Last Post – Geraldine

In the few weeks that have elapsed since our return from that amazing odyssey in Turkey, I have come to appreciate more and more, what a memorable experience it was. It was really two experiences – exposure to the rich and multi layered city of Istanbul at each end of the simpler and more sentimental time that we spent on the Gallipoli peninsular.

Istanbul is a vibrant modern city with its roots planted firmly in the past. With its mosques and museums, its bazaars and markets, its beautiful buildings and crumbling ruins, Istanbul came alive for us under the expert commentary of Ozgur, our outstanding Turkish guide. Before the trip began, I had seen the days to be spent in Istanbul as an interesting but unrelated addition to the main game – Gallipoli. On reflection I applaud the organisers who recognized that ‘Gallipoli in isolation’ could not possibly have the impact of ‘Gallipoli in relation to Istanbul’.

Our time in Istanbul helped us to understand the rich and complex history of the Turkish people. Without that context we could not have understood the tenacity with which the Turks defended the Dardanelles, nor could we have really appreciated the generous sentiments of Ataturk, expressed on a monument above Anzac Cove. In 1934, the Father of modern Turkey sent a message of reassurance to the mothers of all those who had died on Gallipoli:

‘… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.’

Our time at Gallipoli was as different from the Istanbul experience as it was moving and surprising. Surprising because of the similarity of the terrain to the landscapes we are used to at home. Surprising in the beauty and tranquillity of these scenes of such horror and sadness. Surprising in its ability to catch our emotions unaware, as we studied the rows of headstones and listened to the stories of great heroism and young lives lost.

Watching ‘In their Footsteps’ last Sunday night and seeing the son and grandson of two Gallipoli veterans retracing the steps of their ancestor, I was surprised by the sense of connection that I felt. Here were people actually following  in our footsteps – walking on Anzac Cove, climbing to Plugge’s Plateau, standing on a ridge looking across at The Nek. The experiences at Gallipoli were not just about visiting the places we had heard about; not just about tales of long ago tragedies and triumphs. Exploring Gallipoli was really about engagement with a place and event that still resonates with modern Australia.

There seems to be something distinctively Australian about our ability to deal with and even celebrate failure. This is, after all, a nation that has a police killer as one of its national heroes, a story about a suicidal sheep stealer as its favourite song and a swimming pool named after a Prime Minister who drowned! What happened at Gallipoli was an unmitigated disaster and yet Australian soldiers showed a courage and a resilience that continues to give their nation reason to be proud.

It is hard to put the whole Turkish experience into words, without descending into clichés – but then even clichés were original once. The trip was wonderful, surprising, inspiring, moving, eye opening, amusing, sometimes challenging but always enjoyable. I am extremely grateful to the HTAA and HTAV, the War Memorial (especially Andrew and Stuart) Ozgur, to my fellow teacher Carol and particularly to the 8 fantastic Simpsonites – Chelsea, Connor, Gene, Hayley, JP, Lauren Tanvi and Zoe.

 If they are to be our future then Australian is in excellent hands.

Geraldine Carrodus

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Last post – Zoe

Overall, the trip to Turkey was an experience I will never forget; and I am so grateful that I was given such an amazing opportunity. Whilst away, I’m not sure if I realised just what a huge, life changing experience I was having. I certainly do now, and frequently find myself wishing I were back in Turkey.

Istanbul was a truly amazing city; the culture there was almost overwhelming. At every turn of a street you encountered another building absolutely seeped with history. It was mind blowing to look at the mosques and realize that as pristine as they seem now, these buildings are thousands of years old. To me, it was very humbling to visit these sites as I saw them as the heart of the city. The mosques are where the Turkish people come to pray, many times every day, and they were allowing us to enter these sacred sites and appreciate their architecture, beauty and culture. I learnt so much about the Turkish history and culture whilst on this trip. This came somewhat as a bit of a surprise, because although I knew I was going to Turkey, before I left Australia all I really thought I would be learning was about the war history out at Gallipoli.

Being able to visit Gallipoli was an immense privilege. The Gallipoli countryside was absolutely picturesque, which was probably one of the reasons it made it so hard to fathom such horror and bloodshed occurring in such a beautiful place. It was an immense privilege to be able to walk along Anzac cove, stand upon Plugge’s Plateau, walk through the Turkish and Australian trenches at the Nek and visit the cemeteries, paying our respects to so many of the young lives lost. It was extremely hard to believe the 95 years ago, thousands of boys and men (many not much older than myself), lost their lives where I was standing. We took many walks along paths that the Anzac’s would have travelled. These walks proved quite difficult and what played on my mind throughout the trip was how horrifying it would have been for the Anzac’s making these same journeys under such different circumstances. 

One of the most moving experiences of the trip to Gallipoli was reading the epitaphs on the graves of the soldiers at the different cemeteries. Many soldiers had the same epitaph, which read ‘there glory shall not be blotted out’. To me, this epitaph was misleading. As I do not believe that war should ever be labeled ‘glorious’. What these men did was courageous and should be remembered forevermore, but not labeled as glorious. One of the most moving epitaphs read: “to have, to love, and then to part, is the saddest thing of a human heart”. Another read, “the call was short, the blow severe, to part with one we loved so dear”.

Although the trip itself was an amazing experience, it would have been nothing without the people on it. Not once on this trip did I find myself homesick, or longing to be back in Australia. On the contrary, when I finally got home and saw my parents I burst into tears because I already missed the fabulous friends I had made. Whether we were roaming the streets of Istanbul, trekking through Gallipoli or just hanging out in the hotel rooms, we were having an amazing time. Together we were able to enjoy the good times and appreciate the enormity of some of the places we were seeing. Now, back in Australia, I am frequently asked how the trip was. All I can say to these people is ‘the trip was amazing, absolutely amazing’. No words are really able to satisfy how incredible this trip truly was.

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Last post – Lauren

Has the Anzac legend changed in 95 years? This was the question that started our Simpson Prize journey. The general consensus around the lavish Turkish dinner table was that Australian citizens had been changed by the legend. What we didn’t know, was how the legend would change us and influence our trip. Walking in the steps of the Anzacs, trudging along the ridges, watching the sun rise over the Sphinx on Anzac Day, we began to truly appreciate the courage, sacrifice and mateship of the Anzacs as we too became life-long friends.

Lead by the knowledgeable and amiable Ozgur our group wandered around the historic and cultural landmarks of Istanbul in awe, as we learnt about the Turkish culture and people and the part that they played in the Gallipoli campaign.

The most awe-inspiring aspect of the Dawn Service, for me, was seeing the sea of sleeping bags; evidence of half-frozen and weary Aussies and New Zealanders who had made the journey and braved the night’s icy wind to pay their respects to our fallen Anzacs. Evidently some travellers underestimated the near sub-zero temperatures as we saw a man, in true Aussie fashion, walking around the Dawn Service area in board shorts and a pair of thongs – we, on the other hand, opted for sleeping bags, beanie, scarves and thermals as we waited for the sunrise.

The Gallipoli peninsula was so full of natural beauty that each of us had trouble comprehending the scene that would have taken place on the sheer ridges so long ago. The cemeteries were peaceful and provided us with a sombre connection to the soldiers. To take part in the Lone Pine service was a humbling experience, to be part of the commemoration along with the ‘fanatics’ and veterans as well as current serving soldiers.

It was after being on the Gallipoli peninsula, amid the trenches and memorials that we returned to Istanbul, aware of our newfound connection to our Anzacs. Walking in the maze-like Grand Bazaar, no longer was ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ called out, but ‘Anzac’. We are by no stretch of the imagination Anzacs but this trip has developed our connection with those men 96 years ago and we have become part of the tradition of remembrance.

After tearful farewells at Sydney airport we were homeward bound, completing over 40 hours aboard various planes throughout the trip. We were heading back to reality and a stack of homework to catch up on, an actuality that no amount of Krispy Kremes at Sydney airport could alleviate. We were going home, to be greeted by family and friends, and ever hopeful of the inevitable reunion.  

This trip wouldn’t have been as enjoyable without Ondur and his tolerance of our singing on the bus; Ozgur, for his willingness to share his knowledge, friendship and culture; Andrew, for his historical expertise and bizarre sense of humour and groovy dress sense; Stuey, thankyou for being our mentor and friend; Geraldine and Carol, thankyou for accompanying us on the trip of a lifetime. And finally, to Zoe, JP, Chelsea, Connor, Tanvi, Gene and Hayley, thankyou for making the trip such an amazing experience – from heated political debate to ridiculously out of tune singing – I miss you all and can’t wait to see you again.

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Last Post – Hayley

Looking back on the trip of a life time.
Now back home in the lovely tropics and temperatures over 28 degrees, I have had time to truly reflect on the mind-blowing experience that I have just been on.

At the beginning of the trip I was nervous and anxious about the trip; wondering if  I would be able to deal with the long flights, 16 degree weather ( oh I wish it was that warm ha-ha) and also how I would get along with the group of students from all over the country that I had only ever met once before.

But I had nothing to worry about. The flights were fun and I had enough clothes in my suitcase to keep me from freezing over as we travelled around Istanbul and Gallipoli, as for the other students I was silly to even think that we would not get along, the whole group was forever hanging out together and enjoying the amazing trip.

The trip wasn’t anything like I had expected… it was so much more.  There is only so much you can get from a photo, being there on the peninsular, where all those years ago so many young lives were lost, it is breath taking.  The dawn service was amazing (like everything on the trip) I have never experienced anything like it.
The time flew so fast that many (if not all) were wondering where those two weeks had gone.

The flight home was full on mixed emotion. Happiness to be heading back to families, excitement to tell everyone one about our adventures, and also sadness because that adventure was over and in not too long we would all be saying goodbye to each other as we headed for our last homeward stretch.  

This trip was amazing and something that will  stay with me for the rest of my life.

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Last Post – Tanvi

Reflections on Simpson Prize Trip 2011

When this trip began, I didn’t know what to expect. Here were eight different teenagers, with eight different lives, from eight different states, who were about to embark on an experience of a lifetime. I recall people commenting, “So one person from every other state is going with you? Do you know them well? That’s going to be challenging.” But it wasn’t – because Simpsonites aren’t ordinary teenagers (as pointed out by Stu on the first night).  I have never met a more knowledgeable, hilarious, talented, friendly group of people in my life. We all got along so well, that it seemed we had known each other for years. I am so glad that we were able to go on this journey together.

The trip itself was a wonderful and extremely memorable experience. I learnt so much about the Gallipoli campaign and the Anzac spirit while gaining an insight into Turkish history and culture. It is really hard to explain the feeling one gets when walking through the original Australian trenches at Lone Pine, while standing at the top of Plugge’s plateau and looking down into Shrapnel Valley or while walking amongst rows of grave stones, each with the name of an Anzac soldier who gave his life on the battlefield.  I have gained a deeper understanding into the sacrifices of the Anzacs, some of whom were only a couple of years older to us. It made me think that we could have been here as soldiers, nurses or stretcher-bearers, walking these same ridges 95 years ago. It was also challenging for me to change the green valleys, the beach, the trees and blossoming flowers in the cemeteries into horrific battle fields. It seemed unreal that such a tranquil place was once the scene of a war campaign. As for Istanbul, it is one of those cities that you never forget. Whether I was running through the cold cobbled streets at 6 am or beholding the Blue Mosque decorated with lights at 10.30pm, I was always wondering why I had never thought about coming here before. Our visits to the historic mosques, Topkapi palace, the spice market and of course the Grand Bazaar were spectacular.

The hardest thing for me was returning home and trying to explain this trip in words – ‘amazing’ doesn’t seem to do enough justice. The Simpson prize trip is unique – it is an experience that I have shared with seven close friends and it has taught me so much. I won’t forget our karaoke in the bus, the tracksuit obsession, an offer of 75 camels, belly dancing down the corridor or those other amazing moments spent with Zoe, Chelsea, Connor, Lauren, JP, Hayley and Gene. I miss all of you so much, but we are all Simpsonites and so it is impossible for us not to meet again in the future.

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Last Post – Gene

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect out of my trip to Turkey. I was a little nervous about spending two weeks with a group of kids, who I had met on one occasion, but didn’t truly know.

Upon my return home, I realised that I had made fantastic and close friendships with all of the other winners, teachers and our guides. Friendships I will hope to keep hold of for a long time.
I have been reflecting a lot about the trip and the more I think about, the more I realise how amazing the Simpson Prize experience was. I enjoyed gaining a grasp of an entirely different culture and country, one with so much history and natural beauty. I miss the lavish cuisine, friendly people and relaxed atmosphere. What I did during my time was gain so much knowledge, particularly about the Gallipoli campaign, and at the same time made new friendships, explored new avenues and had enormous amounts of fun. My return was great, reuniting with family and telling them all about my wonderful experiences. Now I have been reunited with the pressures of everyday life and schoolwork.
The Simpson Prize experience is one I am truly grateful for. Now I will share my experiences with my school community in the coming weeks.

I say a big thanks to Andrew and Stuart for their guidance and amazing company and the ever friendly accompanying teachers Geraldine and Carol.  Of course, thanks to Ozgur and Ondur, who embraced us into their country and made our experience an enjoyable one.

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The ghosts of Simpsons past

Stylin' on the streets of Istanbul (thanks to SP 2011 for the fancy threads)

The Simpson Prize group has of course departed Istanbul and is probably now arriving home. However, I’m still in Istanbul and in blogging mode, so if you will indulge your correspondent for one last post…….

It is a strange feeling walking round the streets and not having a group of teenagers to keep a lookout for – just two family members.  Having spent an intensive 10 days with this group and have them suddenly not around is hard to get used to.  I’m sure they were all very sad to say goodbye to each other back in Sydney.  Given this was my last Simpson Prize trip, I have been reflecting on the seven years and various groups that I have shared this unique experience with.  It’s actually great to have blogs to look back on, for one to help an aging brain remember each group, but also as a record of experience.  I noticed that even the 2010 blog has had a few page views over the last week, probably winners from that year reminiscing on their experiences.

Often the things we do and places we see are the same, but each group is unique because of the various personalities that make up each one.  My (dad) joke at the end of every trip has been “I say this to all groups each year – you’re the best group I’ve ever had” but in fact it is true.  Every group is the best group in its way and provides memorable times.  As a travel experience for young people the Simpson Prize trip is pretty unique – you are thrown in with a group of people you don’t know, share an intense experience and a particularly emotional one with all the Anzac focus and then land up back home with no one around who you were on the trip with.  In many cases the other people you shared the journey with would not necessarily be ones you would make friends with at school or in other social situations.  I think the trip is a good reminder that you should be open to connecting with a range of people – you never know how you might click.

Having done this year’s trip with Stuart, I know the Simpson Prize is in good hands – the second biggest kid on the trip can become the first and continue to share that sense of fun and enjoyment that goes with the trip.  Big shout out to all Simpson Prize winners, past and present that I have had the privilege and pleasure of taking on the trip.  You are all an extraordinary bunch of people and look forward to keeping in touch over the years, to see what paths you take in life.  Cheers A

What have I been up to?

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Last day in Istanbul

Welcome dear reader to the final posting from Istanbul.  By the time you read this, the Simpsonites will be on the plane heading back to Australia.  Our final day in Istanbul was memorable, with a visit to Hagia Sophia, the fourth biggest church in the world.  Since it was built in 537AD, it was the biggest church in the world for over one thousand years.  It also provided the design inspiration for many of the mosques built during the Ottoman era.  The church was converted into a mosque in the 1500s, but it took the Ottomans 100 years to work out how to get up to the dome to cover the Christian images, so for that time they hung a giant curtain to obscure the dome.  In 1935 Hagia Sophia became a museum.

We visited the Basilica Cistern, the biggest of the underground water storages in the city.  It still has a small amount of water in  the bottom with platforms that allow you to walk around.  At the back part of the cistern are two Medusa head stones from a Greek temple.  The place has dim lighting and music to set the mood.

Suleyman Mosque has only recently reopened and is looking stunning.  Designed by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, who left special instructions on which windows to open depending on the wind, in order to direct the soot from hundreds of candles to one small room where it could be collected.  We had lunch at the soup kitchen of the mosque, which included an interesting yogurt drink.

We finished the day off with more shopping (surprise surprise) at the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar.  Our farewell dinner was at a fabulous restaurant in an old cistern with candle lighting, wrought iron decorations and big wooden chairs – very atmospheric and a bit gothic.  Afterwards we came back to the hotel for formal thankyous to our wonderful Turksih guide Ozgur, bus driver Ondur, teachers Geraldine and Carol, and Australian guides Andrew and Stuart – who received some very classy track suit outfits inspired by Gene.  Stuart then read out awards for everyone in the group and they received the special Gallipoli Star medal replica for having completed a Dawn Service and survived the trip.

It felt weird with the trip coming to an end and realising that our unique experience would soon end, and we would be going back to our ‘normal’ lives.  But we knew that the friendships and memories from this trip would stay with us forever.

Once we are all back home and settled back in, each of us will send in a last post with reflections on the trip (yes a reminder to all Simpsonites).  So stay tuned over the next few weeks for that.  Thanks to all the family and friends who have followed the progress of our blog and especially to those who have posted comments.  We hope it has given you a great insight into our wonderful experience.

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Back in Istanbul

Turkish dancing

We bid farewell to the Kum Hotel and jumped on our bus for a return trip to Istanbul.  It was sad to leave behind our wonderful hotel as we had become quite attached to its simple charm and wonderful staff.  Its such a great place to stay, with the beach on the doorstep and a sense of isolation – but so close to the Anzac area.

Back in Istanbul by mid-afternoon, we had a few hours to fill in, so it was off to the Grand Bazaar.  We divided into various raiding parties and practiced our haggling skills.  The bazaar is huge, complex and confusing.  Just when you think you have an idea of where you are going, you turn up where you started.  The fact there are so many shops selling the same thing doesn’t help.  But some great purchases were made and it only wet our appetite for more shopping time on our last afternoon here.

We had our meal in the hotel and it was live music night.  There was older Turkish gent with grey Elzis hairdo performing a range of hits (all of which Carol knew the words to) who got us up dancing at one point.  We jumped on the keyboard and did our version of Istanbul not Constantinople – much to the delight of other dinner guests I’m sure.  Then later a group of four young Turkish men came in and performed fold dances for us – and of course dragged many of our group up for a rousing clapping and hilarious attempt to copy them.

At the very end of the night a group of students went off for a walk to the Blue Mosque (beautiful at night) and the are around there.  Hoping to find some belly dancing but no success.  Maybe tonight.

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Anzac Day – a post from Hayley

Lauren and Hayley laid a wreath at the end of the serivce for the Simpson Prize

Finally ANZAC day has come and with it the main highlight of the trip. We received a wake up call at midnight; something many of the students didn’t need as we decided that it was better to stay up and sleep while we waited for the dawn. By 1.00 am we were on the bus we were sharing with another tour group and on our way to ANZAC cove. We got off the bus about 500 meters away from where the service was going to be held. We quickly made our way through security and before long we were climbing out the stands making our way to our seats.

Continue reading

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