Anzac Day 2020 will be a far cry from the Australian War Memorial’s dawn service of recent years. While dignified and solemn, the dawn service has also been spectacle. Sophisticated technology is used to project images from the memorial’s photographic collection onto the building. From an hour before the service, members of the armed forces read from the diaries and letters of men and women who have served in war over more than a century.
The choreography of the whole event is unmistakable as national performance. Even the birdlife at the foot of Mount Ainslie seems to recognise it has a role to play with its singing and screeching and laughing – instantly recognisable as an Australian soundscape – alongside the speechmakers, catafalque party and bugling of the Last Post.
This year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be different. The dawn service will be held without members of the public, but will be televised on the ABC and streamed online. There will be no local marches.
The Returned and Services League (RSL) has encouraged people to film themselves reciting the ode in their homes and post it online. The RSL is partnering with News Corp in Light Up The Dawn, asking Australians to step into their driveways to observe a minute’s silence, possibly carrying a candle or using mobile phones for illumination. They have even created a virtual candle you can download to your phone.
We can be sure the novelty of the 2020 Anzac Day commemoration will attract plenty of media attention. The Australian media have a ready-made, multipurpose rhetoric that is easily adapted to whatever novelty – minor or otherwise – each year’s Anzac season brings with it. This year will be no exception.
We can expect to read and hear of Australians in these troubled times expressing mateship, of children in pyjamas and dressing gowns showing the young are connecting more and more with Anzac each year, that coronavirus has not dampened the Anzac spirit of the nation – and so on. We will learn of the doughty Australian suburbanites who weren’t going to let a mere global pandemic get in the way of their appreciation of those who defend their freedoms. Our health workers will be seen as displaying the self-sacrifice and heroism of Anzac, born all those years ago on the shores of Gallipoli.
Anzac 2020 will be less novel than it is presented. In the enforced private nature of Anzac commemoration in 2020, we are being returned to some of the earliest themes in Anzac commemoration.
While the day has had its elements of public ritual since 1916, much early Anzac Day commemoration was private rather than public, sometimes conducted at the gravesides of Australian soldiers buried in cemeteries in Britain and Australia. Women were prominent in these efforts, honouring the memories of men they might or might not have known by placing flowers on their tombs.
There are other echoes of the past. Anzac Day in 1919 was also disrupted by a major crisis in public health. In New South Wales, where the rate of infection from Spanish influenza was high and the number of deaths – approaching 1,000 by Anzac Day – was alarming, the government had banned public meetings.
The government called off the march until May 22. When that happened, it was a fiasco. Rain prompted organisers to decide against marching all the way to Sydney’s Domain, and soldiers and sailors who had come from Central Railway Station instead slipped straight into the service in the Town Hall. Unfortunately, no one remembered to tell the thousands of people lining the streets to watch.
On Anzac Day itself, there had still been activity – more than we’ll see this year. The Centre for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers appealed to the parents of the city’s children – home for their Easter break – to take their Shakespeare down from the shelf and read their children Henry V’s speech to his troops before Agincourt.
Gallipoli might have made the nation, but Australians still looked for inspiration to a much longer British history stretching back through Mafeking, Rorke’s Drift, Balaclava, Waterloo and Trafalgar – and even further to that “band of brothers” who made short work of the French on St Crispin’s Day, 1415.
The Centre of Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers held a service in the Domain. “Womenfolk, many of them in mourning, preponderated”, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, and most were wearing masks. The location of this service was pointed: it was at Woolloomooloo Bay, where so many soldiers had embarked for the war.
Outside Sydney, there was also some disruption. “The Approach of Anzac Day this year was overlooked locally,” explained a local newspaper at Dorrigo in northern New South Wales. “Owing to the presence of the influenza epidemic, the thoughts of the people seem to have been turned away from other things.” But there were Anzac Day activities; a surprising number, actually.
Anzac Day was commemorated at Lismore, notwithstanding that the town had seen several serious cases of influenza and, in the week before Anzac Day, the deaths of two men. At Grafton, thousands enjoyed a soldiers’ carnival. And in the other states, there were few signs of difficulty:
Adelaide was gay with flags from end to end, and the trains and tramcars brought thousands of people into the central city to view the procession of soldiers.
In Brisbane, despite heavy rain, the route of a march of soldiers and returned men “was lined with thousands of people”.
A subdued Anzac Day in Perth was attributed not to the influenza but to the authorities’ hope that the proclamation of peace in Europe would be timed so that the two “celebrations” might merge.
In 1919, as soldiers returned to Australia on ships and often went into quarantine, the nature of Anzac Day commemoration remained fluid. It was still not a public holiday, and the Anzac Day march had not yet become an essential or permanent fixture of the city commemorations. Melbourne had no march on April 25 1919, but then it didn’t have a march on most other Anzac Days in these early years, either.
Some will be disappointed there will be no marches and other public gatherings this year. But Anzac Day 2020 is less likely to be recalled as an absence than as yet another way in which Australians adapted their national life to the challenges of the greatest public health crisis for a century.
Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.
The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.
President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”
He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.
“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.
Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.
Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.
Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.
Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.
He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.
Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.
The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.
Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.
“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.
“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.
He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.
“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.
He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.
The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.
During the second world war, a young Aboriginal soldier, Private Clarrie Combo from New South Wales, exchanged mail with Mrs F. C. Brown from Loxton, South Australia — a white woman whom he had never met.
Very few letters penned by Aboriginal soldiers who served in either of the two world wars survive, yet one of Clarrie’s letters has endured in what might seem a surprising context. Mrs Brown contacted the young soldier after seeing an advertisement calling for volunteers to “adopt” Aboriginal soldiers. His reply was printed in her local newspaper, and its survival provides us with a rare opportunity to learn about military service from an Aboriginal soldier’s perspective.
Clarence Combo was born in Wardell, New South Wales, on 14 September 1919. Young Clarrie grew up in a harsh environment — Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home near Kempsey. Consistent with government plans to assimilate Aboriginal people into white Australian society, children like Clarrie were forcibly removed from their families. At Kinchela, boys were called by their allocated numbers rather than names. Identities and cultures were stripped away.
In a country where discriminatory legislation and practices precluded Aboriginal people from earning a fair wage, voting, marrying non-Aboriginal partners, buying property or entering a public bar, it is not too difficult to imagine why some young Aboriginal men signed up for the military when war broke out. An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force as black diggers during the first world war. By the mid-20th century it was easier for Aboriginal men to sign up, so around 3,000 served Australia during WWII.
Shortly after WWII began, the Melbourne-based Aborigines Uplift Society, founded by non-Aboriginal activist Arthur Burdeu, created a comforts auxiliary for Aboriginal soldiers. The idea was that women could “adopt” an Aboriginal soldier. They would correspond with him and arrange comfort parcels to be sent to him at the front.
In the Society’s August 1940 Uplift newsletter, Burdeu explained how “native women have not the resources to do as their white sisters, though they are already at work”. In Queensland, for example, children at the Purga Aboriginal Mission sewed underpants, toilet tidies, calico bags and hussifs (sewing kits), and knitted socks, mittens and balaclavas. Yorta Yorta women and children at the Cummeragunja Reserve (located in New South Wales) were also involved in knitting for the war effort.
Newspaper advertisements ran across Australia inviting women to contact Burdeu about “adopting” an Aboriginal soldier. With at least one son-in-law serving Australia, Mrs Brown may have felt compassion for those men whose families could not afford to send them parcels.
On September 25, 1941 the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record published one of Clarrie’s letters to Mrs Brown under the headline “Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter”. Clarrie opened his correspondence with Mrs Brown by thanking her for writing to him. He wrote: “it is very nice of you to write to someone you do not know”. At a practical level, Clarrie advised Mrs Brown that he wore size seven boots, as she had offered to knit socks for him.
The young private’s letter provides a unique perspective on his experiences serving abroad. “I was in action for the first time in Greece,” he told his correspondent. He described Greece as “the nicest country that I have been in since leaving Australia”, then marvelled at having seen snow for the first time.
However the horrors of war included being “attacked practically every day by the German planes”. He told Mrs Brown how “a few of my pals were killed over there … There were German planes in the sky all day long and they were always bombing”.
What’s left out of correspondence can also be telling. In War Dance: A Story of the 2/3 Aust. Inf. Battalion A.I.F., Ken Clift provides an insight into racial attitudes amongst some of the men, telling of an altercation between two Australian soldiers, an Aboriginal one named Clarrie and an Indian or Afghan soldier, Tom. As the men argued heatedly, Tom allegedly called Clarrie: “You black bastard”. Clarrie was said to have retorted, “Well Tom, you’re no bloody glass of milk yourself.” Clarrie’s correspondence with Mrs Brown omits any mention of such tensions.
Over five years’ service, Clarrie’s tours of duty included Egypt, Libya, Greece, Crete, Syria, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and New Guinea. He suffered illness and injuries. In 1941 he caught sandfly fever, an ailment commonly suffered by soldiers fighting in North Africa. His “Proceedings for Discharge” notes that Clarrie received two war injuries, one to his right forearm and the other, a gunshot wound inflicted in New Guinea in June 1945, to his left forearm.
Clarrie’s war experiences included seeing some of his mates injured or killed. He would also have been expected to fire on enemy combatants. However, his correspondence with Mrs Brown, replete with anecdotes about foreign lands and peoples, highlights how being part of Australia’s war effort in the mid-20th century also gave him insights into other places and cultures.
Fortunately, Clarrie survived the war. He was one of five Aboriginal soldiers welcomed home to Wardell by the Cabbage Tree Island Women’s Guild just before Christmas 1945. By the mid-1960s Clarrie was chairing the Aboriginal Cooperative at Cabbage Tree Island and participating in national conferences advocating equal rights for Aboriginal people.
The Anzac legend remains firmly centred on the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915, and the sacrifice of “sons and fathers” in frontline combat. The place of women in this foundational story is also made clear – that of onlookers and supporters.
In concluding her 2017 dawn service address at Gallipoli, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a story about Len Hall, one of the original “diggers” who fought at Gallipoli. He is said to have noticed a girl in the crowd who had gathered to farewell departing soldiers, and given her an emu feather that he plucked from his slouch hat. When he returned to Australia at the close of the war, this girl — who later became his wife — was waiting in the crowd to return the feather.
This is a story of hope, and of an ongoing fascination with and idealisation of the “digger”. It is also a story about the passive role of women as waiting mothers, wives and sisters. But women’s contributions are more complicated, varied and controversial than these stories allow.
Women were entirely absent from the Gallipoli landings; the only women in the vicinity were nurses serving on hospital ships and in the field hospital in Lemnos. These crucial and dangerous roles as nurses and ambulance drivers were publicly acknowledged in the early Anzac commemorations.
However, as Anzac Day rituals evolved into the current dawn service, veterans’ march, and afternoon celebrations and sporting events, public recognition of this service declined.
For many years, ex-service women attended Anzac Day marches as spectators or walked in marches without service identification and without mention in the official program. While some were satisfied with this, others were not.
In a 1963 newspaper article the President of the Australian Women’s Army Service shared the group’s experience of “being ignored”. She pointed out they had until then received “less recognition than the boy scouts” (who were officially included in the march).
The Australian Women’s Army Service was actually formed in 1941 to free up men for combat roles. Women performed a wide range of (largely uncelebrated) work, ranging from intelligence analysis to operating fixed gun emplacements in Australia, to working as canteen staff.
In 2002, Annie Leach headed the Perth Anzac Day march on the 100th anniversary of the army’s nursing corps, noting that WA nurses returning from the second world war were largely “a forgotten race”.
Women have not only had to fight to be recognised for their noncombatant war service, but are also credited with presenting the most serious of all challenges to Anzac core beliefs and rituals. This took the form of non-violent Anzac Day protests seeking to draw public attention to the issue of rape in war, and to oppose the system supporting wars and rape.
In the 1970s and 80s, groups such as the Women Against Rape in War collective bravely staged several such protests around Australia. These protests included the attempted laying of “rape wreaths” during dawn services as a way to mourn women raped in war. This stands in stark contrast to the comforting notion of wartime women waiting safely at home.
Such activity was vilified and indeed punished. In Sydney, 160 women protesters were charged with participating in the Anzac Day march without permission, which they had sought and been refused. As sociologist Catriona Elder has documented in her 2007 book Being Australian: Narratives of National Identity three women were jailed for one month for failing to keep a minimum distance of 400 metres from the end of the Anzac Day parade.
ABC coverage of the 2017 Gallipoli dawn service reported many people were moved to tears, as evidenced by inclusion of a photograph of a young woman wearing an “Anzac Day” beanie wiping her tears away. Other coverage of Anzac Day 2017 features an image of a woman “watching as people sleep overnight”.
An examination of media coverage of Anzac Day in Perth since the 1980s shows a growing expectation around women’s emotional engagement with, and support for, Anzac Day rituals. It also shows the emergence of an explicit contemporary role for women as guardians of the ongoing relevance and importance of the Day. This includes making sure that the family attends Anzac Day marches.
In a contentious move, since the first of January 2013 women currently serving in the ADF have been entitled to take up front line and combat roles while direct entry to these roles has been permitted from January 2016. In 2015, women constituted close to 15% of the deployed force. In 2017 the official definition of “veteran” was revised so that many older service-women will for the first time be officially recognised on Anzac Day 2018 as veterans.
Word is that in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne this year the march will be led by service women.
Even though it is mooted as a “one-off” occurrence, is this a turning point after which women will be more equally recognised for their military service to the nation? Will women veterans be accorded the revered title of “digger”?
The role of women in the Anzac tradition is not just about the “one day” and fair recognition of women’s sacrifice and service; it’s also about how we understand quintessential “Australian” characteristics and the formation of the nation as the preserve of not just men but also women, and not just those who support but also those who challenge.
But thousands of Turkish youth will be on the battlefields at dawn. They will be re-enacting the march by the 57th Regiment to the highlands, where Ottoman troops halted the Anzac advance in 1915.
We undertook fieldwork last Anzac Day on this ritual as part of a proposed larger research project examining how the memory of Gallipoli has become central to tension between Turkish republicans and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The republicans want to protect and restore the secular pro-Western origins of the republic, while the AKP wants to integrate Islam into the nation’s civil institutions and national imagination.
Nowhere is this memory politics more significant than in this re-enactment ritual, which under AKP rule has been renamed the Loyalty March for the 57th Regiment.
While Islamic influence on remembrance rites at Gallipoli has been growing for more than a decade, its political significance has increased dramatically since the July 2016 attempted coup. This has proved to be a transformative event for Turkish politics and society.
In the last two decades, Turkish interest in the history of the Gallipoli campaign has grown significantly. It was here that the 57th Regiment came to prominence in Turkish collective memory as the military unit led by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk.
As founding father of modern Turkey and hero of the war of independence, Mustafa Kemal pushed the 57th Regiment to the highlands, preventing defeat in the campaign.
The origins of the re-enactment are closely tied to this mythology – it was originally known as the 57th Regiment March in the Track of Atatürk. Local university students first organised the commemoration in 2006, partly in response to the increasing number of Australian and New Zealand youth on the battlefields for Anzac Day. For the 90th anniversary the year before, the Anzac Day pilgrimage reached its zenith, with about 17,000 participants.
The structure adopted for the first 57th Regiment re-enactment largely remains today. It involves an eight-kilometre hike from the regiment’s original base at Bigali village to the highlands of the battlefield. The ritual grew rapidly, with 6,000 participants three years after the first march.
Unsurprisingly, given the march’s popularity, the AKP assumed some control of the re-enactment through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The government began funding the cost of travel and living expenses for young participants. It also oversees official registration and program co-ordination to cap attendance.
Such oversight allowed for representation of youth from around the country, including a greater percentage of participants from AKP stronghold areas who would otherwise struggle to fund the travel. It is this “pious generation” that the AKP and its leader, Recep Erdoğan, have emphasised as central to AKP’s vision of a new Turkey.
Historical re-enactment is about comprehending and experiencing the past as it relates to the ordinary citizen. This commemorative form has proved particularly significant for AKP memory politics by allowing a focus on the martyrdom of 57th Regiment, which suffered heavy casualties.
By providing competition to the traditional heroic saviour narrative of Atatürk at Gallipoli, the AKP has been able to counter the secular pro-Western principles around which he founded the republic. Mandatory prayer sessions have been added at the beginning and end of the march. This has been justified as simulating the actions of the ordinary men who constituted the unit.
This more egalitarian historical focus, which cultural scholars refer to as memory “from below”, gives religion a place in commemorations of Gallipoli. This can also be seen in the increased recognition of individual martyrs through a focus on firsthand accounts of the religious zeal of Turkish soldiers against an infidel invader of their homeland.
Changes to the memorial landscape on the battlefields have aided this way of telling history while also promoting religious observance at the site. Fallen Turkish soldiers remained in mass graves after the war, a reflection of the stigma of Ottoman history in republican Turkey.
But, since 2005, Turkish authorities have built 11 cemeteries for the fallen soldiers. These have become popular sites for prayer by the 1 million-plus Turkish visitors to the battlefields per year, in large part funded as social tourism by municipalities. Another 15 cemeteries are proposed, with plans for accompanying outdoor mosques.
The AKP has a vested interest in advancing re-enactment as a commemorative form at Gallipoli, as it provides an opportunity for increased religious references and contexts. To ensure the re-enactment remains popular, though, the AKP has retained much of its original carnival-like character. Participants still take “selfies” and engage in jokes, laughter and joyful conversations while walking.
The recreational character of the re-enactment means participants have a range of motivations for their involvement.
Political chants and song, for example, are often recited by small groups. Some of the most common are the songs of the AKP’s political opponents, the Nationalistic Movement Party.
Other participants engage in religious chants such as Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest) and Tek yol İslam, tek yol şehadet (Only path is Islam, only path is martyrdom).
Arguably the populist nature of the re-enactment legitimises other tourist and unofficial remembrance forms at Gallipoli that work to cap the state’s control over historical interpretation.
The 57th Regiment re-enactment is becoming a popular pilgrimage activity throughout the year. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), for example, had a re-enactment as part of its four-day Justice Congress at Gallipoli in August 2017. The congress was held to highlight violations of the justice system by Erdoğan following the attempted coup.
Like the main April 25 re-enactment, the success and political outcomes of such ritual displays are highly contingent. In the case of the CHP congress, its ability to challenge the AKP’s symbolic alignment with Gallipoli was hampered by photos appearing on social media of congress members drinking alcohol on the battlefields. The images caused a public scandal. A CHP spokesperson admitted:
Such impertinent behavior is completely against the glorious memory of our Gallipoli martyrs.
Whether Australians and New Zealanders will return to Gallipoli en masse for future Anzac Days, and how they will be received if they do, is uncertain. But ritual performances on the battlefields on April 25 are almost certain to remain politically significant in Turkey.
The win for the “yes” side in Turkey’s recent referendum on the powers of the president has fundamental implications for parliamentary democracy in the country, and for relations between Turkey and the west.
For Australia, the referendum has an additional significance: by entrenching the power of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it will influence the future of Australian commemoration activities at Gallipoli.
The numbers of Australians, along with other westerners, visiting Turkey has recently declined dramatically. This is a consequence of ongoing political instability in the country following last year’s attempted coup d’état and a series of terror attacks. The Australian government also recently warned of potential attacks targeting the Gallipoli battlefields on Anzac Day.
A significant decline in this pilgrimage activity will likely have a wider impact on the way Australia understands Gallipoli. This is particularly the case given the continued resonance of an Anzac narrative characterised by a historical empathy for Turkey’s perspective on the war.
The Gallipoli campaign has, in recent years, become part of the culture wars in Turkey associated with the rise of political Islam. This has seen Gallipoli increasingly referred to in relation to an Islamic jihad, and as an invasion of crusaders into the house of Islam.
Erdoğan has been a central figure in linking the Gallipoli campaign with Islamic conceptualisations of the Turkish nation. He has said:
[The] crusades were not [finished] nine centuries ago in the past! Do not forget, [the] Gallipoli [campaign] was a crusade.
Following the failed coup, Erdoğan also evoked the memory of Gallipoli. Recreated scenes of the Ottoman victory in the land battles against Anzac soldiers played on large screens in Taksim Square as he addressed cheering pro-government crowds.
The vision was taken from a controversial TV commercial originally produced for the centennial commemorations of the Gallipoli battle. Its use of various Islamic symbols was widely interpreted as breaking with traditional secular ways of remembering the campaign.
Significant shifts in Turkish memory of Gallipoli are not unprecedented. Since the 1930s there has been a few turning points in how the campaign is understood.
First, and most significant, was the victory of the Ottoman Imperial Army in being “Turkified”. Arab, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish soldiers and officers were cleansed from the official narrative. This also involved de-emphasising Germany’s role as the Ottomans’ allies in the first world war.
The official nationalist narrative has glorified the military leadership of Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) in the battles against British and Anzac forces. This has linked the collective memory of Gallipoli with the independence movement that led to the formation of the secularist Turkish nation-state in 1923.
The historiography of Gallipoli is now potentially undergoing another major change. The classical Turkish view of Gallipoli may be being replaced by an Islamic-oriented narrative.
Turkish pilgrims once were told the same historical tales by the guides that also took Australian and New Zealand visitors around the battlefields. But now, the vast majority of locals visit through bus tours that are arranged by Islamist municipal administrations for their residents, free of charge.
In contrast to local guides embedded in the tourism industry, those who lead the bus tours are more likely to express an Islamic narrative of Gallipoli.
This trend is apparent in an increasing popular march that re-enacts the mobilisation of the legendary 57th Regiment to defend the highlands from Anzac troops. This involves approximately 20,000 young boys and girls from scouts and other paramilitary organisations. And it is common for participants to wear t-shirts remembering their ancestors who fought at Gallipoli.
It’s hard to know precisely what the consequences of these new commemorative rituals will be for the collective memory of Gallipoli. From fieldwork research on the Anzac pilgrimage, the motivations and meanings taken away from the battlefields are often different from that which politicians and social commentators have often assumed.
In the weeks before Anzac Day, a flurry of news stories emerge mobilising Australians to remember the Anzacs. We see in them familiar references to “The Diggers”, with their virtues of mateship, sacrifice and courage, and the “birth” of the nation at Gallipoli. As Kevin Rudd said in 2010,
All nations are shaped by their histories, their memories and their stories.
When we retell a story, we actively choose which parts to retell. Our present day positions, our politics, our families and our environments all have considerable bearing on these choices.
Such choices of representation also apply to nation-building narratives, which are then used for the political purposes of the day – such as John Howard’s use of the “Anzac myth” to support military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We call this process of choice the “politics of memory”. Generally, it supports a resoundingly masculine dominant Australian folklore – encompassing bush mythology, a pioneering spirit, sportsmanship, larrikinism, and mateship. It’s populated by characters such as Ned Kelly, the “jolly swagman” of Waltzing Matilda or Crocodile Dundee.
When “we” as a nation remember Anzac, we simultaneously forget significant parts of the story not commonly represented. Influencing this (selective) forgetting is an implicit whiteness.
As anthropologist Ghassan Hage argued in his book White Nation, despite the emphasis placed on multiculturalism in Australia,
the visible and public side of power remains essentially Anglo-White.
Our critical analysis of Anzac-related literature, news media and popular symbols revealed that cultural diversity and multiculturalism receive only tangential attention.
This is not merely chance. Reports commissioned for the Department of Veteran Affairs preceding the centenary of Anzac identify “multiculturalism” as a risk and issue to consider in planning for the centenary, and as a “potential area of divisiveness”.
Significant events, like Anzac Day, are opportunities to reiterate an approved narrative of war-centred nationalism – and vigorously disparage any form of critique that might arise.
Examples of non-conformance to collective Anzac narratives are rare, but they do occur. A particularly visible debate arose out of the film The Water Diviner (2014), directed by and starring Russell Crowe. While focusing on Gallipoli, the film offers an account that foregrounds a Turkish perspective on the campaign.
The film triggered the ABC’s Radio National History Podcast, released in 2015, to ask the question: “Is The Water Diviner … redefining our ANZAC legend?”
Another prominent example is former SBS reporter Scott McIntyre, who was stood down for tweeting controversial views about Anzac Day:
McIntyre’s dismissal shows that, in the midst of the well-supported and popular Anzac narrative, contested and not-so-salubrious parts of the story aren’t tolerated and get little public airtime. Indeed those who deviate from the narrative line are vilified.
The Australian government ensures that the nation remembers Anzac each year by marking the event with a collective commemoration. As a settler society, collective remembrance is an important government function. But how, what, where and why we remember should be relevant to our geographically disparate and culturally diverse populace.
For many years the hard lines drawn around Anzac memory excluded recognition of Indigenous involvement in WWI, even in official commemorations.
Returned Indigenous soldiers encountered considerable discrimination. They were excluded from early attempts to commemorate military service and the war dead; forgotten in the war memorials; denied the right to participate in Anzac Day marches, and refused access to veterans’ benefits and entry into RSLs.
Since the 1990s, a number of attempts to commemorate Indigenous war service have occurred, contributing to what historian Peter Cochrane calls a “new inclusiveness”.
These early efforts tended to materialise on the margins: a plaque to Indigenous war service erected on public land behind the Australian War Memorial by a private citizen in 1993; a commemoration in Burleigh Head National Park inscribed in 1991; and an Australian War Memorial travelling exhibition, Too Dark for the Light Horse, that toured Australia in 1999 and 2000/1.
More recent demands have more successfully permeated the politics of Anzac memory, resulting in Indigenous memorials in shared spaces. These include the Torrens Parade Ground memorial in Adelaide, completed in 2013 and commonly referred to as Australia’s first memorial to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen.
Another is the sculpture Yininmadyemi – Thou didst let fall, created by Indigenous artist Tony Albert for the City of Sydney and installed in Hyde Park in 2015.
Shifting political agendas have also facilitated greater inclusion of Turkey into dominant Anzac memories.
Historical media research by Catherine Simpson details this movement from “foe” to “noble Turk”, culminating in a nationally celebrated, government-constructed, friendship.
Similar questions can be raised about the inclusion of other national groups. We’ve seen a rising interest in researching, for example, German, Irish, Russian or Chinese “Anzacs” who were fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula. Soldiers of many nationalities have been present with Australian troops in numerous conflicts, including Gallipoli, Kokoda and Vietnam.
Research has shown that Australians born here are more likely to prioritise Anzac as a key marker of national identity than other Australians.
This finding is not surprising. Indeed, much cultural and political work is invested in positioning Anzac as tantamount to Australian identity.
While the Anzac story was produced in colonial White Australia, Australia today is vastly different in demographic terms and is made up of people whose histories increasingly lie elsewhere. Australia has invested significantly in multicultural policy and committed to creating an inclusive nation.
What happens when Australians do not, or cannot, identify with the Anzac narrative genealogically or nationally? What happens if we simply do not want to participate?
Should Australians not born here be expected to “inherit” the Anzac narrative unequivocally, and exactly how would that happen? And does not identifying with Anzac really equate to being un-Australian?
Like others who have also questioned Anzac’s centrality, we think that there is much to celebrate in Australia’s diversity.
Despite discordance, we live in a nation that has a mandated political commitment to diversity.
In the current global climate of fear of difference, isn’t that commitment – to being a country of people from diverse countries – worth commemorating?