Casting Shadows

Several years ago, my parents and I discussed the idea of travelling to Gallipoli. I had just returned from Europe with a broadened perspective of the world, and I couldn’t wait to go travelling again. Gallipoli felt like a logical choice for a family trip. My grandfather had landed there on 25 April 1915, as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. We decided to postpone the trip until 2015, when we could commemorate the centenary of Anzac Day. It seemed fitting that exactly one hundred years after my grandfather landed on that beach, amidst bullets and blood, we would be gathered there in respectful silence. Gallipoli would unite us across the generations. So we agreed. But 2015 was still a long way in the future, and Gallipoli was a place that felt more legendary than real. It was a hallowed word, something I associated with heroes and bravery, certainly something that didn’t seem part of this mundane world.

When my grandfather left Australia in 1914, sailing out of Albany aboard the Geelong, I am uncertain if he even knew where Gallipoli was. The Anzac soldiers thought they were bound for the Western Front, where they would join the fight against Germany. Gallipoli was just a small town on a small peninsula in a far away land. It meant nothing to the soldiers aboard those ships. Its importance in Australian history would be determined by the actions that he and his fellow soldiers would take in the months ahead.

In April 2014, my family found out that we were successful in getting tickets to the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Gallipoli on the centenary of the landings. Finally, we would be able to walk in my grandfather’s footsteps. Gallipoli was suddenly real to me – an actual place that I would visit. I would be standing on those same hills that had once been a battlefield for Anzac and Turkish soldiers. Now, with less than three weeks before our departure, it feels incredibly important for me to document the experience. I don’t just want to write about the Anzac Centenary; I want to explore how the Anzac legend has grown in the last century and how it still influences my sense of identity. I want to discover how the world has changed over the last one hundred years. I want to know what it means to be Australian abroad, then and now.

My companion on this trip is Garreth Bradshaw. We have been friends since high school, sharing an avid interest in history and an unhealthy obsession with pop culture. Out of all the adventures we’ve been on over the years (and the numerous misadventures), our trip to Europe is easily the most ambitious, an inevitable result of our friendship. And we’re planning to have a bit of fun. Why not? I tried to convince Garreth to be my amanuensis for this blog, but he insisted on being a co-author. And although it pains me to sully the literary quality of this project, I was forced to agree. But, jokes aside, I am thrilled to have Garreth along for the ride. Keep an eye out for his posts – he has an astute way of seeing to the very heart of matters.

Garreth and I recently visited the War Memorial in Sydney, a suitably imposing edifice to house the Anzac legend.
Garreth and I recently visited the War Memorial in Sydney, a suitably imposing edifice to remember the Anzac legend.

Our trip will take us first to Germany. Garreth is excited to explore the Berlin of Bertolt Brecht and the decadence and sorrow of the 1930s cabaret . I am looking forward to the placid lakes and snow-capped peaks of Berchtesgaden. We are both looking forward to wiling away the hours in a beer hall in Munich. After a brief stopover in Salzburg, we will fly to Istanbul and meet up with my parents. They are thrilled to be part of the journey. None of us have been to Turkey before; the thought of wandering the streets of Istanbul, that immortal city, has excited me for months. We then embark on a tour of the country, visiting places such as Cappadocia, Ephesus, and Troy. Our journey culminates at Gallipoli on April 25th, where we will join thousands of Australians and New Zealanders in commemorating the centenary.

For an Australian, there can be no greater pilgrimage than visiting the rugged hills above that narrow beach.

Gallipoli. That single word – spoken with reverence and pride – has cast a long shadow over the subsequent century. It’s not just a place on the map; it’s not just a moment in history. It forms the background to what it means to be Australian. It is part of our shared cultural identity. We are taught its significance at a young age. I can remember endless Anzac services in school, that solitary bugle calling out in the sweltering assembly halls, the gathered students with downcast eyes, struggling to understand something that was simply beyond our comprehension. How do you explain sacrifice and bravery to a child except in only the most abstract terms? And then there’s the sad realization that many of the soldiers at Gallipoli were only a year or two older than us. It was Australia’s baptism of fire – the first time our fledgling country challenged the rest of the world. And even though it was a terrible military defeat, one that was fought for British Imperialism, we still feel a fierce pride for those fallen diggers. We read tales of their bravery. We tell their stories. We marvel at their exploits. We remember why they fought. Perhaps more than any other event, Gallipoli has shaped, and continues to shape, our national consciousness.

I feel a sense of trepidation in writing about the subject of Gallipoli. It feels like something sacred, a monolithic presence, something beyond the scope of mere words. It is certainly different from my usual writing in the genre of science fiction. But it also feels right. I have a strong personal connection to Gallipoli forged through my grandfather. His diary, photographs, and medals are among my family’s most treasured possessions. I grew up reading his hurried, scrawled words. I have looked at his drawings and studied his photos. And so writing about Gallipoli has a certain sense of inevitability. It has been brooding on the edge of my creative consciousness for years, just out of sight. Perhaps more than anything I’ve written, I feel a sense of a self in these words. I’m looking forward to travelling to those distant places. And I’m looking forward to sharing the experiences ahead.

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