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.