Stanley, Peter: Why does Gallipoli mean so much? (25 April 2008)

Peter Stanley

Why does Gallipoli mean so much?ABC News, 25 April 2008 (written 2006)

Historian Peter Stanley tries to answer this question. ‘Nations’, he says, ‘create the history they need’. After Anzac was neglected for many years,

an assertive Australian national identity has returned to affirm the connection between Gallipoli and nationhood … The Anzac legend has become elastic enough to span very different emotions. Fervent nationalists can exult; pilgrims can mourn. All can ponder what made that group of Australians able to endure one of the greatest tests their nation has ever faced.

There has been intense marketing but it has struck a popular chord.

Gallipoli, a minor, failed campaign (which cost less than a sixth of the Australian deaths on the Western Front) fulfils a need felt by many Australians to connect with or express their national identity. Much of what is said or written makes tenuous history – it presents a defeat as a victory of sorts, ignores some aspects and boosts others, often with a distinctly anti-British spin.

It is dodgy history because it says as much about what Australians today feel about themselves as it relates to the events of the campaign. Gallipoli has become a symbol of Australia’s national identity, achievement and existence.

For a related piece by Michael McGirr.

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