One Month to Gallipoli 99

It’s the 25th of March meaning only one month to Anzac Day 2014 and the 99th Anniversary Commemorations of the Gallipoli Campaign.

While I have been lapping up the rays and waves of Piha Beach in Auckland over the summer (but conspicuously under the shadow of Lion Rock and the site of a special Anzac Day service), there has been considerable Anzac-related news with Gallipoli 100 now just 13 months away! Top of the list was the Gallipoli Ballot in order to gain access to the official commemorations at Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April 2015. The demand by 45,000 Australians and 10,000 New Zealanders for 8,000 and 2,000 passes respectively not only confirmed that there is large interest in getting to Gallipoli but that Aussies and Kiwis proportionately are equally interested in getting themselves to the big 100. In the coming days applicants will receive news whether they’ve got a  ‘Gallipoli pass’ (and an Anzac knowledge test component would have been instructive for researchers!). For those rejected the Australian Minister of Veterans’ Affairs has already announced that there will be a second round of Gallipoli commemorations in early August 2015 (Battle of Lone Pine) and the New Zealand government is due to make an announcement shortly. The travel industry is certainly working on how to get this army of ‘new Anzacs’ to the beachheads of Gallipoli and, no pressure, providing an experience equal to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

For those keeping the home commemoration fires burning, Australian and New Zealand government agencies are well into the big business of funding and shaping their First World War Centenary programs, see the Commonwealth of Australia’s Anzac Centenary and individual State programs in Queensland and Victoria, and New Zealand’s  WW100.

In response a new organisation has arisen in Australia, Honest History on Centenary Watch to challenge any misuse of history, presided over by renowned military historian Professor Peter Stanley and energetic secretary David Stephens (Twitter: @honesthistory1). There has also been a timely critique of the Anzac legend by former Australian army officer and now defence analyst  James Brown in Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of our National Obsession. Brown has certainly attracted the attention of media for his thesis that successive Australian governments, the Australian Defence Force and the Returned & Service League have been captured by the Anzac legend and consequently been found wanting in addressing the present and future concerns of defence as well as the care of recent veterans. Read a review by Peter Stanley.

The lure of the Centenary is certainly seeing NGOs, mainly veterans’ organisations, launching into new cause marketing programs, e.g. Anzac RunCamp Gallipoli and even V8 Super Cars, and on the issue of ‘Brand Anzac’ are these thought-provoking blogs by Ashleigh Gilbertson and Jo Hawkins. It will be fascinating viewing the precarious tango of commercialisation and commemoration over the next five years.

This will all be fodder for The Centenary History of Anzac Day project led by Professor Bruce Scates at Monash University.

Finally, and on a lighter note, each year it has been a perennial for media to kick off the Anzac Season in ‘slow-news January’ with a Trans-Tasman rivalry story (past years subjects have included the singing of each other’s anthems, the flying of each other’s flags, and the order of each other’s veterans in parades) but this year in the tradition of Pavlova Battles it was a story on first Anzac Biscuit bragging rights! Trove and Papers Past undoubtedly will be the training ground for many more Anzac games.

On that note it’s time for a coffee (sans rum it’s too early!) and a centenary-inspired Anzac Biscuit … ‘Crunch for the Centenary’!


The Dawn of a New Era

Kia ora

After 25 years of observing, researching and even to an extent shaping the observance of Anzac Day as a student, historian, commentator and most recently Chief Executive of the RSA in New Zealand, I look forward to sharing my knowledge and understanding of Anzac Day and all-things ‘Anzac’: past, present and future.

Born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1968 I recall Anzac Day services at primary and high schools during the 1970s and 80s but it was my first dawn service as a Otago University history student for Anzac Day 1990 and the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign that was to have a profound impact on my life. Like so many others that have shared with me their ‘first encounter’, I too felt the emotion of gathering with others under the darkness, calm and chill of the early morning; the parade of veterans, and the power of the Ode and the Last Post. In nations with few public rituals, Anzac Day brings us together like no other day.

For me personally, my attendance that Anzac Day was to inspire an Honours paper on the first Anzac Day 1916 and a subsequent Masters thesis on the observance of Anzac Day in New Zealand from The Second World War to 1990. I then undertook a PhD in military history at the University of NSW Canberra (Australian Defence Force Academy) which also provided me with the opportunity to understand the subtle differences of the Australian observance (a subject for a later blog). Returning to New Zealand in 1999, I have continued to observe and participate in the resurgence of Anzac Day through working with the RSA and RSL, government agencies and local authorities, museums and archives, major commemorative events at home and visits to the battlefields of Gallipoli and the Western Front, conferences and publications, presentations to communities and school, consultancy and commentary with media and broadcasters, documentary and film. I am currently involved with Monash University and an international project A Centenary History of Anzac Day. My philosophy is that knowledge isn’t for storing for good; it’s for sharing for good. I now look forward to sharing my understanding of Anzac Day and the Anzac spirit with individuals, families, and communities.

The level of remembering today, and the reasons why, certainly tells us that our Anzac heritage provides us with a sense of belonging – the ‘Anzac Club’ – providing Australians and New Zealanders with an ability to  understand and express our sense of identity.

This resurgence of interest is about to grow momentum as we are at the dawn of the Centenary of the First World War starting with Gallipoli in 2015. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

Dr Stephen Clarke