Responses to War 1997 - David M. Hart, Department of History, University of Adelaide



PW described as "the Australian new wave's most sophisticated director." Born in Sydney in 1944. Studied arts law at Sydney University before joining channel 7 in 1967 and then Commonwealth Film Unit in 1969 as assistant cameraman and production assistant. Has made a number of important and successful films: "The Cars that Ate Paris" (1974); "Picnic at Hanging Rock" (1975); "The Last Wave" (1977); "Gallipoli" (1981); "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1982); "Witness" (1985); "Mosquito Coast" (1986); "Dead Poets Society" (1989); "Green Card" (1990), "Fearless" (1993).


Screenplay written by David Williamson, one of Australia'a most successful playrights. Based on material in Bill Gammage's The Broken Years (1974) and C.E.W. Bean's official history. Bill Gammage played an advisory role (as military advisor to PW) in the making of the film.


The Gallipoli campaign took place between April and December 1915 in an effort to take the Dardenelles from the Turkish Empire (an ally of Germany and Austria) and thus force it out of the war. Some 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders were part of a larger British force. Some 26,000 Australians and 7,571 New Zealanders were wounded; and 7,594 Australians and 2,431 NZs were killed. In numerical terms Gallipoli was a minor campaign but it took on considerable national and personal importance to the Australians and New Zealanders who fought there.


Meaning of the Title

The place in the Dardanelles (Ottoman Empire) where British, French and ANZAC forces landed 25 April, 1915.


Film took 5 years to organise, 4-5 months to film and involved some 4,000 extras. Locations mainly in South Australia (town of Beltana, Lake Torrens, coastline near Port Lincoln transformed into Gallipoli) but also small town near Cairo. PW wanted to make a movie about the myth of Anzac after an emotional visit to Gallipoli in October 1976. He described his struggle with the script:

I can see myself sitting in the empty dining room of the hotel that night, overwhelmed by an emotion I could only partly understand. It wasn't only pity at the waste of it all but also a sense of discovery - it did happen, they did die, we do have a past. With David Williamson's help I was to spend the next four years trying to get these confusing feelings into some sort of order...

But despite careful research the core of the myth of Anzac eluded us, and draft followed draft. It wasn't until we stopped trying to penetrate the myth that things began to fall into place. Our story became more about the journey than the destination, about people rather than events. (Bill Gammage, David Williamson, Peter Weir, The Story of Gallipoli (Penguin, 1987), pp. 5-6).

PW focuses on the contrast between the noble ideals (friendship, comraderie, courage, sportsmanship, incipient nationalism) of the young West Australian men who were so eager to go to war in another hemisphere with the terrible realities of trench warfare and certain death in the face of machine guns. Important because the events depicted in the film became the powerful national myth of Gallipoli and ANZAC Day.

Film divided into three parts - 44 minutes (out of 111) leading up to enlistment in Perth, 28 minutes of training and preparation in Egypt, 32 minutes at Gallipoli. Thus two thirds of film deals with "the journey" to Gallipoli as PW said. Set in May 1915 (after the intial landing at Gallipoli) in Western Australia. Story of two young men who decide to enlist after the initial ANZAC landings. The 18 year old, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee), is potential champion sprinter who is trained by his Uncle Jack, but who desperately wants to join the Light Horse. Jack believes Archy could be as fast as the current British champion, Lasalles (the name Archy adopts when he illegally enlists in Perth - he is under age). The older Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) works with a group of mates (Billy, Barney, Snowy) on the railways. He is reluctant to join up at first but becomes persuaded by his mates. After a series of adventures (an althetic race, hitching a ride on a train, getting lost in the desert) they reach Perth where they enlist - Archy in the 10th Light Horse and Frank in the infantry.

After a period of training in Egypt and another series of adventures (what might be called "rites of passage" or coming of age - they learn the sophisticated ways of the city such as drinking, gambling, being cheated, whoring, attending an officers' ball, etc) they separately are sent to Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They are part of a contingent of troops sent to distract the enemy's attention while a larger force of British troops land at Suvla Bay. The infantry attack Lone Pine (Barney is killed and Snowy fatally wounded in the stomach) while the Light Horse (without their horses!) are to attack the Turkish positions across a stretch of land known as the Nek. The accompanying artillery barrage ceases 7 minutes too soon and the Turks have time to return to the trenches and machine gun emplacements before the Anzacs are ordered to leave the trenches. Two waves of Light Horsemen are mowed down before they can get more than a few metres from the trench (compare with similar depiction in Kubrick's "Paths of Glory"). The field telephone lines have been cut by shelling, so Frank is used as a runner between the front and commanding officers. The AIF Colonel (an upper-class Australian with a "British" accent) in charge of the attack orders the Light Horse to keep attacking in spite of the losses and in spite of the fact that the British Forces have landed safely and are "drinking tea on the beach" only a mile away. Frank does not arrive at the front with the orders to stop the attack in time to prevent the 3rd wave, including Archy, from going over the top to certain death. Archy writes a letter home to his parents explaining why he ran away from home and pins the letter and his athletics medal to the trench wall with a bayonet. He prepares himself for certain death with the words used by his Uncle Jack to motivate him before running a race. Archy leaves the trench and sprints across the Nek before being hit by machine gun fire. The films ends with a freeze frame of his "moment of death." There were in fact 4 waves of assault from the trenches but the filmmakers decided to leave out the 4th and most horrible wave which resulted in bodies piled one metre high. Original ending of film cut - Frank finding Archy's medal pinned to trench wall and the showing of his reactions.


1. Importance PW places on connection between sport/game and war. Uncle Jack blowing whistle to start Archy's race vs officer blowing whistle to send men "over the top," i.e. out of the trenches. Scene where Aussie Rules match between WA and VIC is played at foot of pyramid. Compare with football scene in "M*A*S*H*." Altman and Weir are suggesting some relationship between sport and warfare. Recruiter for the Light Horse at the Kimberley Gift race calls war "the greatest game of them all." Training exercise in Egyptian desert between infantry and Light Horsemen another game - playing at war, pretending to be dead. Archy writes letter home describing war as an "adventure larger than life." "Target practice" across front.

2. Meaning of "running" - rivalry between men (race with stockman on horse for a bet), means of testing/proving oneself against best in the world (Archy's desire to better Lasalles' time), method of forging bond between 2 mates (Archy vs Frank at Kimberley Gift race and later in race to base of pyramid), means of saving men from death (Frank as runner in Gallipoli, race against time vs race against death), means of achieving/facing death (Archy breasting the tape in a foort race vs running into machine gun bullets and freeze frame final scene).

3. Rites of passage, coming of age for young men. Note scene when Uncle Jack reads passage from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. - young man cub Mowgli has reached manhood and must leave the family of panthers which raised him in the Indian jungle. (Kipling important popular author and journalist who extolled the virtues of the British Empire, the Raj and the heroism of the British soldier between 1880s and 1920, including wars on Indian frontier, Boer War and WW1). Archy wants to leave home like his uncle did to see the world before he is 21. Gallipoli described as a "baptism of fire" for both the young Australian nation and the young men like Archy and Frank. Other rites of passage in Cairo on leave - forced to confront arrogance of British officers, being cheated in the bazaar, seeing pornography and going to brothel for the first time.

4. The discussions about why young Australian men should enlist to fight for Britain in Turkey. Australians shocked by "unsportsmanlike" way in which Turks fought (pits with spikes in them. yet Australians built anti-personnel bombs with nails in them), girls like men in uniform, need to do things together (Australia with Empire or individual mates, "You've got to be in it"), to go when called by one's country, to escape the bad economic conditions at home, Archy's claim that athletes have a special responsibility to join up because of their physical prowess. Frank claims it is England's war, not Australia's. Camel driver is not aware war is being fought and replies to Archy's claim that if Germany was not stopped in Turkey then it would end up in the WA desert, with laconic statement that Germany was welcome to it. Farm women's claim that the Germans were crucifying kittens on church doors in Belgium. Frank's Irish father doesn't want him to fight for the British Empire. Frank says he will join up to better himslef (wants to become officer). Compare with reasons given in "King and Country" and "Breaker Morant."

5. Black humour of Anzacs shaking hand of Turkish corpse in wall of trench.

6. Final scene - freeze frame of Archy's death very similar to Robert Capa's famous (notorious) photo of soldier in Spanish Civil War at "the moment of death." Some argue that it was staged by the press officers of fascist General Franco; others that Capa held camera above his head and pressed button when he first heard the machine guns fire on Republican troops. Photo was a lucky, one in a million picture of actual moment of death. Compare promotional picture for "Gallipoli" of freeze frame of "Archy's death" with Capa's "moment of death" photo.

7. The contrast between the quiet of the landing ashore at Gallipoli and the noise of the officers' ball in Cairo.

8. The Australian version of the "myth of glorious defeat". Compare with "The Alamo" and "Custer's Last Stand" for Americans.

9. Why did PW decide to leave out the 4th and most destructive of the waves of assault?