) The Anzac Muster, Dutton Press, London.

Joan Beaumont (1995) Australia’s War 1914 – 18, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Dudley McCarthy (1983) Gallipoli to the Somme , Allen & Ulwin, Sydney.

Annette Sampson (2003) "Don’t get caught up between the new-greed Aussie and a dollar" Sydney Morning Herald, June 3, pg 1

Chris Baker (2003) The Long, long Trail, Ordinary heroes


Available at : <http://www.1914-1918.net/heroes/heroeslist.html>

Accessed 10 October, 2003

Paul Goldstone & Ian McGibbon (2000) Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History

Oxford University Press

Available at: <http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/Gallery/Anzac/ANZACes.html>

Accessed 8 October, 2003

Linda Silmalis (2003) PM leads nation in mourning

Sunday Telegraph Online

Available: <http://www.sundaytelegraph.news.com.au/story/0,9353,7530289-28778,00.html>

Accessed 13 October, 2003

Tony Stephens (2001) Holy Wars

The Sydney Morning Herald Online

Available: <http://old.smh.com.au/news/special/natl/anzac/2001>

Accessed 2 June, 2003

John Woods (1999) Who killed the Red Baron


Available: <http://www.anzacs.net/who-killed-the-Red-Baron.html>

Accessed 8 October, 2003

Author undisclosed (2003) John Simpson Kirkpatrick

ANZAC House Youth Hostel / Hassle Free Travel Agency

Available: <http://www.anzachouse.com/simpson.shtml>

Accessed 10 October, 2003

Return to List of Winners 2004