Should we be going to Gallipoli?

Last updated 05:00 25/04/2013
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People watch the New Zealand Commemorative Service at Chunuk Bair in Gallipoli, Turkey.

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It's about paying your respects. At least, that's the idea behind a visit to Gallipoli to mark Anzac Day.

And it's an idea that's becoming increasingly popular among tourists. They'll be turning up in their hordes once again tomorrow in Turkey, something like 10,000 of them, busload after busload of a green-and-gold army come to mark the occasion.

So here's the problem I have: is the respect getting lost in the celebration? Is Anzac Day in Gallipoli so popular among travellers that it's becoming just another date on the backpacker calendar? Another Oktoberfest? Another Pamplona?

I've never made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli on April 25th, so this will be speculation on my part. But I've heard accounts from enough people to know what goes on.

It's huge. Tour companies put on special trips. Groups like the Fanatics show up with footballs in hand. Travellers plan their whole holidays around the date. It's an enormous amount of people turning up in a small place for just one day.

There's such a massive amount of visitors to Gallipoli on Anzac Day that there's not enough accommodation in the area to fit everyone in.

But that's OK. The more budget-conscious visitors don't even bother looking for a room, knowing they're just going to follow tradition and stay up the entire night before dawn service begins anyway. Why bother paying for accommodation when you're not going to use it?

Even among those who do shell out, there aren't many who actually bother going to sleep on the night of the 24th. Like I said, it's tradition.

There's respect in Gallipoli, plenty of it. It's a solemn service and I'm sure the vast majority of people attend it stone cold sober to remember the fallen.

But there's also a party element to the Gallipoli trips, as there always will be at an event attended by busloads of young travellers on their European adventure. So there are those who stay up all night, and those who stay up partying all night. There's the national-flags-for-capes element to the crowd, the ones who are there for a good time, not a long time.

You don't want to judge anyone's motivations for turning up at Gallipoli. Those with the flag capes have just as much right to remember as anyone else, to mark the occasion.

But the problem I'd have is when the trip becomes less about the remembering and more about the celebrating. When the occasion of having busloads of fellow locals in a foreign land overshadows the reason you all turned up in the foreign land in the first place.

For that reason, I've never made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli at this time of year. I don't feel like I need to add to the numbers. I don't want to be there to tick a box. I don't want to get drawn into some sort of celebration.

And most of all, if there is the partying element that I suspect there is, I don't want to be embarrassed by others on the one day I'm supposed to be most proud of them.

Have you been to Gallipoli for Anzac Day? What was it like? If not, would you want to go?

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- Sydney Morning Herald


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