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pilgrimage to gallipoli Arrow vol 7 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 7 number 1, 2008


Sacrifice, Grief and the Sacred at the
Contemporary ‘Secular’ Pilgrimage to Gallipoli

John Hannaford and Janice Newton
Australian College of Ministries & University of Ballarat


This article argues that the, sometimes contentious, behaviour of travellers to Anzac commemorations at Gallipoli represents in part a spiritual phenomenon and a true pilgrimage, indicative of general movements in Australia towards the episodic spiritual and the memorialisation of death. The argument derives from primary participant observation and interviews during Anzac 2000 at Gallipoli and interviews in Australia with a tour operator, a politician who organised the 80th anniversary tour in 1995 and a young man representing his state on this tour. Travel to the Anzac commemoration at Gallipoli fits the paradigm of an ideal type pilgrimage. Patterns of grief and sacrifice and the search for a cultural centre support the notion that it can be seen as truly spiritual. The Gallipoli phenomenon may exemplify a current Australian trend towards re-sacralisation, embodying forms of spirituality beyond the institutional church.



1. Since the 1990s there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Australians who have made what is termed a ‘pilgrimage’ to Gallipoli and a concomitant explosion of both public discussion and scholarly analysis of this phenomenon, as well as academic works on the more general relationship between war and memory (West, 2004; Scates, 2006; Ziino, 2007).

2. The recent debates often overlap and the media generally privileges narratives on the genuine emotion of the visitors (and of the journalists) at the Anzac ceremonies (Griffin, 2004: 8; Hogan, 2005: 6; Rothwell, 2005: 21); the humanity and heroism of the Turks (Armstrong, 2001: 15; Hogan, 2005: 6; Rothwell, 2005: 21); and the need to remember the heroism of the Anzacs (King, 1997, 2001). More recently there have been secondary narratives about tensions between the Turkish and Australians over management of the site and the contentious, sacrilegious behaviour of young Australians at the commemorations. These and the political manoeuvrings around Anzac in Gallipoli since the State supplanted the Returned Soldiers League (RSL) as chief organiser in 2000, are recognised by journalists and scholars alike (McQueen, 2003: 8; Hogan, 2005: 6; Ziino, 2006; Gammage, 2007). In regard to the emotional impact of the ceremonies and tours in general, the media have also noted the role played by tour guides in promoting and orchestrating such an experience in visitors (Armstrong, 2001).

3. Many scholars have linked the memorials and ceremonies to national identity but have also noted the quasi-religious aspect of the memorials. The sacralisation of Gallipoli can be related to the massive numbers of casualties and distant graves arising out of World War 1, which both Jalland and Ziino claim created a new cultural regime of mourning, involving, for Jalland, repression of grief and, for Ziino, symbolic efforts to link Australians to the distant graves in order to assuage widespread anxiety (Gellner, 1996: 72; Inglis, 1998; Reed, 2004; West, 2004; Jalland, 2006; Scates, 2006; Ziino, 2007).

4. The Gallipoli site and war memorials, in general, create, as well as reflect, meanings which change over time (Reed, 2004: 70). Ziino claims that Gallipoli has moved from a distant site, imagined and constructed through a few mediators, to a real site ‘at which Australians encounter their memory of a distant tragedy’ (2007: 191). West (2004) argues that among backpacker travellers to Gallipoli, Turkish and international points of view co-exist with national dimensions of the international civil religious pilgrimage. Scates (2002, 2006), on the basis of an extensive questionnaire-based study of contemporary pilgrimages to sites such as Gallipoli, contends that participants have genuine, and perhaps uncharacteristic, spiritual experiences. ‘The word pilgrimage sprang to the lips of those who surely do not often use it’ (Scates, 2002: 8). They gained a sense of bonding, shared experience and confronted the metaphysical in the ‘landscape subsumed by the spiritual’ (Scates, 2002: 17).

5. This article enters the debate currently taking place on the issue of the authenticity of the experience of those contemporary backpackers and others who travel to Gallipoli (McKenna & Ward 2007), and on the validity of using the term ‘pilgrimage’ to describe this experience. It extends and occasionally deviates from the analyses of Scates (2002; 2006), West (2004), and Ziino (2003, 2006, 2007) and argues that the massed Anzac Day Gallipoli pilgrimage is a spiritual phenomenon and, indeed, a true pilgrimage, indicative of general movements in Australia towards the episodic spiritual and the memorialisation of death. The central grounds for this argument derive from primary participant observation research and interviews with key informants by Hannaford (2001). Before these observations are analysed in the light of an anthropological model of pilgrimage, some contextualisation is provided of the broad cultural movement of secularisation in the West and of Australians’ quests for new forms of the sacred through journeys to a geographic and symbolic ‘centre’ and through war memorialisation.

Secularity, Spirituality, Centres and War Memorialisation

6. In recent decades there has been, among various scholars of religion, quite acrimonious debate about the continuing usefulness and veracity of the notion of a continuing process of secularisation in the West. Slippery definitions of the sacred and secular are at the core of the argument, which is often at cross-purposes. If the ‘religious’ is broadened out to the ‘spiritual’ and the institutional over-ridden by the personal, there is scope for arguing for a revival of the sacred in some contexts. Almost half of the Australian population report itself as religious while eschewing the formal observances of the Christian or any other religion (Mol, 1971, 1983, 1985; Kaldor, 1987, 1994, 1999; Bouma, 1992; Tacey, 1995, 2000; Verwij & Ester, 1997; Yamane, 1997; Halman & Petersson, 1999; Lambert, 1999; Demerath, 2000; Gill, 2001). The secularisation thesis may not, now, be accepted uncritically.

7. David Tacey (1995, 2000) has effectively spearheaded a cultural studies approach that argues for a dramatic change in Australian attitudes towards spirituality. This spirituality has largely gone unnoticed because it is a ‘secular spirituality’ that has been reborn in non-Church contexts such as particular landscapes and war remembrances. The symbolic and spiritual significance of space and landscape have been analysed in particular by Brown (1991), Drew (1994), Flannery (1998) and Haynes (1998) in relation to journeys to the desert and to the Centre of Australia. Australians recognise the symbolic significance of a journey to the centre, a space associated with desert and explorers. For example Haynes (1998: 264) claims that,

For many Australians the journey to the centre is inevitably linked with the exploring expeditions of the last century, and they see their journey as a form of pilgrimage, preserving the nation’s history by participating in a ritual celebration of its heroes.

The most recognised of obvious secular spiritualities, however, is in the context of War Remembrance, and concerns the sacred dimensions of Anzac Day and journeys to Gallipoli. These have long been recognised as civil religions with nationalistic elements, contributing as they do to encompassing myths of origin, and efforts to make sense of sacrifice (Mol, 1983: 91, 96, 1985; Kapferer, 1988: 135; Chadwick, 1990; Bouma, 1992: 35; Jalland, 2006). The significance of war memorialising and environmental, landscape aspects of Australian spirituality, come together in the context of the particular site of Gallipoli in two ways: familiarity of the environment and the symbolic linking of two landscapes.

8. Hoffenberg (2001) argues that Gallipoli took hold as a sacred site because of similarities to the landscape at home in Australia, which had only been embraced as a source of Australians’ own myth and identity around the time of World War 1. The landscape of Gallipoli reflected the heat, flies and struggle for water of early explorers and pioneers. Since World War 1 Australians have also acted to create reciprocal, symbolic links between Australian and Gallipoli landscapes by planting Australian native plants and trees at Gallipoli and transplanting soil and seeds from Gallipoli in Australia. Ziino (2007: 42) describes such exchanges as using ‘symbolic flora’ to link graves to the Australian homeland in order to allay the extreme anxiety over distant graves and distant bodies of loved family members. Gallipoli’s sacredness may therefore derive from matters of shared landscape as well as sacrifice in war.

9. Thus from cultural studies, historical, sociological and anthropological approaches, there is some scholarly common ground. A large portion of the Australian population may be ‘being spiritual’ in non-institutional ways that reflect relationships with the land and ancestors sacrificed in war. The concept of ‘pilgrimage’ is now set out in order to facilitate a more rigorous assessment of the spirituality of contemporary behaviour at the annual Anzac Day service at Gallipoli.

A Model of Pilgrimage

10. Pilgrimage was popularised as an object of anthropological study by Victor Turner (1974, 1995). Two edited collections on pilgrimage by Eade and Sallnow (1991) and Morinis (1992) take Turner’s work as a starting point for homage and critique. Precise definitions and scholarly agreement on the concept of pilgrimage are difficult to come by, but researchers do identify certain common physical and social features. Hannaford (2001) developed a frame of criteria for pilgrimage which can be re-clustered around three major areas: a) material, physical aspects, b) personal experiential dimensions and c) an ideational aspect, which clarifies the difference between the recreation of the tourist and the re-creation of the pilgrim.

a) Material, physical aspects

11. The pilgrimage at its most basic material level is a physical journey to a non-local, historically and /or mythically significant site or shrine. The journey is associated with some difficulty or hardship, a ‘hard path’, ‘sown with obstacles’ according to Eliade (1958). Extra hardship intensifies the spirituality (Turner, 1974: 172, 207). The shrine/site has ritual experts and shrine custodians associated with it.

b) Personal, experiential aspects

12. People go to the shrine to experience by sight and touch the actual place of past events and the sacred things associated with the place. This sensory experience at the shrine enables the absorption of a physical or symbolic ‘spiritual trace’ (sacra and sacramentals), which is then implanted in the home community. Further, the feeling of oneness and fellowship engendered by the group pilgrimage experience has potential for encouraging alternative ideas about how humans should behave and society should operate (Turner, 1974: 1, 1995: 178; Eade & Sallnow, 1991: 4). Each has the potential to imbue the pilgrim with motivation to change, to reform or re-create.

c) Ideational aspect

13. Pilgrimage is a journey to the centre of a pilgrim’s most valued ideas, which can be termed sacred. ‘Pilgrims on their quest are seeking a relationship with an ideal, often culturally defined but sometimes fully personal’ (Morinis, 1992: 20). Unlike the tourist who seeks the edge, the periphery, the pilgrim seeks the centre of his/her culture and society (Eliade, 1958; Eade & Sallnow, 1991; Cohen, 1992: 51; Morinis, 1992). The notion of the centre stands for core ideals or the embodiment of cultural ideals, which may be theistic and often encapsulate a myth of origin (Warner, 1959: 273; Turner, 1974: 104, 153, 189, 1995: 64; Anderson, 1991: 7; Morinis, 1992: 1, 5). The shrine central to the pilgrimage casts an image of the culture, the ideals of which must be within the known limits of that culture (Turner, 1995: 31-2). However the shrine has the capacity to absorb a multiplicity of discourses that may stretch or threaten structures and institutions.

14. The literature and model discussed above, and the empirical analysis of the journey to Gallipoli and related interviews outlined below, give grounds, we believe, for defining the contemporary pilgrimage to Gallipoli as a true, spiritual pilgrimage.

The Research Method

15. Previous scholars have noted the methodological importance of observation and subjective engagement in the study of fluid religious phenomena such as pilgrimage (Turner, 1974: 40; Morinis, 1992: v; Bennett, 1996; cf McKenna & Ward, 2007). The empirical research base of this article consists of interviews and participant-observation carried out by Hannaford (2001). Three key public figures involved in the popularisation of Gallipoli pilgrimages were interviewed. Con Sciacca, who organised the ‘Australia Remembers’ commemoration as well as the 80th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in 1995, was contacted in 2000 by telephone and interviewed in his Canberra offices. Annie Abay was contacted in 2000 after a newspaper article revealed her history as a Gallipoli tour organiser. She was interviewed in her Melbourne home. Ms Abay operated ‘Annie’s Anzac Tours’ to Gallipoli from 1987 to 1992. The third key informant was Fred Cahir, a Ballarat resident, acquaintance of Hannaford and Victorian representative, chosen by the Returned Servicemen’s League from the Anzac descendants for the 1995 Anzac Tour of Gallipoli. Cahir wrote his own reflections on the tour in an unpublished essay titled “Pilgrim’s Progress”, which complemented a telephone interview in 2000 in interpreting the significance of the journey to him.

16. Participant observation at Gallipoli took place over the Anzac period in April 2000 when an estimated 13,000-16,000 attended. Moving solo among the travellers enabled snatched conversations with over 100 Australians and three Turkish café owners and tour guides. Ten of these conversations were substantial enough to be recorded as short interviews. Hannaford, like Scates, was a participant researcher with acknowledged interests, in this case, in spiritual Australia (Hannaford, 2001). Although these research methods allow deep insight into the thoughts of one commercial tour operator, one political tour organiser, one state representative on a special Anzac tour and observations and comments from a good number of the many thousands who attended the 2000 Anzac Day ceremony at Gallipoli, an obvious limitation is the focus on the specific, mass, culturally-shaped pilgrimage, as opposed to the smaller, private journeys made by many others throughout the rest of the year. The focus in this article is on the individually-experienced, religious and spiritual dimensions of the occasion. Aspects which are only touched on but that warrant a much more thorough analysis in the future concern the built-in ‘emotional choreography’ deriving from political negotiation between Australia, New Zealand and the organisers of cultural events and tours.

17. Custodianship of the Gallipoli site, along with its associated cemeteries and war memorials, has been shared between the Australian and Turkish Governments. Between the end of World War I and 1960 an Australian man maintained the cemeteries (Ziino, 2007: 78) and since 1925 Turkish officials have been represented at all official ceremonies (Gammage, 2007: 132). In the days before 1990 for all but Anzac Day ‘there was no-one there’. The museum was not built until 1989 and the Turkish Army, flag and national anthem were not part of the ceremonies, until the turning point of 1990 (Abay, tour operator, 2000).

ANZAC Commemoration, Gallipoli 2000

18. The staging posts for the final leg of the journey to Anzac Cove were the Turkish-owned, Australian-named cafes (Boomerang Café and the Vegemite Café) in Eceabat on the Gallipoli peninsula. The former sold T shirts, beer and hot ‘pies’, showed Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, and offered hot showers. Packs were spread about on the floor of the café and travellers slept indoors as well as outside in tents, some of which were laid out in military precision for large overland tour groups.

19. The largest contingent of travellers consisted of young Australians and New Zealanders who had booked well-supported tours out of London, flown independently to Istanbul and joined a tour for the Gallipoli part of the journey, or booked on the huge overland bus/truck tours through Europe and the Middle East. Other types of visitor included government officials, serving military personnel and Returned Servicemen’s League officials from Australia; expatriate professionals from Europe; and ex-soldiers and descendants of soldiers and families on tours from Australia. Only three of the 110 travellers spoken to freely indicated a religious affiliation. Unlike many of West’s respondents, planning and preparation were evident with all Australians, noted particularly amongst those on organised tours (West, 2004). Often the Australian Army Rising Sun badge appeared on a slouch hat. Others wore the war service and valour medals of relatives who had served. There were also many Australian flags and, commonly, a set of ‘two up pennies’ brought from the Antipodes.

20. The tour guides took visitors first to the Turkish Australian war memorial but the points sought out by young travellers were Anzac Cove and the tiny beachside cemetery of Ari Burnu. Most people took time to drift along the beach, lost in thought, then chose to look at Shrapnel Gully and the little cemetery adjacent. After looking at the new North Beach memorial (the 2000 Dawn Service site), Lone Pine appeared to be the most popular destination, followed by the monument containing Ataturk’s words, and then perhaps Chunuk Bair. Most travellers spent a day on the battlefield but some people spent up to a week, usually choosing the days before April 25.

21. On Anzac Eve, in the year 2000, up to 16,000 travellers gathered and moved to North Beach where they assembled around sunset. They got out their Anzac badges and Australian flags and watched a few young people play kick-to-kick football games. They listened to rock band Cold Chisel through giant army loud speakers and to a chant by a group of New Zealanders, before rolling out sleeping bags and attempting to gain a few hours sleep before midnight. By midnight the crowd emotion and the atmosphere woke everyone and by three in the morning it was too crowded to lie down, so crowd members sat up and talked, waiting for the dawn and the ceremony negotiated for them between the key Governments and their advisers.

22. The crowd wriggled and packed in more tightly as more dignitaries and soldiers appeared. The crowd then cat-called and booed the press, who took up all the vantage points, blocking some of the travellers’ views. Under a dark sky, cross-lit by television lights, the Australian Army Band from Sydney began a recital. They performed a medley of jolly Australian folk songs and some modern sporting and cultural anthems. Finally the official party came onto the dais. They warmly welcomed everyone and apologised for the media intrusion. The order-of-service booklets were everywhere, lit softly by individual candles. Following indigenous music from Australia and New Zealand, the piper piped and the slow-marching party took up their position by 5.30 am after which the Dawn Service proper began, shared by Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia, a federal minister, Returned Servicemen’s Association (New Zealand) and Returned Servicemen’s League (Australia) officials and service chaplains. There were readings, including the message from Ataturk, hymns, prayers and the site plaque unveiling, concluding with the ode, a bugle rendition of ‘The Last Post’, a period of silence, and the raising of the flags from half mast to full, as the sky lightened in the east. Discounting the two senior service chaplains who read a few prayers, there was no Christian presence. Later at the Lone Pine service, Air Vice Marshall Beck directed his emotive speech to the young: ‘As I look out at this vast crowd, I can tell you that without question, this is the largest group of Australians to have gathered in Turkey since 1915.’

23. This large gathering included obvious secular dimensions of similar youth-targeted performances and spectacles, such as rock music and football. However, detailed observation of the whole period and interviews with informants from this occasion, and other such occasions, revealed behaviour and the expression of attitudes that reflected many dimensions of the pilgrimage model.

a) Physical Journey

24. Certainly, the journey to Gallipoli was not local, and so meets the primary criterion of a pilgrimage in terms of a physical journey to a non-local site of historical or mythical significance. It involved planning and organisation such as flights from Australia to Istanbul, or overland bus trips from Britain and Europe, six hour bus trips and night time ferry crossings. Some of these journeys were marketed as pilgrimages for ‘dislocated’ expatriate Australians in London.

25. While the general site is a clear destination, the actual ten square kilometres of the battlefield contains many separate memorials and shrines. Anzac Cove, and the sites of the two Anzac Day Services, however, could be considered the principal shrines. Another significant shrine was the beach cemetery, Ari Burnu, incorporating the gravestone of Private Simpson (who rescued the injured with a donkey). Prior to 2000 this had been the site of the Dawn Service. The grave of an ancestor also became a personal shrine for many visitors.

Many travellers slept on the battlefield the night before Anzac Day and for at least a decade, until 2000 when it was forbidden, it had become customary for the young to sleep on the graves of the dead on Anzac Eve (Bowers, 1999). The young travellers made a point of carrying through one or more special physical feats such as the extra physical effort entailed in walking the battlefields, or climbing up to Lone Pine through Shrapnel Gully, and even staying up late after dark to observe the two-up game on Anzac Day. This intensified the experience of being at the actual place of the past events and perhaps invested the journey with some of the hardships of the spiritual pilgrimage. Physical exertion to conquer distance and height could be seen as sacrifice-like, a deliberate imposition of hardship.

b) Personal Experiential

26. For many the communal feeling of sleeping safely in such huge numbers was unforgettable. ‘Just magic’ one young female said the next day. Others in the next few days, male and female, spoke of the safety and intimacy of the mass sleeping together as their highlight. The experience of the Gallipoli journey was a sensory and embodied one.

27. To sleep on a grave individually, not allowed in 2000, would heighten the experience of links to the past. In 1999 a Venturer Scout leader claimed he liked to know ‘who he had been sleeping with’ – in his case a 22 year old Light horseman (Bowers, 1999). Sleeping together as a group also heightens the experience of bonding and ‘oneness’ described by Turner (1974) as ‘communitas’, as did the general convergence of thousands of Australians (and New Zealanders). Peter Bowers (1999), reporting on the 1999 Anzac service, found himself apologising as he stepped across head stones. He said the cemeteries were a bridge of passage to our ancestors. ‘It’s okay to talk to them, they’re listening’.

28. The journey was at its heart a personal choice to engage in cultural or spiritual deliberation. But the convergence of so many people to the appointed place and time had an enormous social impact. In the immediate region of Gallipoli, in the days preceding and including Anzac day, ‘communitas’ was overwhelmingly demonstrated. Fictive kin ties were created when a group of young travellers adopted Hannaford as their ‘dad’. There was a breakdown of social differentiation and a sense of oneness with one another. Age, gender and profession seemed unimportant. Turks, Australians and New Zealanders, young and old, ‘suits’ and ‘hippies’: each converged for a common purpose.

29. Participants also made efforts to touch and to retrace steps, as if the proximity would ‘channel’ a transcendent experience. Similarly Cahir (1995) noted that, ‘Some of the pilgrims had flowers to lay, prayers to be said and respect to bequeath upon graves that held significance for them. We filed around pointing out to one another a particular oddity or particularly profound inscription on tablets…’

30. At the Lone Pine Cemetery and Shrine, Cahir had the uncanny experience of finding he was standing almost on top of a stone tablet marking the grave of his surviving Gallipoli veteran grandfather’s namesake. Hannaford, too, found a namesake and placed a wild poppy on the grave while Con Sciacca attempted to verbalise the significance of a bodily connection with the grave of Simpson, heroic rescuer of the wounded. ‘Standing there on the dawn of the 25th of April in 1995 with one foot resting right ... next to the plaque of Private John Simpson’ (Sciacca, tour organiser, 2000).

31. At the Lone Pine war memorial and cemetery, which was surrounded by a tranquil lawn, veterans warned novices that they could expect to ‘weep buckets’. Grief was extremely evident in several contexts. Headstones were bedecked with fresh flowers and gathered wild poppies marked individual names on the bordering wall. Elements of the cultural shaping of emotional experience by tour guides, noted by Armstrong (2001) were evident. A busload of young Australians under the Lone Pine tree listened to their Turkish guide who read the Ode, played the National Anthem and ‘The Last Post’ on a cassette player and recited the words of ‘Lest We Forget’. The little group had their hats off, their heads bowed and tears flowed. Although it is ‘The Last Post’ which has special meaning and evokes ‘a chilling sense of sacrifice for Australians’ (Bannister, 1997-98: 9), Dominic of Queensland said that when he heard the Eric Bogle’s anti-war song, ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, played on cassette by his Turkish guide, ‘That was my moment, when I wept’.

32. Dominic also remembered the words on a headstone, and wrote them in Hannaford’s notebook.

He went away a boy,
He died a man,
For the liberty and
Freedom of his country.

Mum and Dad.

Daniel had picked up a pebble from Anzac Cove, to take with him home. Both young men had wept on a battlefield tour, then again at the second services, respectively Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair. Sciacca commented similarly of the 1995 experience.

I’ll never forget seeing the young fellow, who was from Norfolk Island ... I remember him seeing a grave of an ancestor relative that was buried at Lone Pine. I remember this fellow, he wasn’t a kid. He was about 28, with the green and white flag of Norfolk Island draped over this grave. To see him there crying. It was extraordinary to see the emotions it evoked in all of us (Sciacca, tour organiser, 2000).

Abay, the tour guide, could not help crying on each of her own eleven tours. ‘It is very personal and private, observing others’ grief too’ (Abay, tour operator, 2000). Fred, too, cried in 1995 in spite of beginning with a cynical attitude and a political critique of the war and its results.

What moved me especially (were) the famous words of Ataturk to the Australian mothers, where he said the dead would be treated as their own sons. I cried over there. I was very surprised. During an interview with a radio journalist ... it wasn’t until I started talking ... and the tears just flowed (Cahir, 2000).

The climb up Shrapnel Gully, in the steps of Private John Simpson, was an unexpected highlight for some. In the earlier years Annie Abay recalled that they had free access to the land and took some of the mementos hidden within it. ‘We scrambled and dug, we walked up trenches and found bullets and Rising Stars and barbed wire.’

33. The profusion of sacred activities by priests and state functionaries was matched by the number of special ‘sacred objects’ brought by the pilgrims. They brought to Gallipoli a wide collection of letters, photos, books, flags, medals, badges, special marked clothing and ‘two-up’ pennies. As well many objects, sites and activities were marked off as tabu or sacred. Pilgrims were told in 2000, that they could no longer sleep on the graves of the dead, and that the waters of Anzac Cove, were too sacred to swim in. The Lone Pine tree was also seen as sacred.

34. Sleeping and crying together and touching names and graves enables pilgrims to absorb spiritual trace. As seen in personal and official actions in Gallipoli since 1915, pebbles and objects transplanted from one landscape to another symbolically link the two places, adding layers of meaning onto social memory.

c) Cultural Centre

35. There was evidence that many found the experience to be spiritual or sacred. All the pilgrims interviewed in 2000 spoke of the tears that signalled their initiation into a new sense of belonging to Australia. From that point on this belonging also entailed a global dimension. They reported being an Australian with a greater sense of belonging in the world. West (2004) in his study of non Anzac Day Gallipoli pilgrims notes in particular this value of cosmopolitanism. For one person in particular, landscape parallels between Turkey and Australia were noted.

36. Aspects of the landscape at Gallipoli, such as the beach and shape and colouration of the cliffs, appear not to have altered markedly from the time of the First World War. Anyone with adequate time and who is prepared to push through the undergrowth of low shrubbery can find some of the rusty wire, bullets, rusty cans, bits of bone and other detritus of war. In 2000 trench contours were still visible. The Gallipoli landscape was also one that appeared historically, or even geographically, familiar to some: a result, perhaps, of horticultural intervention or of geographical similarity to Australia.

37. Cahir (1995) thought ‘Brighton Beach’ described by his Anzac veteran grandfather as ‘strewn with wounded and dying Australians and Turks’, was surrounded by a landscape that ‘mirrored some of Australia’s most distinctive features’. There was mowed couch grass, wildflowers peeping out of charred bush fired landscape, ‘gritty sand underfoot, the briny smell of rotting sea-weed, the sound of tiny waves whooshing onto the beach head’ and ‘succulent pig face sprawling close to the tidemark’. The beauty and familiarity of the place appeared to disconcert him. Instead of being confronted by the brutality of war he was ‘lulled into a kind of serenity’. Others too have been somewhat disconcerted by the familiarity and peacefulness of the beachside site at ANZAC Cove (Ziino, 2007: 170).

38. Travellers were in general more able to voice the value of ‘belonging’, to Australia and to the world, as well as values such as loyalty, giving or doing the right thing for mates or other Australians. Some mentioned irreverence for authority and the respect for individuals as well as ‘looking after your mates’. Young medical technologists said they ‘believed in loyalty, to your mates, and loyalty to and from your long-term partner’, ‘that being spiritual was being human’ and ‘dying for your mates and giving to the next generation’. They spoke of it being a place where they could ‘appreciated what it was to be Australian’, especially after ‘the class crap of England’.

39. The first group of young people interviewed felt changed because they had seen the land ‘most sacred’ to Australians. The second group interviewed, the independent backpackers, also found the trip very meaningful. This group saw their journey as a pilgrimage with strong religious/spiritual parallels. It gave them both a national and personal sense of who they were. After the pilgrimage they felt they were different: it focused on their best values. Such values included the following: ‘mateship’; ‘a sense of humour’; ‘an irreverence for authority, but doing the right thing’; ‘the ability to do great things for fellow Australians’; ‘perseverance’; and the ability to do ‘what your country asked, even to die for your country’. Young men and women reflected whether they, too, could commit to such action if asked by their country. More than one described their belief that the Anzac spirit was ‘a practical sort of Christianity, without pomp and ritual’.

40. After a few days’ reflection people said it was ‘incredibly moving’; ‘now I understand more of what it is to be Australian’ and ‘I believe that they gave us a culture that respects individuals and asks you look after your mates’. The pilgrims’ talk of ‘mates and mateship’ was pervasive and not gender specific. Many wondered ‘what the Anzacs would think of Australia now?’ Tour operator Annie Abay focused on the significance of national origin.

I feel I could go there every year of my life. It is a time to give myself a moment, just like going to church. Time to stop and give yourself time to think about what makes us free and what makes us in this position of being able to travel and get around this world … To stand there is to get a different understanding of what faith you have. It is just that these blokes gave me a place to stand. It is a type of faith, understanding, that for me (as an Australian) that (says) there is something concrete about where I come from. And they made a mark so far from home, to be held up as gods, as they were ... called immortal, ‘six foot ten and bullet-proof ... but not bullet-proof (Abay, tour operator, 2000).

Cahir (1995) saw it as going to a ‘different place that was revered, steeped in our culture and our psyche’. ‘On the beach was my personal epiphany spot. It was too idyllic. I was just expecting charred and scarred battlefield remains. There was just this lovely little pebbly beach’. The visit to the awe-filling Lone Pine cemetery was an ‘uncanny experience’ for Cahir, matched in Scates’ description of the metaphysical dimension experienced by several of his respondents (Scates, 2002: 17).

The ambiance inside the bus (after looking at this) was one of reflection. It was unsaid that it would be disrespectful to speak of anything that did not mirror the sacred nature of the place we had just left. The humbleness in the bus was palpable (Cahir, 1995).

Interestingly, the spiritual connection was strong for a ‘new’ Australian Con Sciacca.

Even for someone like me who was born in Italy, an Australian by choice, going back to Gallipoli ..., and seeing the dawn come over Anzac Cove. It’s an experience that’s hard to explain. You get a sense of awe and spirituality about the place. Even though I’m not a natural born Australian, the fact that I am an Australian, and I live (in) Australia it seems that there is a connection in a spiritual and emotional way between Australia and where the legend was born (Sciacca, tour organiser, 2000).

For some, what was most emotionally significant was pondering the age of those killed at Gallipoli. The dead were their own age. Scates (2002: 10) also noted how his informants drew parallels between their own youth and the youth of those who died. Tour operator Annie Abay reflected both the youth and the futility of the loss:

There is something about standing there (at Gallipoli) that makes you see the fragility and futility of the whole exercise that you don’t get at the Dawn Service here (Australia). When you are actually standing there you know that those kids, they had no chance. How and why did all these people have to die for such little gain? (Abay, tour operator, 2000).

Con Sciacca linked individualism with wider social concerns. ‘And the Australian individuality, the sense of humour, the mateship was born there’.

The only real day for Australians seems to be Anzac Day ... The feeling one gets at Gallipoli, of patriotism and pride that these people gave their lives so that we could have the country we have today. They gave us the birth of the individuality ... what it is to be Australian. And the sacrifices and the type of identity that Australians enjoy today: carefree, hard working, mates that give anything for (their) friends, that sense of mateship in adversity. What I’m saying is Gallipoli ... has a spirituality and that is where the term pilgrimage comes from. It is not a religious pilgrimage, but it is a spiritual pilgrimage (Sciacca, tour organiser, 2000).

41. Lineal ties with dead and live ancestors were symbolised and activated in behaviour that perhaps links secure personal identity with a sacralising of bodily, genetic ties with the dead. Scates has also noted this, underlining the importance of family history to many Australians at a time when many social forces erode family ties (Scates, 2002: 4). One group said they had come as representatives of their families. They had brought over family medals, laid flowers or a poppy on graves and by names on the walls. They were expected to report back to their families and friends. As stated, one had collected a few pebbles from Anzac Cove. A second group interviewed had their families’ blessings in that they felt it was a worthy thing to do.

42. Cahir discharged a sentimental duty of sorts with family members after the pilgrimages.

A few days later my uncle and cousin met up with me over there and we looked up the grave of an officer that Grandfather mentioned in his letters. We held our own kind of ceremony. We fussed about with photos, reacquainted ourselves and at this point the pilgrimage felt complete for me (Cahir, 2000).

Cahir was also encouraged to do the pilgrimage (by his wife) to forge a peace and renew a positive relationship with his own father through the steps of his grandfather. Similarly, Con Sciacca noted that the ‘Australia Remembers’ commemoration may have helped galvanise family heritage that had been somewhat inert before.

That re-ignited, perhaps ignited in Australian people what was always inherent in young people. They were aware of this. People were saying, ‘My grandfather fought there, my grandfather fought there,’ and all of a sudden they got the sense of pride and the sense of worth that they didn’t realise they had. They didn’t realise they had a legacy; they had a legacy that was theirs (Sciacca, tour organiser, 2000).

Although the above discussion reflects quite clearly the sacred dimensions of the Gallipoli journey, it is important to reflect upon the category ‘tourist’ as opposed to the category ‘pilgrim’. Lloyd (1998: 8) demonstrates the tension between the two labels in battlefield journeys after the First World War. Although the tourist was associated with femininity, the home front and civilians, the seriousness of the visits and the united ‘experience of mass death’ made it likely that ‘few travelers considered themselves to be tourists’.

43. At Gallipoli there was evidence of people moving from one status to another as they moved through time to Anzac Day and through space to the actual Anzac Cove area. On the way to the Anzac area groups were open and inclusive, readily accepting new pilgrims and engaging in conversation. Also immediately post-Gallipoli, they sought out fellow Australians to discuss and process their experiences. But as they resumed their journeys an indifference to fellow country-persons, unless they shared the exact destination, was apparent.

I was a tourist in Istanbul but the moment we got anywhere near the site we were pilgrims. I forgot I was in Turkey for quite a while, with so many Australian voices. There is a bar in Çanakkale called the Anzac Bar where young backpackers hung out and people recognised us in the street, calling out ‘Hey, Aussie’. That doesn’t happen to you as a tourist, but when you are a pilgrim it does (Cahir, 2000).

The behaviour observed confirms that young Australians on the Anzac commemoration were indeed seeking a cultural centre and thus satisfying criteria for the journey to be considered a pilgrimage. The popular espousal of the term ‘pilgrimage’ and numerical and qualitative involvement of many young Australians in the Anzac Day trip to Gallipoli, Turkey can be seen as a true pilgrimage. The term pilgrimage is more than a metaphor for what is occurring. Historical and contemporary accounts of Anzac Day bear testimony to the fact that it is a historically and mythically significant site with a number of shrines. Sleeping as a group, crying together, mourning the sacrifice of youth and family ancestors and retracing the steps of ancestors, demonstrate the sacredness and spirituality of the special time and place. It could be argued that the ability to sacralise place is essential to belonging. It is in this context that we might view spiritual journeys in Australia. If we take a broad non-theistic understanding of religion and the spiritual, Australia can seem less secular.

44. Demerath III argues for a broad, functional definition of the sacred: a grid of four ideal types plotted on the basis of whether they are compensatory (a relief, release) or confirmatory (assurance) and marginal or institutional. Sacred, integrative phenomena that are marginal but also confirmatory, ‘include epiphanal responses to sacred symbols such as flag and song’ (2000: 5). With such a definition, the episodic spirituality of, in particular, the massed journey to Gallipoli, can be taken as evidence of continued interest in the sacred in Australia of a confirmatory and marginal kind. Whether the spiritual renewal that takes place at such events has a long-term ‘re-creating’ effect, may be more difficult to establish. Furthermore, although media and scholarly coverage of independent and small group tours during non-Anzac times of the year suggest that meaningful responses are more widely experienced, this conclusion is limited in that the claimed significance of the journey to Gallipoli is confined to those who assemble for the massed Anzac ceremony on April 25 .

45. Theoretically, the broadening out of the definition of the sacred, the spiritual and the religious, facilitates challenges to the general secularisation thesis. The quest for the centre of a culture’s values and the sacred overtones of such journeys appear to reflect a social need for the sacred and an authentic spiritual experience for many individuals, as argued by Scates (2006). The persistence of civil religion, and the reciprocal, symbolic ties with homeland noted by Hoffenberg and Ziino appear of greater than, or at least equal importance to an understanding of the Gallipoli experience, that claims that it is shaped by politicians and cultural entrepreneurs (Hoffenberg, 2001; Ziino, 2007; McKenna & Ward, 2007). The Massed Anzac Day pilgrimage to Gallipoli reflects a situation where the profane and the secular have been augmented to the ‘episodic spiritual’ in a form that may well reaffirm the significance of cultural centres, social memory and landscape.


John Hannaford has Masters in Philosophy from Australian Catholic University, Ballarat, in anthropology, and in 2005 completed his PhD ‘Images of Australian Pilgrimages’ at Flinders University. He has published two award-winning books and is currently affiliated with the Australian College of Ministries at the Sydney College of Divinity.

Janice Newton has a PhD in Social Anthropology from Monash University. She has published several articles and a local history addressing issues of authenticity and various ways of belonging to Australia. She is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ballarat, Victoria.


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Annie Abay, tour operator, interviewed by John Hannaford, March 2000.

Fred Cahir, interviewed by John Hannaford, June 2000.

Con Sciacca, tour organiser, interviewed by John Hannaford, March 2000.

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