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.