This Time It's Personal


I’ve had it. I’ve reached the end of my tether. I am not by nature a man of anger, but we all have our limits, and when you find your country insulted, your national identity trampled on, your feelings as an Australian disregarded in the foulest manner, then the only right and proper reaction is outrage and fury and small packets of white powder mailed to the Turkish embassy.

I refer, of course, to the shocking story just come to light that Turkish workmen have "accidentally" desecrated the remains of World War I soldiers at Gallipoli while in the course of building a road. And isn’t that typical of the Turks – they make nice, they act friendly, they pretend to welcome you to their country, and as soon as your back is turned, they’re digging up your grandfather and shearing his femurs.

This isn’t even the first time this has happened at the sacred Lone Pine cemetery (named for its resemblance to the popular Queensland wildlife park). In 2005 there was a similar atrocity perpetrated in the name of roadworks, and you might have thought they’d be satisfied with just the one violation of a nation’s soul, but no.

Well, I’m not going to take it anymore. We are not just any country. We are Australia. We are a nation of pride and strength and determination. We are not the kind of country to let ourselves be so grossly insulted by any jumped-up little mob of Eurasian layabouts and their vile constructional pranks. We are not the kind of country to lie back and meekly play the doormat. We are not, to be blunt, Canada.

It’s important to recognise just what’s at stake here. The Anzac legend is the thing that defined us a nation. America has the War of Independence, France has the Revolution, England has the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, but we have Gallipoli, and we all take enormous pride in it.

Everyone knows the Gallipoli story. On April 25, 1915, a crack battalion of Australian "diggers", renowned as the world’s most fearsome and effective fighting force and yet still with an endearing larrikin sense of carefree rebellion, landed on the shores of Gallipoli in order to protect England from German invasion by conquering Turkey, thereby ensuring the freedom of the Australian people.

Over the next eight months, the Australians fought valiantly in spite of the continued interference of their fellow soldiers, including the British, who spent the entire campaign lying in the dugout crying and eating chocolate, and the New Zealanders, well-known as the special-needs students of military history. In fact, historians agree that the Australians, with their unique combination of peerless fighting skills and knockabout anti-authoritarian attitude, would have been absolutely unbeatable were it not for Winston Churchill, who secretly plotted with Ataturk to throw the campaign to pay off his gambling debts.

Although for the Australians Gallipoli was, technically, more of a moral victory than a "military" victory, it nevertheless provided us with myriad wonderful stories to add colour and magic to our history. Such as the tale of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who gained fame by wandering aimlessly around no-man’s land, throwing wounded men onto his donkey and sending them galloping wildly down the dunes, ignoring their anguished screams for mercy. Such was the irrepressible larrikinism of the ordinary Anzac.

Then there was Albert Jacka, who won a Victoria Cross for extraordinary valour after killing over 6000 Turks, many of them during the war.

Such rich history, such valour, such awe-inspiring nation-building gore. And yet now we see the Anzac legend reduced to a sorry state by the devious Turks and their monstrous excavators. Turkey, thy name is ingratitude. One starts to wonder what is the point of invading foreign countries in the first place if they’re just going to go around digging up our bones? And they are our bones; the mass grave on that particular battlefield contains the remains of 3000 Turks and 160 Australians, so taking into account the tendency of Australian bones to be tough and long-lasting and of non-Australian bones to be weak and easily dissolved, the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the desecrated objects being genuine Anzac material. Perhaps they are the bones of Albert Jacka himself! Admittedly, Jacka died in Melbourne in 1931, but I wouldn’t put anything past these Turks.

Because the thing is, Gallipoli doesn’t really belong to the Turks, except in the most trivially geographical sense. Anzac Cove has become such a part of our national psyche that really, Gallipoli has become Australian property. Every year thousands of young Australians make the great pilgrimage across the world to stand upon that sacred soil, reflect on the sacrifices of their forefathers, and drink themselves into a state of mental retardation so movingly patriotic that the very vomit on their shoes is tinged with green and gold.

But Turks, apparently, don’t know the meaning of the word patriotism. Unlike, say, the Poles, who extend nothing but the warmest hospitality to the misty-eyed Germans trekking to the battlefields each year, or Afghanistan with its annual Hug-a-Russian Day, the Turks simply provide accommodation and sell us food and drink and build roads for easy tourist access, with the sort of graceless stand-offishness that you would expect from a country so devoid of class and sensitivity as to actually consider the tragedy of Gallipoli to be a victory. Oh yes, big victory, Turkey. Know how many people died? You heartless bastards.

And that’s the attitude that sees them carelessly dig up our diggers’ bones, slice through their noble legs and crush their courageous clavicles. As historian Bill Sellars says, "a key part of our history is literally being bulldozed". If the Anzacs were alive today they’d be sickened to be treated like this, presuming they were alive while also being buried under the ground in Turkey. All we ask is that they build world-class facilities for our tourist hordes without disturbing the ground on which those facilities are to be built. Is that too much to ask? It seems so.

Well, enough is enough. I think I speak for all of us when I say I am sick of having my cultural heritage raped by every Tom, Dick and Mustafa. It’s time to gather our strength, pull our troops from other theatres, fuel up the Joint Strike Fighters, mobilise the RSL, and let slip the dogs of war.

Make the call, Mr Rudd. Let history repeat itself. Let our diggers once more surge into the Dardanelles with death in their eyes and bayonets in their hands, to relive the deeds of Jacka and Monash and Gibson and Lee. Not, this time, for the defence of the mother country. Not for the sake of disputes between foreign powers in far-off lands. But for something finer, and nobler, and truer: a scattered collection of unidentified 90-year-old bones.

This time, it’s personal.

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