Without a uniform, it is impossible to tell the
nationality of a soldier’s frame, and many an unidentifiable,
incomplete and anonymous heap of fractured bones ended up in
co-interment with those of former enemies, near monuments speciously
engraved with the sentiment that ‘Their Name Liveth for Evermore’
Louis de Bernières, Birds Without Wings,
The Gallipoli campaign was an experience shared by
a number of combatant nations. But Australia’s memory of it has
frequently claimed special status for Gallipoli the national legend.
Completely different relationships exist now among those who fought in
1915, and representations of Gallipoli have emerged recently, in
well as in other combatant nations, which themselves reflect tendencies
not dominated by any one national state. What are the implications of
this for particular disciplines? Or to rephrase that question from
within one of them: ‘How then should the geopolitical imaginary of the
discipline of film studies be upgraded to a transnational perspective,
broadly conceived as above the level of the national but below the
level of the global?’ (Ďurovičová ix). These levels of
nationalism/transnationalism can work well with Gallipoli, given the
limited number of participating nations, and with the subsequent memory
of the campaign, which will never be global. Processing memory of the
event has led to ‘affinitive transnationalism … a history of
interaction giving rise to shared core values, common practices’ (Hjort
Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Turkey, France
and India were the main nations involved, and among these nations
consciousness and memorialisation of the campaign have clearly
differed. Changing perceptions of Gallipoli are an instructive case
study in a world of increasingly transnational perspectives. This is
because the strongly national components within the originally opposed
alliances had different vested interests in 1915, and subsequent
interests that have either converged (UK, Germany and France as EU
members) or diverged further (e.g. the loosening of the British
Commonwealth). The Australian legend has memorialized Gallipoli the
location, and rendered Anzac Cove a virtual sacred site. This core
marker of Australian identity is likely to be challenged by
representations from outside. The case studies that follow help
establish a narratology of Gallipoli, as the one central story is told
in different artforms, representing historical narratives that are
The national element of Gallipoli reception remains firm
in mainstream Australian media and political culture, even eclipsing
the ‘NZ’ in ‘Anzac’. However, this article focusses on two
non-Australian texts whose perspectives are very different, and
outright hybrid in relation to issues of national identity. The first
is the novel Birds without Wings (2004) by Louis de
Bernières. The British novelist with a French name assumes a
largely Turkish point of view in a work spanning a decade or so of
Turkish history, with a substantial segment on the Gallipoli campaign.
The second text is the documentary film Gallipoli: The Front Line
Experience (2005) by Tolga Örnek. The Turkish director
combines perspectives of Australian, New Zealand, British and Turkish
soldiers, with a voice-over quoting their diaries and letters,
alongside documentary footage and stylized re-enactments. De
Bernières’ novel and Örnek’s film offer a memory of
Gallipoli that spans former combatants. Both narrative voices convey a
transnational perspective that bridges national and cultural
differences by respecting them.
State of the nation
The last Australian Gallipoli veteran died in 2002,
and yet Australian youths have been flocking to dawn services at Anzac
Cove in recent years. So the generation with fewest direct links to the
legend wishes to retain it. Beyond the first Anzacs the other
combatants, on both sides, are forgotten all too easily. A few days
after the 2008 Armistice Day ceremony at Anzac Cove, my Turkish guide
on the peninsula, Kenan Çelik, told how the Australian
representative had spoken of everyone dancing on the streets some 90
years before. ‘We’, he added sombrely, ‘weren’t’. Like ‘ours’, these
different perspectives have been represented in historically based
fiction, in literature and film. In an age of global and transnational
flows, to what degree do these new angles on familiar stories interact
with our self-representations? Alongside the ongoing stories of
nationhood, is it possible to conceive of transnational representations
of Gallipoli? What is different about those representations of
Gallipoli which do not share Australia’s investment in it as national
myth, and what impact might a transnational approach have?
More than six years ahead of the occasion itself, The
Weekend Australian of 28-29 March 2009 featured an advertisement
for a tour to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli
landings, on 25 April 2015. Battleground tourism2 has been fostered by The
Australian with group tours arranged to Villers-Bretonneux,
billed as ‘our other Anzac Day’. Though the battle on the Western front
was linked to a sphere of war of far greater military importance, the
primary point of reference remains Gallipoli. But there have also been
challenges to its exclusivity. Paul Keating inadvertently proved the
durability of the Gallipoli campaign as foundation myth3 with his vain attempt to
shift focus to the Kokoda Trail. The arts world is already active in
the countdown to 2015: on Anzac Day 2008, ABC radio played a movement
by Peter Sculthorpe from a planned Gallipoli Symphony, to be premiered
at the centenary.4
At the same time, the theme is not beyond reworking: Nigel Jamieson’s
play Gallipoli (2008), in the Sydney Theatre Company’s
production, made an explicit link between the mistakes of the imperial
campaign and the Iraq War. Beyond projections, more discoveries are
also likely, such as Chris Latham’s retrieval of a lost violin sonata
composed in the trenches of Gallipoli, and premiered at the Canberra
International Music Festival this year.
The Australian Gallipoli legend has a fluctuating
reception history. ‘At the core of the myth’ lies ‘a particular
construction of the Australian soldier’ (Beaumont 139), a citizen
soldier representing an egalitarian (and hence non-British) society,
with a heightened sense of mateship (viewed, like the soldier, as
distinctively Australian, rather than as a universal capacity across
different national groups). John Howard even tried to incorporate a
reference to mateship into a revised Australian constitution.
As the historical event Gallipoli recedes, ‘cultural
memory’ will come to operate more fully, in the sense defined by Jan
Assmann: ‘in the cultural memory, the past is not preserved as such but
is cast in symbols … as they are continually illuminating a changing
present. In the context of cultural memory, the distinction between
myth and history vanishes. Not the past as such, as it is investigated
and reconstructed by archaeologists and historians, counts for the
cultural memory, but only the past as it is remembered’ (113). This is
the aspect of Gallipoli on which the present article focusses. However,
it in no sense conceives of historians’ and archaeologists’ accounts of
Gallipoli as secondary, nor of those accounts remaining static, as
historical representations of the past in turn become contextualized in
‘a changing present’.
Among reassessments, it is important to profile what is
at stake here against the different project of military historian Robin
Prior, signalled in the subtitle of his book Gallipoli: the End of
the Myth, where his use of the word ‘myth’ clearly applies to
popularized history (124; 144). Prior is ‘concerned to strip away the
weight of mythology that has so hampered the development of a
sophisticated historiography of Gallipoli’ (xvi). Even after crucial
adjustments to the incursions of national mythmaking on historical
account, ‘the weight of mythology’ would continue to impinge on current
perceptions of Gallipoli. Without accepting such mythology as an
alternate historical version, approaching Gallipoli via influential,
international literary and filmic texts largely runs parallel to
Historical memory and the more mythical inflections of
cultural memory need not be mutually hostile; they are assuredly
interlocked when the timeframe is that of Gallipoli. Investigating the
different course of reception of the story/legend in other nations
involved in the Gallipoli campaign must enhance an understanding of
Australian versions, and profile more clearly their current status.
Reception of the Gallipoli legend in literature and film enables a
comprehensive account of cultural memory, and a filtering of that
cultural memory, not a reassessment of historical events.6 The reception
of works from outside Australia can then situate the Gallipoli legend
in a transnational rather than a national framework, while providing a
fuller understanding of how cultural memory works in relation to the
Peter Weir’s Gallipoli
Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli (1981) and
Roger McDonald’s novel 1915 (1979) are key texts from the
reception history of the Australian legend. Their historic moments were
the after-effects of the Vietnam War and an assertive cultural
nationalism; the former came on the crest of a well established New
Wave of Australian films that sought to establish Australian cinema in
international markets. Gallipoli was part of an almost
republican discourse then, no longer relevant to its after-image now.
It remains one of the most iconic depictions in Australian visual
The collective mythology of mateship is easier to render
in focussed form, such as the duo Archy and Frank in Gallipoli.
Archy and Frank function either as an almost documentary mimesis of the
core identity marker of mateship, or else as an instrument of
historical persuasiveness, depending on the viewer’s predisposition.
Their depiction is not without dramatic cracks. The commander tells
Archy that his running speed could save hundreds of lives. He is right,
yet Archy’s decision not to run, but to join the boys going over the
top, is vindicated as moral and selfless—the question of whether he
could have made it back to the commander ahead of the last whistle
signal is never posed. Legend prevails over a potential flaw in
dramatic characterization. This could well be Weir’s take on the
unanswerable paradoxes posed by Gallipoli; the film’s outcome could
then be read as a kind of fictional reflection of the wrong decisions
and tactics associated with the campaign.
A further dramatic paradox, true to history, is the
order to the boys going over the top to unload their rifles, with the
bayonet charge becoming tantamount to a pointless suicide mission. Such
faultlines are perhaps inevitable in ‘a drama based on a myth derived
from history’ (Rayner 115). Outward markers of death take it out of the
realm of any Australian mythology, for instance the pyramids, and the
evocation of the river Styx in the film’s dramatic highpoint. This is
the unbridged progression from carefree waltz rhythms in Alexandria, as
the troops dance with nurses, to the barely penetrable darkness
surrounding the shore-bound boats. The abrupt transition also returns
us to what was signalled on the soundtrack over the opening credits,
the funereal Adagio ascribed to Albinoni. Complemented by the duet from
Bizet’s Pearlfishers on the commander’s gramophone, this
music lends this rite of passage a transnational dimension. Both
visuals and music at this turning point of the film then proclaim ‘the
irreducibility of death to the nation’ (Ramazani 90), a major
qualification of the way this film has been understood in Australia.
The turning point marks the end of romanticized youth, its termination
for those ultimately going over the top, and its farewelling by
survivors like Frank. He has lived up to the emphatic claim made to his
father: ‘I’m not going to fight for the British Empire’, but has lost
those who were prepared to. From these supreme stakes it is no longer
possible to disentangle Motherland from British Empire outpost, or
idealistic selflessness from naïve blindness.
Weir’s film has been the most influential among
representations of Gallipoli which have sought to combine fiction and
documentary. Where McDonald’s novel 1915 based trench-scenes
on interviews with returned soldiers, Weir strove for fidelity to the
account of official war historian C.E.W. Bean, and enlisted historian
Bill Gammage as adviser. He also embodied Ashmead-Bartlett’s accolade
of ‘a nation of athletes’ in the images framing the film, Archie’s dawn
training run at the beginning, and his breasting, in the final
freezeframe, the tape of the good race he was destined to run in life.
That final frame is then to be positioned in the tradition of Robert
Capa, rather than European art cinema (Truffaut’s 400 Blows).
That Bean could have scripted at least the final sequence of Gallipoli
further explains its seminal effect, given Bean’s dual
status as official historian of the campaign, and creator of some of
its most indelible myths.
Beyond Weir’s Gallipoli
Recent Australian representations of Gallipoli,
especially those considered in the ‘Coda’ to this article, have moved
beyond the static myth of the egalitarian ‘mates’ and their resistance
to, and victimisation by, the mother country. A tone remote from Weir’s
is to be found in Wain Fimeri’s ABC TV documentary Revealing
Gallipoli (2005), whose thematic range is similar to Örnek’s
contemporaneous film. Alongside the Australian Peter Stanley, talking
head presenters come from Turkey and Ireland, the latter alone ensuring
a different shadow of the ‘mother country’ in its own fraught
relationship, especially after Easter 1916. British-born,
Australian-based playwright Nigel Jamieson concludes Gallipoli
with an Iraq link, at a time of ‘the final death of a consciousness
justifying the national and colonial projects of European powers’
(Hamilton 139). He has also created a medium-specific Gallipoli, one of
the most memorable scenes being a figure exposed to animated flies
emerging from trapdoors in the stage floor, a crucial aspect of the
soldier’s experience that written history or fiction cannot convey so
Versions of Gallipoli emanating from campaign enemy
nations are becoming available. A German military history of the
Dardanelles campaign has appeared recently, likely to have been the
first in 70 years. Given that Germany was Turkey’s ally, this
perspective alone is arresting. Klaus Wolf places very different
emphases to those familiar in Australia: ‘The battle of Gallipoli … was
the culmination of the struggle to resolve the ‘Oriental Question’. …
Viewed from the perspective of military history, Gallipoli was moreover
the first and only battle in World War I which was contested to such a
degree, and on both sides, in multinational cooperation, across the
armed forces. That lends it exceptional significance’ (Wolf 4; my
translation). Buket Uzuner’s Turkish novel The Long White Cloud:
Gallipoli (2002) employs magical realism to produce a
counterfactual account of national heroism as enduring legend. A New
Zealand soldier at Gallipoli undergoes a transmigration of souls, and
national identity, with a slain Turkish counterpart. Inherently
transnational, Uzuner’s Gallipoli confounds national
legend’s foothold in history through celebrating its other foothold in
Recent revisionist accounts have contributed to a more
genuinely rounded Australian context, one that embraces the experiences
of women, of Aboriginal servicemen, of Australian soldiers from other
national backgrounds. Books have started to appear which explore
fascinating byways, signalled in challenging titles like John F.
Williams’ German Anzacs and the First World War (2003) and
Eleanor Govor’s Russian Anzacs in Australian History (2005).7 Brenda
Walker’s novel The Wing of Night (2005) in a sense tells the
unadorned story that Weir’s film elides early in the piece, of the
women left on the West Australian land while the males are at the
front. The novel goes on to explore the still more daunting societal
challenge of reintegrating the returned soldier, whose homecoming to
the opposite end of the world can never blot out his own moment of
military glory and human abjection. The disorientation of shellshock
challenges normative models of masculinity, just as this novel
challenges narrower visions of Gallipoli as a crucible of national
character. Never absent as authors of WWI-themed works of
fiction—witness the powerful prose of New Zealander Robyn Hyde’s Passport
to Hell (1936) and Nor the Years Condemn (1938)—women
have shed considerable light on war (see too Buket Uzuner above).
Representations of Gallipoli then occupy vantage points
along two intersecting axes. One axis links historical accounts and
and the other links a more documentary realism to an engagement with
mythology, within the realm of narrative forms of fiction. It is from
these vantage points that war in general, and Gallipoli in particular,
is viewed. When Gallipoli is told as a multiple-perspective,
transnational story, this can lead various audiences in different
nations to a recognition of it as a shared event rather than an
exclusive one, as dominates in the Bean/Weir Gallipoli legend.
Two transnational texts
Discourses confined to an Australian perspective
are challenged by the view of the Gallipoli campaign emerging from de
Bernières’ novel Birds without Wings, and Örnek’s
film Gallipoli: The Front Line Experience. Their engagements
with the campaign depart significantly from Weir’s Gallipoli
and McDonald’s 1915, as both de Bernières and
Örnek offer an explicitly transnational perspective on the
Gallipoli campaign. Örnek does this by portraying soldiers from
four combatant nations. De Bernières projects his own British
background into a Turkish narrator’s voice. In 1999 he wrote how his
novel ‘deals with the Dardanelles campaign from the Turkish point of
view, a view that does not appear in the histories of the other
combatants, who to this day are unaware of the role that that conflict
played in the formation of the modern Turkish psyche’.9
De Bernières is best known for Captain
Corelli’s Mandolin (1995), a novel which gives an unusual take on
a lesser known theatre of war in WWII. Birds without Wings (2004)
spins its tales around figures caught up in early twentieth century
Turkish history. It features about a hundred pages set during the
Gallipoli campaign, and above all—like Örnek, unlike Weir—bookends
them with a historic contextualization of the battle. Gallipoli—the
historical event, the location, and this segment of the novel—is firmly
located within a web of histories, cultures, and traditions associated
with the region. The novel’s roving perspective includes British and
Australian contributions to the campaign, without being limited to
them. From Birds without Wings, though such a parallel is
never explicitly drawn, we get a strong sense of the confluence of many
Australian and Turkish perspectives, rather than Australian and
According to the Australian legend, the moral high
ground allied Australia, New Zealand and Turkey against Great Britain
and Germany. This novel foregrounds, further, quite different players
(in particular, Greece). Gallipoli became a national rite of passage
for Turkey too, as Mustafa Kemal, having gained his spurs there,
oversaw the transition from the crumbled Ottoman Empire to the new
nation. De Bernières gently poses the historical irony of this
defining figure of Turkish nationalism having been born in Macedonia.
Inasmuch as the historical moment of de
Bernières’ narrative immediately postdates 9/11, the ‘clash of
civilizations’ is viewed very differently in his novel. In fact, the
narrator in Birds without Wings ultimately laments a
transnational element inherent in the Ottoman Empire, and lost in the
intervening history. The following excerpt refers to a population
exchange between Greece and the new Turkish state, in accordance with
the Treaty of Lausanne. The mutual expulsion of Muslims and Orthodox
Christians, respectively, testified further to a nation-state mentality
sanctioned by the victor powers of World War I. In a ‘Postscript’ to de
Bernières’ epic work, entitled ‘Fethiye in the Twenty-First
Century’, we read: ‘In 1923 the town of Telmessos changed its name… and
became Fethiye’ (797). And then, as the very last sentence: ‘The truly
anomalous and remarkable thing about Fethiye, its market and the region
of Lycia, is that there are no Greeks’. This is not a onesided stance
in national disputes, though the outcome is viewed as definitely
impoverishing Turkey. Rather it is a dirge for a more colourful past,
when twenty-first century aspirations to transnationalism existed as a
given, albeit at the cost of imperialism in a Europe defined by
nationalism, and not by post-WWII aspirations to unity.10
That background is of course a major difference between
Australian and Turkish focal points. According to the Australian
legend, Gallipoli was a liminal space of self-definition for a recently
established Federation seeking to leave behind its colonial past and
redefine its relation to the mother country. The Turkish nation that
ultimately emerged arose from, and in some cases excluded, former
ethnic groups co-existing in an unwieldy empire. Birds without
Wings indirectly pinpoints this divergence between two historical
stories of nascent nationhood. Differing Australian versions of the
Gallipoli legend largely remain inflections of national
self-understanding. De Bernières’ novel is more ambitious, and
its dedication approaches at least regional history, and potentially
world history from below: ‘In the grand scheme of
things, this book is necessarily dedicated to the unhappy memory of the
millions of civilians on all sides during the times portrayed, who
became victims of the numerous death marches, movements of refugees,
campaigns of persecution and extermination, and exchanges of
population’. That resonates with Turkey, and with Eastern Europe, but
not with Australia. As does the mode of narrative voice throughout,
which is one of an almost Brechtian historical irony. Forsaking the
national level, a ‘naïve’ Turk (a figure named Karatavuk) muses on
the divisions within European co-religionists, the British enemy and
the German allies. The latter had a Christian ‘emperor who had declared
himself the protector of the Muslims. … I thought it strange … that
these German Franks were fighting alongside us when our own Christians
were forbidden to do so’ (436). To rephrase the paradox: the British
and Germans share their religion, and yet are national enemies, while
within the work-in-progress Turkish nation, religion could exclude
nationals from defending their country. Different versions of the
Gallipoli legend across former antagonists begin to converge in an era
more strongly marked both by secularism and by transnational influences.
After its release in Turkey, Örnek’s Gallipoli:
the Frontline Experience remained the number one film for five
weeks. It features documentary footage, photos, interviews with
international military historians, and re-enactments. The combination
of ‘fact’ and fiction, and above all of then and now, reflects the
positioning of the spectator, as colour shots of pristine beaches
alternate with black and white photos of boatloads of troops landing on
the same beaches in 1915. Typical of the film’s narrative and style are
the opening 5-6 minutes of Chapter 7 on the DVD, to which the remainder
of this paragraph and the next relate. Documentary visuals, above all
black and white photos and newsreel-type footage contemporary with the
events, are counterpointed against re-enactments in colour. The photos
are of people we know to be absent, their documented thoughts (from
diaries etc.) rendered as voiceover, by a voice we know is not theirs.
Talking heads in colour (author Les Carlyon, military historian
Christopher Pugsley, etc.) provide a further channel of information.
Via the visual and acoustic link to the ‘talking photos’, the latter in
this context seem like the animation of different witnesses or experts.
The effect is another kind of re-enactment, beyond the performative
aspect of voiceovers accompanying photos. In both cases talking head
figures, from a range of nationalities, are blended (screen-filling
portraits plus voiceover, alongside contemporary interviewees). This
mix of ghostly and present voices, a technique which embodies the
memory aspects of Gallipoli then and now, contrasts with palpable
re-enactments of figures largely shot from behind, and hence faceless.
They stand out from the photos’ address of us viewers, looking straight
out at us. The mismatch between photographic image and a voiceover that
emanates from it but not from the person himself, combined with
re-enactments that conceal faces and hence (national) identities,
engages the viewer’s imagination without allowing recourse to familiar
stereotypes. The whole is unified by elegiac music, which does not
discriminate between nationalities. As employed by Örnek, montage
itself functions to suggest a transnational point of view.
In places, the film is irritatingly self-reflexive.
While camera movement towards or away from photos is generally gradual,
there is (at the beginning) a swish-pan effect across the entourage of
Ataturk, to focus on the great man himself. Extravagant fast forwards
ensure that waves lapping the shores of Gallipoli are far from National
Geographic-type footage. The natural beauty of the landscape is
further dispelled when a ‘whoosh’ sound accompanies these gestures, to
complete the alienation effect. The occasional ‘rush’ of the camera
also seems to substitute for actual charges of soldiers. This in turn
contrasts starkly with the slow motion rendition of soldiers’ movements
in the re-enactments (in one case there is also a fast forward). The
slow motion sequences are a world apart from the conventional dramatic
weighting of body movements elongated in time (e.g. in a film like Chariots
of Fire). With Örnek their pace links photo stills and
re-enactment sequences that are shot more naturalistically. A third
representational medium is painting, and at the end of this sequence we
see details of one by George Lambert, which refers the viewer to an
Australian rather than a Turkish cultural imaginary. These details are
bookended by (more conventional, documentary) shots of the same
terrain, devoid of human life. Örnek’s film is the converse of an
action movie, and what emerges is a different, elegiac kind of
The processes and processing of memory are central to
the film. Above all, the narrative kaleidoscopically combines different
national viewpoints (Simpson), with profiles of a handful of
participants from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Turkey.
Their diary entries and letters are read out on the soundtrack,
conveying a ghostly oral history. But the palpable enactment that is at
play, the combination of voice over and photo rather than direct
recording, continually implies the limitations of oral history as a
privileged perspective, too. The viewer, (re-)animating the freeze
frames of history, is positioned beyond any one national perspective.
The work of synthesis required of this viewer is very different to the
more straightforward battlelines of national identity drawn by Weir,
long unchallenged by other notable depictions in film. Jay Winter
claims that the historical film genre has ‘power in projecting national
stereotypes and narratives’ (Hughes-Warrington 80). Örnek combines
cinematic devices to ensure an interaction of points of view. His
montage of case studies, and the narrative voice linking them all,
assembles just such a transnational perspective. Reflecting renewed
international interest in the documentary genre, this film has already
spawned an online study guide produced by Australian Teachers of Media,
envisaging the film’s use across a number of curriculum areas. This
further demonstrates the importance of contrasting its approach with
mainstream iconic narratives like Weir’s film, something recognized at
the level of the school curriculum. With Weir, the battle of the Nek
succeeds the far more elaborate ‘Romantic’, naïve phase of
adventure and war games. Örnek’s film, on the other hand, gives a
strong sense of the whole campaign, focussing if anything on the
carnage of the first landings, especially those of the British forces.
Beyond the 90th anniversary of the Dardanelles campaign, its own
historic moment is Turkey’s quest for EU membership, as pendant to
Mustafa Kemal’s mission to take his Turkey into Europe.
His film was far from uniformly popular at home,
regarded by many as not nationalistic enough.11 It thus typifies what
Mette Hjort (15), in her quest for ‘a typology of cinematic
transnationalisms’, calls ‘epiphanic transnationalism’. In this, ‘the
emphasis is on the cinematic articulation of those elements of deep
national belonging that overlap with aspects of other national
identities to produce something resembling deep transnational
belonging’ (Hjort 16). Örnek’s Gallipoli diverges from
the latter notion in not being part of ‘the search for effective
strategies of counter-globalization’ (Hjort 17). But transnational it
certainly is, in its constant traversing of the perspectives of
participants from a number of nations involved in the Dardanelles
The wide angle lens
With the death of the last Australian veteran in
2002, direct, first-hand memory of Gallipoli, the historical event, has
gone. But remembrance of Gallipoli remains at the forefront of
Australian national consciousness. The significance of Anzac Day
eclipses Australia Day as the official celebration of nationhood.12 And there
is no doubt that ‘Anzacs’ are primarily understood as Australians. On
its weather page, largely devoted to world capitals, the Australian
lists Gallipoli. The same newspaper nominated the ‘Australian Digger’
as Australian of the Year for 2006, confident that today’s ‘Diggers’
are ‘continuing the honoured tradition of the Anzacs’ (McNicoll and
Dodd). Behind Australian remembrance the central paradox remains of a
military disaster, fought by civilian soldiers in the name of another
country, being fashioned into a crucible of national formation.
However a lens anticipating the transnationalism of
Örnek and de Bernières was never totally absent in
Australia. Chauvel’s 1940 film Forty Thousand Horsemen
demonizes the Germans, while their Turkish allies in the Palestinian
campaign are portrayed almost empathetically (see Gnida and Simpson).
The Turks voice respect for the Australians, gained at Gallipoli, and
question their German overlords, a constellation neatly paralleling
Australian-British connections outside this film. The historical moment
of Chauvel’s film determines the way he depicts the recurrent enemy
Germany, on the one hand, and Turkey, the WWI enemy, but at the time of
this film, WWII neutral.
On the one hand, then, the Gallipoli legend has
historical national markers within Australia. On the other, it can be
aligned more closely with perceptions from outside Australia, such as
that afforded by Örnek’s film. Jill Matthews writes of a ‘model
for a transnational approach to film history’ which ‘derives from the
dual nature of moving pictures, as both commodities and cultural
products’. With regret she views this model as utopian, since ‘most
film historians continue to hold a strong allegiance to cultural
nationalism, and hold the transnational elements in their accounts to
be alien intrusions’ (Matthews 168-69). Within both film history and
the larger cultural frame of reference, there is no inherent reason why
a continued ‘cultural nationalism’, either Australian or Turkish,
should prevail. Constrained by cultural nationalism, film historians
would simply do violence to Örnek’s film.
Why might viewing Gallipoli from a transnational
perspective matter? In his speech to mark the 65th anniversary of the
opening of the Australian War Memorial, Peter Stanley contested the
resurgent notion of a ‘Battle for Australia’ in 1942, according to
which the real danger of Japanese invasion had been averted, by
referring to views of Japanese, US and British historians. This battle
in turn has accumulated a mythological layer with the subsequent
release of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008), which may be read
as a retraction of the Gallipoli legend (home soil as battlefield;
extension beyond white Australia; ‘brotherhood’ replacing mateship;
Darwin as neglected site in the Australian imaginary).
The ‘Battle for Australia’ highlights the importance of
not pre-empting answers to The History Question: Who
Owns the Past? (Clendinnen). For ‘critical novelists [and, we
might add, filmmakers] share with historians the impulse—for some it is
a moral imperative—to own the past, … and to question the accretions of
legend and obfuscation around past events’ (Sheridan 20). Who does own
the past of Gallipoli? The plurality of answers to that question need
not expose history as taught in schools to the criticism of
‘succumb(ing) to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective
record of achievement is questioned or repudiated’ in John Howard’s
2006 Australia Day Address to the National Press Club (Howard). But the
plurality is queried in the name of preservation of a discipline,
history as taught in Australia. From one influential vantage point,
that anchoring can only be guaranteed by ‘a factual narrative about the
meaning of the [Gallipoli] anniversary’ (‘Rescuing’). ‘A factual
narrative’ of course begs further questions. The 1915 film Heroes
of the Dardanelles (dir. Alfred Rolfe), based on
Ashmead-Bartlett’s reports, was viewed as documentation when that was
convenient, and Weir’s Gallipoli obscures the fact that the
order to keep going over the top at the Nek came from an Australian,
not a British commander. So sensitive are these identity debates, that
the first suggested subject for the ‘Inaugural Prime Minister’s Prize
for Australian History’ (2006), was ‘historical events’.
History lessons at school are viewed from the highest office in the
land as mediating national identity (Taylor; Clark).
Gallipoli is already approached in the (English and History) classroom
not just as event; it is important for a transnational approach to
provide materials and perspectives on what goes beyond the event.
The further historical events recede, the greater the
danger of ‘commemoration’ answering a present need rather than any
fidelity to the past (Megill 22). And that in turn can invest the
phenomenon of a Gallipoli legend with new content: ‘The new love of
Anzac is not about Australians paying more attention to their history
[…] it is about the making of historical legend as a source of national
pride and independence, the foundation stone of a new sentimental
nationalism’ (McKenna 15). Transnational materials and approaches offer
counter-narratives, and potentially correctives. But a sub-genre of
history such as memory studies will never sit easily with a case like
Gallipoli, ‘because collective memory, although not entirely
discounting the relevance of history to its understanding of the past,
also involves a fundamentally different way of making sense of the past
and of social reality, similar to the way of myth’ (Blustein 200).
While Gallipoli retains its status as Australia’s
foundation myth, it is becoming increasingly exposed to alternate
depictions in texts such as de Bernières’ and Örnek’s. The
latter suggest new ways in which different artforms can approach the
changing reception of Gallipoli over time, from transnational
perspectives. They will never supplant national sentiments of
celebration or mourning, but have the capacity to shift its focus, to
oscillate between the national and the transnational view.
In the course of this article being written, new
novels of relevance to its issues have appeared. Roger McDonald’s When
Colts Ran (2010), spanning much of twentieth-century Australia,
has a number of passing references to Gallipoli that taper off as the
WWI veteran Buckler ages and recedes from narrative view. In a sense,
the novel is a male-authored pendant to Brenda Walker’s approach,
inasmuch as ‘the mythic places where Australian men have formerly so
forcefully defined their identity—the battlefield and the outback—are
gone’ (Hill). That sheds very different light on the ground covered by
the same author’s 1915, just as Gallipoli in When Colts
Ran is a name alongside Troy, the Somme, or Belgium. Buckler’s
search for machinery in WWII loses him in the outback, emptied of any
mythical aura. He embodies the history behind the myth of the
battlefield: ‘Buckler was the living ghost of old mates, the sworn
defender who spoke for the dead. They’d spent their quota of flesh at
Gallipoli and in France, and he lived the full nine lives making them
right’ (6). Gallipoli then figures neither as virtual experience, nor
as buffeted myth, but as revenant.
The author of Traitor (2010) is Stephen
Daisley, New Zealand born, now living in Western Australia. His novel
has already received nominations and awards such as the Prime
Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2011. The figure branded as
‘traitor’ is a simple sheep farmer, who comes under renewed suspicion
for his WWI activities when New Zealand contemplates involvement in the
Vietnam War. His act of ‘treachery’ was to enable the escape of a
Turkish captive, a doctor, Sufi and whirling dervish, altogether a
charismatic figure. Between the lines, the greater act of treachery was
deemed to be regarding Mahmoud as an exceptional human being, rather
than an enemy national.
Colin McLaren’s Sunflower: A Tale of Love, War and
Intrigue (2010) has a less extreme narrative. It tells of the
author’s grandfather, George Bingham, one of the longest-serving
Anzacs. The prologue and acknowledgements that frame the story pay
homage to ‘the fireside stories of my grandad, a man who was there for
1527 nights’ (295). George’s ‘certificate of discharge’ is photocopied
on p. 265. He died in 1974, when the author was 19. The narrative in
this novel is thus based on fact, while making no pretence to
documentary reconstruction. Its origin locates it more in the realm of
oral myth, apt for the year of the novel’s release, less so for the
years of the fireside chats that made such an impression, and still
less for the events themselves, distanced as they are in time for both
narrator and, to a greater degree, for his captive listener. Among the
acknowledgements appears the name of Örnek. Comparable to
Örnek’s perspective, McLaren introduces a young Turkish soldier,
Mehmet, as a secondary character. United by the ravages of dysentery,
he and George meet under an olive branch at Gallipoli. Mehmet emigrates
to Australia post-World War II, and the book concludes on the note of
the peacetime reunion of two reluctant foes. The reader’s introduction
to Mehmet also provides background details not always present in
Australian accounts, such as Churchill’s withholding in August 1914 of
two battleships which had been commissioned and financed by the Ottoman
Empire. Above all, Sunflower departs from narratives such as
that in Weir’s film, in positioning Gallipoli within a far broader
context. Not only do years on the Western front succeed Bingham’s
experiences at Gallipoli, but his return to Australia is followed by
years of wandering in the countryside, avoiding family and home town,
shellshocked (in this, converging with Brenda Walker’s The Wing of
Night). But for all its social critique the novel contrives to end
harmoniously, with mutual recognition between worthy survivors of the
battle of the nations.
1 Not for the
first time, in relation to literary representations, but within a more
globalized context. Christina Spittel reminds us that in the interwar
years Australian novels appeared in which ‘the hitherto
mono-dimensional image of the enemy becomes more complex and diverse’.
(Spittel 128) Historical accounts of Gallipoli are in turn starting to
have access to a broader range of (national) source materials, e.g. the
ARC-funded research project directed by Harvey Broadbent, which centres
on Turkish military archives and the Gallipoli campaign.
2 In a
generic sense even this, it would seem, has become ‘virtually’
possible. A full page advertisement in the Weekend Australian of
July 28-29, 2007, encouraged a visit to the Australian War Memorial
with the clarion call: ‘Feel the courage of our Anzacs at the tomb of
the unknown soldier’. This approaches the notion of ‘prosthetic’
history elaborated by Alison Landsberg (2004). Susannah Radstone (335)
sounds this salutary warning in relation to the medium of film: “The
assumption by theories of cinematic prosthetic memory of an equivalence
between spectating a cinematic experience and living through an
experience dissolves the distinction between representation and event.”
3 Nor is
the foundation myth aspect confined to Australia. It is also present in
Mustafa Kemal’s Turkey, and is further relativized by the following
reminder about Turkey’s ally: ‘in Germany, the war constituted the
first common experience for some 60 million Germans’ (Julien 385).
4 This is
part of a work involving ten composers and many musicians from
Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. Thanks to an anonymous reader for
alerting me to this.
5 The two
converge in memory: ‘Modern shared memory is located between the push
and pull of two poles: history and myth’. Avishai Margalit, The
Ethics of Memory, as cited in Blustein 176.
distinction that can be viewed as a problematic tension by historians,
here Marilyn Lake: ‘As historians we think it’s important to
distinguish between history and mythology’ (Lake 138); ‘in
sentimentalising history and in celebrating military virtues we fear
that history as a critical practice, and as a way of explaining and
understanding the past, is in danger of succumbing to nationalist
mythology’ (Lake 156).
7 Over 150
Russians fought at Gallipoli—one can only imagine the historical irony
for these émigré Anzacs of trying to conquer
Constantinople, which would have benefited Russia. For a little known
aspect of the peninsula’s history, see Shmelev.
spectrum finds confirmation in an unexpected source. In his opening
address at the 2008 Chief of Army’s Military History conference,
Lt.-Gen. Ken Gillespie introduced the year’s theme, ‘the issue of the
media and the military’ (165), and expressed his concern ‘that the
history of the Australian Army of the late twentieth to early
twenty-first century is going to be a work of fiction—or of deduction
and reconstruction. … Only minimal holdings of written records may
survive to provide the essential underpinning evidence. Without this
evidence, history is, essentially, fiction’ (Gillespie 168).
‘Author’s Note’ to the short story A Day Out for Mehmet Erbil (London:
Belmont Press, 1999), 5.
de Bernières’ contemporary reader, this no doubt resonates with
debates about Kosovo during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. The
novel’s ending ironically skews contemporary transnational politics,
with Greece as EU member and Turkey as EU bridesmaid.
Compare debates about Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima
and Flags of our Fathers (both 2006), showing the one battle
from Japanese and American perspectives.
stands out in a different national context: ‘Gallipoli is to Australia
at least what Gettysburg is to the United States’ (Jackson 182).
Jackson’s perspectives are altogether arresting, in finding both film
and legend transnational: ‘It is superb in conveying the tragic
futility of the Great War and thus ranks with All Quiet on the
Western Front and Paths of Glory as one of the
greatest anti-war movies of all time’ and, referring to the Kemal
Atatürk memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra: ‘Can any American
imagine the United States building a monument to George III, Santa
Anna, or Tojo?’ (185).
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