Before we start…… My problem is that once I start writing, I simply can’t stop. The Anzac Day Centenary brought forth many powerful stories that need telling so please follow as best you can. TGA.
I believe that every person who comes to Gallipoli either comes with their own ANZAC Story or will leave with an ANZAC Story. In all cases, as far as I’m concerned, everyone I bring to this hauntingly beautiful but tragic place become part of my Anzac Story……….
A short note on how it all began for me. In 1987 I backpacked from the Greek Islands to Turkey for my second travels in a country that would become my home. I was travelling with one of my best mates David Harris. We had no car, just a tent and backpacks, we certainly had no guide books, we considered them taboo at the time.
We arrived in the sleepy, dusty little seaside hamlet of Eceabat, bought some bread, cheese, water and other stuff and caught the local bus out to the battlefield. We had no idea of what to expect but we knew that we couldn’t camp in the battlefield itself. We found a small pine forest, these days known as Mimoza Orman, which only had a small Gendarmerie station with two young conscripts manning it. To cut a long story short, we ventured every day up into the gullies, valleys, ridges, spurs and cemeteries for two weeks. Gallipoli had definitely found it’s way under my skin!
The Spirit of ANZAC Days past……..
My Dad always took me to the Anzac Day March along Melbourne’s streets. He wasn’t a veteran but we have always shared a passion for Australia’s history. We spent every weekend visiting the museum, gawking at Phar Lap, giant spiders, glowing rocks and ancient war relics. But Anzac Day was always a special event. We always stood near the portico of Melbourne Town Hall and I remember seeing veterans of the Boer War being paraded along in old jeeps, then lines and lines of old battalions and regiments from both world wars. The Vietnam War was still raging and experts couldn’t decide if those veterans had the right to march with those from WW1, WW2 and onwards. A mistake that would take nearly 20 years to fix.
2015 brought with it the 100th anniversary of the landings at Anzac Bay, Cape Helles and Kumkale on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. Since 1987 I have been involved in taking people to Anzac, groups, individuals, family and friends. I have stood in the VIP section when the Dawn Service was held at Ari Burnu, sometimes with thousands more than attended this year’s centenary service. I have sung the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand until the wee hours and played two-up with old codgers trying to dodge their wives and their tour guides. Anzac Day is what you make it.
It had been announced back in 2010 to the travel industry that the Australian government would probably operate a ballot and issue passes to successful applicants. In 2013 the ballot was opened and people were invited to register. Being an Australian, passionate about Anzac Day and father of my daughter who is truly a Child of Anzac, I immediately attempted to register……… Unsuccessful attempt after unsuccessful attempt became more and more frustrating. I’d contacted the government department, the Dept of Veteran Affairs (DVA) and the outsourced supplier Ticketek. Both insisted that I must be a total moron and didn’t know which end of a laptop to point at the enemy. This continued for MONTHS! Until finally we put it down to the fact that you could not register without inserting a Post Code……an Australian Post Code. They eventually phoned me personally and took my details. This then meant that all those Australians living overseas must have also faced the same challenges. By the time I entered the process I was 27,092 out of 42,000 applicants. No effort had been made for the passionate Australian professionals that supply services to the pilgrims visiting this place sacred to us. Speaking to fellow pilgrims at the time of the centenary I was surprised to discover some of the successful ballot winners were indeed FURTHER down the list than I, some even as far down as 35,500 on the wait list. Obviously The Gallipoli Artist,
had become a noisy thorn in the side of the Australian authorities…. oh well, rant over!
2015 Centenary of the Landing at Gallipoli……..
As I was obviously being sidelined by the DVA over the ballot process I decided on contacting some tour operators about getting involved in their programs. One such company, which has become the premier Battlefield Tour company of Australia, Mat McLachlan’s Battlefield Tours,
were bringing over 1,800 clients to the services and were catering for those unsuccessful in the ballot. Mat would be hosting an alternative service at the old Dardanos Fort on the Asian side of the Dardanelles and added to this would feature a night of documentaries, guest speakers including Vietnam legend Gary McKay MC and film maker (A Fatal Shore) Chris Masters, with music provided by ‘the man himself’ Eric Bogle, hosted by Ray Martin and Mat McLachlan himself. How could I not be in on this!!!
I was contacted by friend and travelling companion to Gallipoli, their GM Karen Palfreyman. Would I like to work with them as a Historian??? WHAT??…… I was speechless! When Mat spoke to me over the phone I must have sounded like a zombie, spluttering my words of acceptance… I was IN, after all these years learning, researching and helping Aussies and others find their own ANZAC STORY, was I now to be talked of as a HISTORIAN???
A dream come true!
I was assigned two groups running back-to-back. Meeting my first group in Istanbul on the 20th of April. The best thing was that i would meet all the other historians between the 17th and 20th. Here I was in the presence of people I had only known by the names on the books they had authored. Peter Hart, Roger Lees, Gary McKay, Chris Masters and more. I was truly humbled to be in such respected company. I told Mat on the first day how nervous I was to be in the presence of such greats. Mat reassured me by telling me that as I have led tours in Gallipoli and around the world, and knew the ground like the back of my hand, that I was in fact more qualified and experienced than most of them. For the next few days I was regaled with amazing personal stories of life in combat, in uniform, of researching Gallipoli, of walking that ground. I was living a moment in my life that i had only dreamed of.
Happy was Roachie!!!
Let me digress for a minute…..
Apart from my tour leading experience, I had spent twenty years of my life working in travel operations for several major adventure travel companies. As more and more small companies were swallowed up by such Mongol hordes as Tui and First Choice, who saw (through the heartless eyes of accountants and acquisition lawyers an opportunity to turn travel into a money-grubbing, bottom line experience. The leader of the Activity Group of Tui once announced to us old travellers that we were now “Slaves to the shareholders”! We quietly reminded him that up until now we had always been ‘Slaves to the CLIENT’. This was the death toll of the bell that had provided us with great people passionate about great travel. I finished my corporate lacky roles, sometimes GM, sometimes Director of Operations working for a Dutch company in Thailand, dominated by egocentric megalomaniacs and CFO’s. I survived a brutal attack which left me unconscious in a Bangkok canal. It was time to return to a simpler life with my family and friends and to pursue the things that made my life fulfilled and worthwhile. I created The Gallipoli Artist. A small company that combined my love and passions of art, drinking wine and wandering Gallipoli.