Nikita Harrison
St John’s College, Darwin
Winner – Northern Territory

‘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.

Like the red poppies of Flanders Field, blooming evermore, the spirit of the ANZACs is passed on. From generation to generation it embodies us all. Permeating us with a desire to help others, the ANZAC spirit is the intrinsic and prevailing aspect of our lives that characterises Australia as a nation. I believe the spirit is an instinct; something that has developed since the founding of our nation and now comes naturally to us. We have it within us, though we do not always realise it, and it is exemplified through our actions during difficult and trying times. Throughout our history Australians have consistently demonstrated this, making the most of any situation at hand, and, on many occasions, risking their own lives for the well being of others. Yet it is often ordinary people who embody the many attributes that define the ANZAC spirit. These attributes allow extraordinary things to come from within us – from everyday, ordinary people.

The ANZAC spirit is epitomised in the story of Simpson and his donkey. Originally an English donkey-lad, John Simpson Kirkpatrick went to war for Australia in the search of adventure. At Gallipoli Simpson found a donkey, and used it to transport wounded soldiers from the trenches. He cheated death while saving hundreds of men, but paid the ultimate price when he was shot and killed after 24 days. Simpson had a counterpart from New Zealand – Lieutenant James Henderson. Henderson, from a small farm in the town of Kihikihi, New Zealand, also attained a donkey, and was extraordinarily fearless like Simpson.

Another ANZAC, who risked his own life in the hope of improving things for others, was Lieutenant Stan Watson. It was Watson’s dedication to duty and initiative that led him to embark upon creating a sturdy, wooden pier in order to produce a safer environment for the arrival of supplies and reinforcements. Watson and his men worked incessantly during the daylight hours of three weeks, in clear sight of the enemy. Dodging constant machine gun fire and the occasional Turkish artillery shell, Watson’s Pier was completed on June 18. It was a "masterwork of combat engineering" (Denton, 1986, p. 82) – 64 metres long, with 19 bays for boats – and the biggest quay built. Watson’s Pier, along with the other, smaller jetties built, made it possible for 6,000 men to come ashore at any one time with fresh supplies and equipment, and greatly assisted with the safe and efficient evacuation on December 19. These ANZACs, through their willingness to expose themselves to danger in order to protect others, were certainly ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The ANZAC spirit is evident in terrifying situations such as the infamous 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. Coming from Tasmania, I still remember my fear as I heard the news – Martin Bryant, a resident of the next suburb, and a man who I had probably passed in the street, had committed a heinous crime and had been named the most notorious spree killer ever. As the shock passed, my community became aware of those who attempted to save others – and there were many. In her novel Port Arthur, a Story of Strength and Courage Margaret Scott says, "A number of people pushed someone else out of the way, but never, it seems, to try and save themselves…always in an attempt to save another" (Making sacrifices, 1998, p. 1). Andrew Mills and Tony Kistan, Bryant’s first victims in the Broad Arrow Cafe, gave their lives for others. Similarly, when called to the aid of Stand Aside during the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race of 1998, the Helimed chopper team decided to attempt a rescue at great risk to their own lives. Peter Davidson was described as the "live bait", a "human tea bag" and "a hero" (Mundle, 1999, pp. 136-138) when he battled 50 foot seas and applied amazing dedication and determination beyond the call of duty. He saved the lives of eight people.

In Tony Gunter’s poem To The Sunburnt Ear (see Appendix 1), extremely ordinary people – bushmen, city men, farmers, tradesmen, business men – are all recognised as men who:

"went to war with the mind of a soldier

But the heart and soul of a mate"

This is the true ANZAC spirit – people from all walks of life being mindful of others, and recognising the importance of comradeship. This ANZAC spirit can still be seen in so many aspects of our lives – Australians have a tendency to accept situations, and tackle them with a "driving sensation" (Burke, 1961?, p. 1) to overcome the odds. From our valiant volunteer fire fighters to the surf lifesavers, from Colleen Shirley Perry ("Mum Shirl") to Neville Bonner, from Bali bomb survivors to East Timor peacekeepers, Australians consistently display the traits for which we are famous. Many efforts are focussed on other people’s rights to life and freedom. Mum Shirl struggled enormously with severe epilepsy and did not attend school regularly. She could not read or write properly, but "was one of the most tireless and compassionate campaigners for Aboriginal rights and welfare in Australia" (Lau, 2002, p. 13). Peter Hughes will always be remembered for his television appearance soon after the Bali bombings, convincing his son that he was not badly burnt. (He in fact later died and was revived three times). His concern was that "if … (he) didn’t make it, at least … (his son) saw his dad in a good light" (Jackson, 2003, p.1). Certainly, both examples of ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’; cases of people striving to make life better for others.

It is not just the survivors of the tragic October 12 Bali bombings that exemplified the ANZAC spirit – on the evacuation of the badly injured to Darwin, a great number of everyday Australians laboured around the clock for days on end. Donation hotlines were established, and the response from concerned citizens was overwhelming. Volunteers from foundations such as Red Cross and the Salvation Army travelled around Australia, offering immense support to those whose lives had been turned upside down by the death of, or serious injury to, a loved one. Countless doctors, surgeons and nurses (both civilian and military) displayed outstanding stamina and determination in an effort to save the critically injured. I felt humbled to be part of a group that visited the Royal Darwin Hospital to recognise the valiant efforts of these workers. With a true ANZAC spirit reminiscent of the soldiers of Gallipoli, they battled the odds during difficult and trying times, making the nation proud.

I believe the ANZAC spirit continues to be demonstrated by people who accept what it is they can change, and have the courage and determination to do something about it. Australians continue to look out for others and believe in "others before self" (Burke, 1961?, p. 1). Those who do this embody everything the ANZAC spirit stands for, and it is those people, ordinary as they often are, who can, and do, extraordinary things.


Australia’s favourite hero. (2000). (online).

Bruce, J. (1997). ANZAC Day. Kangaroo Press: Kenthurst, N.S.W.

Burke, A. (1961?). The spirit of ANZAC. (online).

Denton, K. (1986). Gallipoli, one long grave. (Australians at War: 1). Time-Life Books: Sydney.

Hendry, L. (1997). Famous Australians. Heineman Library: Port Melbourne.

Jackson, T. (14 Oct. 2003). The story of Bali bombing survivor, Peter Hughes. (online).

Lau, K. (2002). Mum Shirl. Scholastic Education: Sydney.

Making sacrifices. (26 Apr. 1998). (online).

Mundle, R. (1999). Fatal storm: The 54th Sydney to Hobart yacht race. HarperCollins: Sydney.

Poetry with an ANZAC theme. (1998). (online).

Remembering together: An educational resource kit exploring ways to value our veterans. (2000). Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs: Canberra.

Appendix 1

To the Sunburnt Ear

Our homeland was carved out by the bushman
Been defended by our heroes at war
We're lucky to have both ... no ... they're the same
See our heroes were bushmen before.
And the women whose hearts grew beside them
Who stood by them ... over here and over there
Have since inspired a nation
That has since given birth to their heirs.

The price that we paid for our freedom
Was the best that we had to give
The cream of a young generation
Were buried ... so the unborn could yet live.
The blood and bone that's been shed for the southland
Has raised a crop like none else on earth
A people of heart ... an invincible spirit
A people of immeasurable worth.

Little wonder our enemies hated
The sight of the one sided hat
They knew wherever they saw it
Was not the place to be at.
Because even if both sides had run out of bullets
They had learned ... there was one left to fear
The digger ... with the heart of the bushman
A bayonet ... and a sunburnt left ear.

He may have come from the city
Or milked cows ... or dagged sheep for a quid
Been a tradesman ... or managed a business
It mattered not what he did.
You see ... if you're born a son or daughter ... of this southland
In a hospital bed ... or out back o' the bar
The bush is not something you live in
The bush ... is just something you are.

As long as there's dust at the base of the rock
There'll be those who are willing to die
For the right of every Australian
To walk free under clear southern skies.
And those who go forth to defend it
This land ... this people of such infinite worth
Will always be without doubt
The finest soldiers on earth.

And others will ask ... what quality makes them so different?
They didn't win every fight
They were rough and not as respectful
Or as well equipped as they might.
We'll never satisfy their questions
Because the answer only we'll understand.
They never left home for the battle
With an intention ... or a desire ... to hate
They went to war with the mind of a soldier
But the heart and soul of a mate.

So when they ask from over the ocean
By what writing ... high tribute ... or honour
Should we mark the graves of your dead.
Know what I'd tell em ... I'd tell 'em
If you just mark 'em ... Australian.
No greater tribute ... no higher honour ... could ever be
Thought of ... written ... or said
Because to those who know ... who have stood at the wall
To those who know ... one word ... one word says it all.

By Tony Gunter

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