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I rose too late for the celebration.  It began at dawn, presumably at 6 am, in the City.  The march was scheduled to begin at 8:15.  I rose early, but bearing witness to the commemoration of the Australian losses during World War I was not on my agenda.  It was coffee, breakfast, and the morning paper, wrapped tight as a drum in plastic wrap.  The significance of the day itself has been foreshadowed in “The Age” all week.  Ironically, despite the passing on of all the players, interest in  Anzac Day, Gallipoli and the Australian role in the campaigns of past wars has been increasing.

When war broke out in 1914, the new national government was eager to establish its reputation.  Australian and New Zealand forces formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture Istanbul, capital of the Ottaman Empire, at that time an ally of Germany.   They landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 and met fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.  There were more solders lost in the first day than had been estimated for the entire campaign.  The battle dragged on for eight miserable months before the soldiers were evacuated.

News of the extraordinary bravery of those soldiers electrified Australians, helping to  forge a notion of  national identity, only tenuously formed thirteen years earlier with the  amicable separation from Britain.  The campaign itself was a failure, of course, a fact that was brought out brutally by Peter Weir (see previous post on Hanging Rock) in his 1981 film starring young, handsome blue-eyed boy, Mel Gibson.

Weir and screenwriter Williamson’s take on the war is that the campaign was poorly conceived, and botched by British officers who had nothing but contempt for Anzac soldiers and saw them as mere machine gun fodder. Here is a telling exchange between the two mates at the center of “Gallipoli.”

Frank:  Because it’s not our bloody war.   Archy:  What do you mean, not our war?  Frank:  It’s an English war, it’s got nothing to do with us.  Archy:  You know what you are, a bloody coward.

The trajectory of the film sets out to prove the falseness of the last statement, but it does raise serious questions about the value of unquestioning patriotism which fuels all wars.  An editorial in today’s “Age” says it very well.  “Anzac Day was born of a folly and christened on the shoreline of Gallipoli in 1915.  It is estimated that 8000 Australians and New Zealanders will be standing on the shoreline at dawn.  They will watch the sun rise with the ghosts of the victims…. One tourist for every dead Australian.”


Much of the wealth that flowed into Melbourne and made its stately Victorian architecture possible was generated from a gold rush that began in 1851. News spread quickly around the world. Thousands of eager immigrants mounted the gangplanks of ships bound for the promised land. Mt. Alexander Road, a nugget’s throw from here, was the yellow brick road that led to the diggings of Bendigo and Ballarat.

The city emptied. A third of the inhabitants left for the diggings. Prospectors would set out along Elizabeth Street on a seven-day trek, stopping for the night at a swamp forming a chain of ponds, now Queen’s Park in Moonee Ponds. The miners turned it into a tent city, with blazing campfires, horses and bullocks. There the men would swap stories and, with luck, get some sense of what their adventure into Australia might bring them.

The settlement doubled in size in a year. By the time the rush was over, one hundred million British pounds worth of gold had been wrestled from the earth and shipped off to Europe. The fortunes that remained rested in the hands of merchants and businessmen. By 1861, barely twenty-five years after its founding, Melbourne was on its way to becoming a thriving city of 125,000 immigrants.

On Easter Sunday, we set off in search of gold of a different sort– the premier rails-to-trails bike path in Victoria. It is called Murray to the Mountains, a nice bit of alliteration but a bit misleading. The trail actually begins in the town of Wangaratta and ends in the town of Bright, at the base of the region called the Australian alps. The trail is paved, pastoral, and, with one singular exception, fairly flat.

The exception is a short section that mounts from the modest community of Everton to the historic town of Beechworth.

Gold was discovered in Beechworth in February, 1852. By November, it is thought there were 8000 miners camped in the area. Through the use of hydraulic sluicing and other environmentally degrading methods, approximately two billion dollars worth of gold (in current valuation) were extricated from the region during the next fourteen years.

What remains seems like a ghost town. Honey-colored granite buildings haunt the streets and beckon busloads of tourists.  Now, there are far more banks, churches, grand houses, hospitals, and other civic structures than necessary to handle the needs of the  busy little tourist mecca Beechworth has become.

Although the ride from Everton to Beechworth is only fifteen kilometres, it is almost entirely uphill. I could easily imagine the train that had threaded its way up through the wooded hills. What I had to visualize was me and my wife, astride our tandem recumbent bike, doing the same thing. “I think I can, I think I can.” We huffed and we puffed. Slowly moving the wheeled beast up the paved path.

The leaves were turning, the weather was wonderful, crisp and clear. We were alone in the woods, enjoying the muscles of our legs, hearts and lungs. And now, at last, we could see the old Beechworth train station, freshly painted. We would ride into town, stretch out our legs at a cafe, soak up the sun like cats with cappuccinos. Then, when the time was right, we would turn our backs on the past, on the gold and the ghosts, and sail back down to the valley below.


To those readers who are actually following my foray down under, my apologies for such a long absence. It was due to two brief trips and the annual necessity of getting our tax information together. The first journey was to the strange and surreal city of Hong Kong. We had the good fortune to reside there for a little over three years, before, during and after the Handover.

This trip back gave me a chance to deal with a family matter, renew some relationships and catch up on half-a-dozen movies that I missed during the last year. Thank God for airline entertainment. Deja Vu, in case you missed it, stars Denzel Washington in a tense, action-jammed, sci fi thriller. I couldn’t really make sense of it at 3:30 in the morning, but it was eminently watchable.

Hong Kong is a city that demonstrates its impermanence daily. Shortly after we moved there, one of the landmark hotels in the center of the city was torn down to make way for an office building. It had just undergone a million dollar upgrade to its lobby and rooms. One of the constants during our stay was the Star Ferry terminal in Central. It seemed iconic, as “present” and permanent as the Colonial buildings, even though it was built after the War. It was a wooden, ramshackle building at water’s edge, holding its own against the onslaught of skyscrapers. This year it disappeared, moved and morphed to make way for a highway.

A stone’s throw from the new ferry terminal is the newest, most fashionable mall in Hong Kong– the International Finance Centre. If I had been in the the market for a Gucci handbag or a huge, high definition TV, it would have been high on my list. The mall and buildings are spectacular. Plug it into Google, load up Quicktime and you can will get views from the 71’st floor of either of the two buildings.

In Chinese, you don’t ask someone how they are. You ask them if they have eaten yet. To people who have lived through famines, this makes eminent sense. You can’t possibly be fine if you haven’t eaten. The American Peking restaurant in Wanchai looked exactly the same as when we last went there. “Friends always complain about the service and the food, ” said Neil, “but they just don’t get it. This is the place we came before we had a pot to piss in…. It’s not about the food or the atmosphere. It’s about bringing that old spirit back to life.”

It was wonderful to catch up with Bea and Neil, a Canadian/British couple who have returned to Hong Kong after building a boat and actually launching their dream of motoring around the globe by sea. A decision to adopt brought them back to Hong Kong. They are now the proud parents of a baby girl.

How Man treated us to a dim sum lunch on the floating restaurant in Aberdeen. Actually, it was the floating restaurant’s baby sister. The big one is undergoing renovations. I met How Man by getting lost, stumbling into his village while I was in training for an ill-advised 100 km charity event. He is a highly energetic explorer/environmentalist, president of the China Research and Exploration Society. I was lucky to find him at his home base. There will be more about this meeting later.

John and Perveen Crawford entertained us at their home in Hong Kong the day before a trip to Vancouver. It was a delightful evening. There were six of us, and we covered a lot of conversational ground. I couldn’t help bring up the one subject that made headlines in Hong Kong. Perveen, who earned her pilot’s stripes while we were living there, has signed to become the first Hong Kong astronaut in Richard Branson’s craft.

I once interviewed a doctor for a drug survey and then asked him for a “prescription” for lunch. Where else could such things happen? Only in Hong Kong.

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