What role has Gallipoli played in the manufacture of Australian identity?
University of Notre Dame, Australia
This essay explores of the role of the Anzac legend, born at Gallipoli, in the manufacture of
the Australian identity. The Gallipoli campaign is a very important part of Australian history, but the role of myths in the Anzac ‘legend’ play a disproportionate part in the creation of our national identity. This essay explores how Australia’s national identity has been affected by an Anzac story built by myths, myth-makers, mateship and men. The Anzac legend as a role model has profoundly affected Australia’s male dominated culture. Commonly known as the birth of Australian nationhood, Gallipoli was also popularly considered a ‘rite of passage’1 for manhood. The
Australian soldiers of World War One have been portrayed by war journalists and modern writers as strong, tough, inventive heros, diggers and larrikins. So much is written about the physicality of the
Diggers, the strength they possessed, but what of their emotional strength? Was the bravery simply bravado and how has the role model of the Anzac legend affected the generations of Australian men following the Gallipoli campaign?
Alistair Thomson Interviewed ex-servicemen in the 1980s to try to understand how altered
public perception had affected the diggers personal memories of Gallipoli. The efforts of film makers and writers like Peter Weir and Patsy Adam-Smith respectively, helped older diggers accept and express some of the trauma of those early years. But there is a darker side, the line between fact and fiction had blurred. “Some men related scenes from the film Gallipoli as if they were their own” 2 These men were unconsciously replacing painful memories with the media manufactured and more socially palatable ‘Anzac legend’ version of the strong, brave hero, deepening their insecurities. Thomson suggests; “That affirmation may be essential for individual peace of mind, but in the process contradictory and challenging memories are displaced or repressed” 3 . There were many men who deeply resented the mythic ‘legend’ label as it compounded their own pre-existing feelings of inadequacy. If you were lucky enough to physically survive the slaughter of the initial
Junk Male, John Webb, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney NSW, 1998, p67
Thomson, A, ʻInterpreting Memoriesʼ in R Perks, & A Thomson (eds.), Oral History Reader, Routledge,
London, 1997, p303
ibid., Thomson, A, p300
landing at Gallipoli, you then had to mentally survive nine months of the starvation, day and night shelling, extreme heat, smell of your friends scattered rotting corpses, constant sand in your eyes, mouth and food, and the mental anguish of serious depression, self-doubt, confusion and disillusionment. The majority of these men were not heroes they were simply survivors. Fred
Farrell who was interviewed by Thomson admitted “he was terrified in battle and miserable in the trenches, and began to doubt his own worth and that of war itself … He was a physical and emotional wreck” 4. For the returned soldiers and their families these experiences must have been difficult to understand. Farrell explains “those that were at the war were reluctant to talk about it, and those that were not at the war ... the women and that, didn’t seem to want to hear about it. So the war just slipped into the background … I never talked about it. Never. For years and years and years.” 5 Farrell was traumatised but lucky, he survived to eventually tell his story. Many other men did or could not tell their stories, breaking the vital communication link between the generations.
By the 1960’s the manufactured Anzac legend had fully cemented itself in the Australian
culture. Vietnam war veteran Bob Gibson explains that his grandfather had been killed in WWI at the age of twenty and his photograph had always hung high up on the wall. The image of his grandfather became a