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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.”


KoalaYesterday was Australia Day, the day that Governor Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales in 1788. There were plenty of festivities on hand here in Melbourne, of course, but we decided to take the suggestion of an Israeli guest and go see Hanging Rock. It is to the north of us, about an hour by car. I have a little Hyundai for the weekend, which seems like a toy compared to most of those built in the USA, but it was able to keep up at the speeds people drive here. Once we slipped out of the suburbs, the landscape began to resemble what I imagined Australia to be– vast tan expanses of tan dotted with pale green trees. The area of hanging rock itself seems like an oasis; it has lots of trees and some water, although the ‘lake” in the center of the racecourse is looking pretty sad. The rock itself is an ancient volcano.

The hike up is steep, even on the asphalt path we elected to take instead of the stairs. Stephanie bounded up the stairs, of course. Near the top, the asphalt disappears and you find yourself on the uneven footing of the rock itself, which has very strange crevices and fractures that Peter Weir captured so well in the movie– “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” The atmosphere at the crest is very disorienting and it is not hard to imagine a gaggle of schoolgirls getting turned around. We were all a little uncertain about directions at the summit. Fortunately, there were hordes of other visitors and we were in no danger of getting lost. On the way up we came across a koala bear in one of the Eucalyptus trees, munching away, trying to ignore the crowd of annoying creatures below.

When we returned to the College I decided to see if we could get a copy of the movie. I found it at Blockbuster, not too far away, and we had a wonderful evening with our Israeli friends watching the mesmerizing tale of Hanging Rock. I was astonished to discover that it is 32 years old now. The film holds up remarkably well. It is an exploration of an event that supposedly happened at the turn of the century– the disappearance of three school girls and a teacher on an outing to Hanging Rock. A novel came out in 1967 based on the “event”. Peter Weir took the novel as the basis for the film. It never really happened, but it does make a fascinating story, because Weir’s focus is on everyone’s reaction to the disappearance. Visually, it is just stunning.

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