Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other CountriesAustralian Citizenship



Australian Movies

Being alive

Picnic at Hanging Rock
The unsolved mystery

Mad Max I
The last of the heroes

Baptism of fire and well of tears

Man From Snowy River
The underdog and outsider

Crocodile Dundee
The fun and absurdity of stereotypes

Two Hands
Ying and Yang

Wolf Creek
A psychopath's caricature of Australia

The absurdity of using fictional history to create derogatory caricatures of Australia to promote Australia.






Gallipoli (1981)

Director - Peter Weir

Visitors to Australia will no doubt have noticed the important role that military history serves in the country. At every Returned Serviceman’s League (RSL) clubs around Australia, at least once a day, the lights will be dimmed and a voice will say:

“Please respect our traditions and stand for the Ode.”

After a short pause:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

The Ode does not thank to those who fought for Australia’s freedom, or champion their achievement as a triumph of truth, justice and the Australian way.  It simply articulates what the war meant to those who fought in it.

Aside from reciting of the Ode in the RSLs, Australians will pay their respects every ANZAC Day on the 25th April. This date is the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing; Australia’s most celebrated battle. Gallipoli was a battle in Turkey that started in 1915. After nine months of tough warfare, it was evacuated without achieving anything. For foreigners, it is a very peculiar battle to remember. After all, not many countries celebrate a defeat, they don’t celebrate battles that were not in the country’s interests, and they don't celebrate battles of dubious moral purpose - such as those that involved invading a foreign country.

The 1981 movie, Gallipoli, explains why Australians have chosen to remember the war with the Ode, and also why it is a defeat, rather than a victory, that is celebrated on Australia’s military day.

The movie is based around the mateship between Archie (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson.) The first third of the movie shows how the two characters meet, and are drawn into the war. Archie's path stems from naivety. This naivety is shown in a very unique way. Rather than show this naivety by contrasting Archie with a highly educated character, Director Peter Weir shows it with a character who demonstrates ignorance may be the voice of true logic. The character is an old camel driver that Archie and Frank meet by chance in the Australian desert:

Archie) I'm off to the war
Old man) What war?
Archie) The war against Germany.
Old man) I knew a German once.
Old man) How did it start?
Frank) Don't start him.
Archie) Don't know exactly, but it was the German's fault.
Old man) The Australians fighting already?
Archie) Yeah, in Turkey
Old man) Turkey? Why's that?
Frank) Ask him
Archie) Because Turkey is a German ally.
Old man) Oh, well, you learn something new everyday. Still, can't see what it's got to do with us.
Archie) If we don't stop them there, they could end up here.
Old man - Looks over the Australian desert) And they're welcome to it.

Frank originally has no intention to enlist. He just can't understand Australia's involvement. Besides which, his father is an Irishman who is against supporting the English. However, after he hears a few pretty girls express their affection for the brave soldiers, he thinks it may not be such a bad idea.

The second third of the movie deals with the larrikinism of the Australians training in Egypt. They play Aussie Rules at the base of the pyramids, and use some dodgy moves to take out the damaging opponents. They come across from pompous British officers, and duly take the piss out of them. They make trouble for their commanding officers when they all pretend to play dead on the battlefield.

Frank and Archie are then reunited. They express their mateship to a point of borderline homosexuality. They race to the pyramids, climb to the top, carve their names into their stone and then shake hands as the sun sets. Frank then transfers into Archie's unit so that they can be together.

The final third deals with the futility of the Gallipoli campaign. As a distraction to help British forces landing, the Australian soldiers are to attack Turkish positions across a stretch of land known as the Nek. Two waves of soldiers are mowed down before they can get more than a few meters from the trench. In spite of the losses, the soldiers are ordered to keep attacking. Meanwhile, the British forces have landed, but the field telephone lines have been cut so the message hasn’t got through to the front. Frank is used as a runner between the front and commanding officers. A pompous officer completely disregards all advice from the front; determined that the attack must continue so that the British can land safely.

In desperation, Frank goes over this officer's head, and gets the nod from the general to call off the attack. He sprints back to the front to save his mate’s life. Back at the front, Archy pins a letter, bayonet and his athletics medal to the trench wall knowing his death is but seconds away. For all Frank’s efforts, he fails to arrive in time. Archie leaps from the trench and sprints towards the Turks without his gun. The films ends with a freeze frame of Archy's body being pieced by bullets.

By giving the viewer a feel-good experience only to then take it back with a senseless death, the value of the Digger's traits are made that much more stark as is the anguish of war. It depicts Gallipoli as a story of mateship, courage and bravery of those who fell, and those who felt pain by their fall.

Gallipoli was received with almost universal applause in Australia. This was quite remarkable considering the political sensitivity of the issues that it dealt with. It managed to please both the anti-war activists, as well as the old veterans with harsh memories of their involvement in World War I, II, Korea and Vietnam. Likewise, it appealed to the larrikin streak that has always questioned Australia's loyalty to England without overtly offending the Australians who still felt an emotional connection with the "motherland." It even managed to please the Turks, whose country was invaded, without offending Australians with the notion that the Diggers should feel guilty for what they did. About the only people that weren't happy were the New Zealanders, and that was mainly because they weren't included in the movie.