Gallipoli 2015: a reflection

24 Apr 11052413_1112697542079933_665981149442925045_o

In 2015 I was one of 10,500 Australians and New Zealanders who were lucky enough to be successful in the ballot to attend the Gallipoli 2015 commemorations. I had always planned to write about it, but life quite literally got in the way. Here are a few reflections of what it was like to be there, to step on that land.


My best friend and her father have plans to go to Gallipoli in 2015 for the 100th anniversary commemorations. For me, it’s something I’ve never thought about. Her beautiful father passes away in 2013 and her trip to Gallipoli remains just as important, but for different reasons. She explains it better than I ever could in this poem here.

We hear about the ballot in 2013; a few thousand double passes for Aussies and Kiwis. We apply separately to increase our chances, and in early 2014 learn we’ve both missed out. We’re on a waitlist. Of the 40,000 who’ve applied we’re high up the list, but far enough from the top that it still seems impossible.

In early November she gets the news: she’s got the double pass and we’re going. A few weeks later I get the same news, but return my double pass into the pool: I’m going with my friend.  The next few weeks are a frenzy of booking flights, accommodation and a tour (we can’t get in the site without it) and providing all the details to the Government so that we can get our passes and be confirmed.

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We arrive in Turkey on April 22 without incident. Istanbul is teeming with Australians (and a few New Zealanders) – 10,500 is a lot of people. Our tour pre-briefs us in the evening of April 23 and advises we bring plenty of snacks and drinks; it’s not clear what will be available onsite. We get a hoodie – it’s going to be cold – and wake up near dawn to depart for Gelibolu.

It’s just before midday when we arrive at holding site of Kabatepe. We walk through numerous checkpoints – maybe three – and our bags go through machines like you see at airports. My pass states my full name and my passport number and the barcode gives me access to the Dawn Service and Lone Pine. It needs to be worn at all times. While standing in line we’re surprised to see Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Michael Ronaldson greeting us as we arrive for a good half hour.

The holding site is just that: a holding site. Security is paramount and everything is followed in a methodical way. We’re one of the first few buses to arrive and the expectation is that we wait until almost every bus has arrived. Some food is available as well as plenty of memorabilia. Friends of mine who I met on Young Endeavour back in 2004 arrive and become fast friends with my friend.

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The area around us is flat and the shore isn’t steep; I find it hard to imagine how hard it might have been for the ANZACs in such calm and smooth surroundings, but later learn that this is essentially the site that they had planned to arrive at – not the site that became ANZAC Cove.

The wait is close to five hours – and even then we are released in stages, groups of bus numbers. We’re called comparative early and begin the trek down the long road to ANZAC Cove.

Walking to ANZAC Cove

Walking to ANZAC Cove

The mood has been a warm one but sombre, and our walk is quiet. The landscape to our right gets steeper and more hilly. Every so often we spot a movement in the trees or behind a hill. They are Turkish soldiers with weapons. We remark that the few we’re seeing gives way to just how many we’re not seeing. Quite honestly, I’ve never felt more protected.

At the commemorative site there are more security checks and then we’re in. The site has been enormously expanded on previous years to fit the maximum safe number of persons. It’s late afternoon but we’re advised that people will be arriving at the site up until 3am. There is large stadium seating around the site and also a grassy hill where plenty of people are already lying down in their sleeping bags. We make a quick decision to sit in the front row of the front left stadium seating in the corner: restricting our view in some ways, but placing us next to the dignitaries’ entrance, the side of the stage and, movingly, the shore.

Settled in, it’s the first opportunity we have to look around and I feel foolish for my earlier thoughts about the landscape. The cliffs are steep and rocky and loom over us, lit by the setting sun.

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The sun glows red as it slips into the ocean and the warmth is gone, together with music that kept spirits bright into the night. There’s little wind but it’s a cold night and we’re soon ensconced in our sleeping bags, with our Gallipoli beanies (issued in a pack at an earlier checkpoint, together with commemorative booklets, a biodegradable rubbish bag and ponchos) on and the garish hoodies issued by our tour companies on.

Documentaries play through the night and I learn things I’ve never really understood or appreciated. The waves lap against the shore and the tranquility, the lack of distracting chatter, actually makes it easier to imagine the sound of gunfire and scrabbling around the shore. People arrive steadily right through the night, and those who were sleeping on the grass are all now standing tightly.

Before dawn we’re treated to clips of the ceremonies around the world, including every Australian city except Canberra (I know!). And then the waves become louder, as if there were landing boats within them, and William Barton pierces the silence with a didgeridoo performance followed by a Maori call to gathering.

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force tells us that it was here that the ANZAC legend was born at great cost and the reality of war was revealed, followed by an address by NZ Prime Minister John Key and a quotation shared from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – who commanded critical forces during the Gallipoli campaign and was later President of the Republic of Turkey – that those sons who lost their lives lie in a friendly country, and have become Turkey’s sons as well. Tony Abbott and Prince Charles read addresses before prayers are read and wreaths are laid.

In the lead up to ANZAC Day, a friend of mine has been sharing the Facebook posts of a mate of his, Mick Crowther. Mick is a tour guide at the War Memorial. Mick shares this before ANZAC Day:

“This is Trooper Norman Bethune. Norman and his brother Alex (known as Douglas) were orphans from Tasmania. Douglas joined up and fought in the Boer War, getting together enough money to retrieve his little brother and buy a small farm in Swan Hill Victoria. The brothers worked the farm together until 1915 when they locked the gate and joined the 8th Light Horse regiment together. Big brother Doug was killed in Gallipoli at Lone Pine in August 1915. Norman was killed in Palestine in 1917. Orphan brothers who never married. There is no one to remember these men today, other than their own countrymen.”

And so on this trip, in this land, I remember those who have no one to remember them except their own countrymen – people like Norman and Douglas. The Last Post, the minute silence, and Reveille are the most moving I’ve heard and seem to soak into earth.

We are stirred from our thoughts and memories as the dignitaries begin to depart. The sun has risen and the formalities stop for a few moment. In my vantage point I get a smile from Prince Charles.

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As the ceremony ends, we make our way, slowly, to Lone Pine, including past the Beach Cemetery where we pause across the many graves, including John Simpson’s. It’s not lost on us that the many graves are just a fraction of the people who died here, and many did not get buried; their bodies lie among us.

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The walk to Lone Pine is long, steep, and dusty. Soon we have views right out across the ocean, but the trees surround us and it’s difficult to see where the path will take us. Despite being given four hours to get from ANZAC Cove to Lone Pine, time becomes increasingly short because of the security check hold up at the gates to Lone Pine and we arrive with 10 minutes to spare. Our Kiwi mates head on past us to their own service at Chunuk Bair.

I duck to the bathroom before heading into the site and am surrounded by no seats left in my designated division as well as a crush of people trying to meet Prince Harry, who’s standing in the middle of the cemetery. Eventually I find a seat seconds before the service begins. It’s as equally moving as the Dawn Service. I’m not alone in shedding tears.

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Doug Bethune remains present in my mind and at the conclusion of the ceremony, I try to find him. I’m not sure where to start and circle the graves to see if anything sticks out, before using precious mobile data to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to learn more.

It directs me away from the graves and towards the Lone Pine Memorial. And it’s there I find him.

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Lest we forget.

The wait after is just as long as the wait to get in. New Zealand holds their ceremony after ours, and the buses do not begin to leave until an hour after it finishes. Clouds set in, it’s cold and blustery, and there is no food or drink. Some have been awake for more than 36 hours. Some complain. And yet we have just a few hours of these conditions, compared to months and years. And we get to leave, when so many did not.

I will take the experience with me forever.

Lest we forget.

My Dad’s Burrito Beef recipe

31 Mar Reasonably good looking shredded meat

BACK STORY*

* This first part is very lengthy. If you’d prefer to skip to the actual recipe, it’s under the heading “RECIPE” if you scroll down.

As an only child growing up, I was prone to catastrophising – both generally (it is an excellent way to get attention), and in particular about my parents. As I grew older, and especially after I went away to boarding school at 13 and later to uni 1000km away from home, I realised how much they meant to me – and what that brought with it was, “What if they die?”

When I was staying at home in the school or uni holidays, if they went out to a barbecue (I was too cool to go with them, obviously) having said they’d be back at 10pm and it was 10.05pm, I’d imagine every scenario of what might have happened to them. Once this had happened enough times and they came back safe and sound (usually at 10.08pm), this thought process became a superstition: if they weren’t home when I expected them (or it was a stormy night, or I didn’t know where they were), the key thing I obviously needed to do was imagine every possible bad scenario, and some part of me knew that by doing this they’d come home safe and sound. (I realise how silly this sounds!) It was like imagining the most frightening scenarios was a guarantee that nothing bad would ever happen.

And it didn’t, for a while at least. Despite regularly driving the dark road between Rockhampton and Yeppoon, travelling the world, and attending those damn barbecues, they always came home perfectly fine.

Regardless, I never took saying goodbye to my parents for granted. In my late teens, Dad and I had a rare argument one night. He started work at 5am so went to bed early before I had the chance to properly rue my choice of words. I couldn’t bear the thought of the small chance of something happening to him while we were at odds, so popped a short note in his lunchbox that night – and he discovered it the next morning and wrote me a reply. Neither of us ever spoke about it, but 10 years later I still have his sweet reply.

When I said goodbye to my parents last year after they visited over Easter, I carefully remembered and valued each hug – as always, I figured there was a chance they could be my last. They weren’t my last, but they turned out to be the last I’d have before our lives were turned upside down five weeks later with dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis. For all my obsessive catastrophising, no only child superstitions prepared me for it, nor his death in August.

Dad’s cancer worsened rapidly, but I had three weekends where he was fully lucid and the first of those it was hard to believe he was even sick. On that weekend, we made burritos. My parents had owned and managed all aspects of a Cairns Mexican restaurant called Mexican Pete’s when I was born in the mid-1980s, and, around the time I was 10 – long after they’d sold it and we’d moved three towns by then – Dad started occasionally putting burritos on the weekend dinner menu, using the recipe they’d used at the restaurant. It became my favourite meal and something I always asked for when visiting home. So, on that first weekend home after the diagnosis, I pulled out the camera and recorded a video as Dad made it. We enjoyed a very normal, tasty meal.

The video of him making it, and making it since myself, has been a great source of comfort to me. It doesn’t bring him back, but he doesn’t feel so far away.

It’s also delicious (and easy), so I want to share it with you.

RECIPE

NB: Now. I know what you’re thinking. I am the self-proclaimed most hopeless cook ever. I’ve used salt instead of sugar in pancakes. I’ve poured burnt toffee into a kitchen sink. (I really do not recommend this. But if you’re looking to strengthen your chiseling skills, give it a whirl.) However, I’ve made this dish four or five times in the last few months and I’m pretty convinced that it’s hard to stuff up.

NB x 2: I have never done a recipe post before. And this is not in any way technical. If you spot something wrong or missing, please tell me!

Ingredients:

  • TIME. This recipe doesn’t require much from you, but it does require time. Don’t start it at 7pm for a dinner that you want to serve that night. I think best started at 2pm.
  • 1.2kg of chuck steak or gravy beef, diced. I can’t guarantee finding this at Coles or Woolies, but both are always available at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets. What Dad told me is that it doesn’t really matter which one you get – just go for what has a bit more marbling (or is cheaper!). However, I’ve found gravy beef to be much better than chuck steak.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 small green capsicums, also chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste (I actually think just use all of one of those little tubs they come in because it’s about the same)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard

Method:

  1. Chop your gravy beef, onion and capsicums. Ignore pleading whippet who is keen for off-cuts.
  2. Put it all in a saucepan (one where you always know where the lid is so you don’t waste time trying to find it). No oil. No butter. No pre-heating. Nothing. Just put it all in and mix it around a bit so the three ingredients are mixed in together.IMG_9220 (2)
  3. Put the saucepan on low (LOW) heat. By LOW I mean on the lowest setting, or halfway between the lowest and second lowest. Put the lid on.
  4. Resist the temptation to lift the lid for two-three (!) hours. Cooking is not my forte as you all know, but the low heat draws out the juices from all the ingredients and the steam does a lot to help, too. There ends up being stacks and stacks of liquid, and this is what you want. All of the juice and flavour of the onion and capsicums do a lot to seep in to the beef, leaving just the very soft mushy membrane of the vegies.
  5. After a minimum two hours (I think three is best), lift the lid. There should be lots of liquid and it might be bubbling slightly. Depending on the beef and the temperature, it may need a bit longer than three hours. Drain the liquid stock – leaving just a little in the saucepan – and put it aside.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

  6. This is the hardest part for me to explain. Between this and the final step, the meat should start to shred. Sometimes I drain the stock and it really doesn’t look like it’s going to shred, but it miraculously does – and sometimes it doesn’t. What I do know is that you must use a wooden spoon if you’re going to have any luck. Stir the meat a little to loosen it up.
  7.  Add the rest of the ingredients in the ingredients list (taking careful note of the difference between teaspoon and tablespoon). The key is restraint – you can always add more, but if you add in too much soy sauce (uh, for example), it might be hard to recover.
  8. Stir more! And more. It should start to really shred well so that you have very few chunks and much more shredded beef.

    Reasonably good looking shredded meat

    Starting to look okay in terms of shredding

  9. Add a little of the stock back if you need to – it should be very moist without being drippy. Otherwise, use the stock for something else (I have recently used it in a risotto and it was great).

And that is it. Serve it with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, Old El Paso medium taco sauce, grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole (which I make with one avocado and one tablespoon of sour cream, with a big squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper). Don’t overfill your tortilla!

It makes enough for 4-6, depending on appetites. For two of us, it’s usually two or three meals. The beef freezes well, especially if put in the freezer in small portions.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

Ha Ha Bar, Belconnen – revisited*

23 Mar Spiced haloumi

* I visited Ha Ha Bar as a guest.

Belconnen Town Centre’s Emu Bank is something special – or it has the potential to be. Facing (what I think is) the best lake in Canberra, with the Arts Centre at one end and one of the world’s best skate parks at the other, Emu Bank could be a promenade in Canberra’s north.

But it’s not quite there yet. While the restaurant quality is mixed from the average to the very good and caters from takeaway to pub to formal dine-in, it’s been missing a high-quality restaurant to anchor the area and attract similar ventures.

Ha Ha Bar is one of those venues that’s always been very good. I’ve always enjoyed the food (in addition to plenty of brunches and dinners there, you can read my first review in 2011 here, and 2013 here) even if the service left a little to be desired, but it hasn’t been what you’d necessarily call a fine dining experience.

I genuinely think that’s about to change.

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Pizza Artigiana, Jamison

16 Feb IMG_0195

It’s increasingly common these days for me to first get notice of a new restaurant through Facebook: friends liking the page, or a sponsored post. So it was for Pizza Artigiana which I first heard about through its common presence in my newsfeed since back in May last year. It boasts of handmade pizza and imported beers and, being so local, made it onto my ‘must try’ list. After months I made my way there – but, happily, it won’t be months before I’m back again.

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Jaffle Degustation at 54 Benjamin

12 Feb 024b

In the last few years, the Belconnen Town Centre has grown and changed in more ways than many of us could have imagined. One of the best parts about that has been the number of new businesses that have opened. 54 Benjamin is one of these: a hole in the wall cocktail bar at the bottom of the Churches Centre which just recently celebrated its first birthday. Its wide-ranging menu, convenient location and late-night jaffle menu makes it a favourite among residents and workers alike – and I’m proud to call it my local!

I have to say it wasn’t until Two Before Ten started showing up with their van and breakfast jaffle menu at the Aranda Shops – as it was developed to make way for the new cafe and the Bolt Bar that I was reminded of just how good the humble jaffle is. It’s the warm sandwich that doesn’t fall apart, with no end of delicious fillings. The only risk is a burnt tongue depending on your fillings – tomato, I’m looking at you – but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

54B – as it’s known – has brought jaffles back in a big way, with butter chicken jaffles and alphabetti-cheese jaffles proving a hit: so much so that 54B decide to shake things up a bit by kickstarting their Thursday night ‘event’ series with a jaffle degustation.

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My first time at Summernats

10 Jan

Every early January, it seems like all Canberrans heave a sigh and say, “It’s that time of year again.” Engines deafen Braddon’s cafe conversations and the heat already beating off the streets becomes hazier, smokier. It means busy hotels in what should be a quiet season and advice to “avoid EPIC”. Ever since I moved to Canberra, with one sentence I’ve heard people defend it and lament it: “It’s not what it used to be.

I’ve always wanted to attend Summernats simply to see what the fuss is about. What is so attractive about it that it draws people across Australia to Canberra on what is often one of the warmest weekends of the year? Is the tourism boost worth the event’s dubious reputation – and is its reputation even warranted?

I’ve procured a ticket online and when I arrive on the sweltering afternoon, there’s no line to get in. I hand my ticket over and get a lime green wristband which clearly marks that I’m only there for the Friday session and that’s it. Through the gates, the first challenge: crossing Tuff St. Cars are just cruising and cruising, some occasionally – spontaneously – shooting forward a few metres, making it only safe to cross when there’s quite a big distance between cars.

My first experience is a tame one, heading across Main Street and into the judging pavilion. My phone camera gets a workout before we even step inside.

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Inside, there’s a barrier around the entire pavilion and people are leaning up against it, admiring the cars being judged. Even with just a few cars slowly on the move it’s very, very loud. The cars go up a small ramp so they can be judged all over and for some cars which have been lowered – and I mean really lowered – it’s a close call to not scrape off paint or do them damage. In half an hour I see cars modified with hydraulics, some amazing paintwork and one car which has all the judges engaged with tiny torches looking at every single detail. This car takes the judges five times as long to finish judging as all the others we see and later it’s confirmed it does very well.

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Hydraulics! This car appears in a video later in this post…

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From we walk through the exhibitors pavilion where there’s plenty of things on display to help you modify your car – anything you could think of (and plenty of things I have no idea about).

Outside, we walk up Main St. Crossing the road again is an adventure and my friend – a Summernats veteran – stresses the key to an enjoyable and safe Summernats is being situationally aware at all times; consciously knowing what’s going on around you and being prepared to move if you need. Every second stall seems to either be one with fried food – I enjoy two dagwood dogs during the day! – or with alcoholic slushies (bourbon, rum, tequila, and vodka fire engine). A bar with undercover shade is further up with security inside. There’s a range of mid-strength beers on offer, a cider, and the most expensive beer – at $8 – and the only full-strength is a can of VB. It’s the most popular. Outside, I have the first of a few experiences where a car goes past so loud that it feels like my eardrum is shuddering.

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One of the ‘highlights’ of Summernats is the burnout track. We’re there for over an hour in the stands with the sun scorching skin all around us. Without my friend explaining the purpose of the burnout competition to me, I’d have no idea what I’m watching. We’re upwind so we’re saved from the constant billowing smoke but not from the flecks of rubber. Within minutes I’m coated in the black powder that mercilessly spreads as soon as I try to rub it off.

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From what I can gather, the whole purpose is to pop as many tyres, create as much smoke, and spin the car around in a quite small area and try not to hurt anyone. It’s all at once senseless, entertaining, polluting and concerning. I watch talented drivers who spin their cars so hard and fast and blow tyres and create so much smoke that I then can’t even see what they’re doing to assess if it’s any good. I watch other drivers barely create any smoke and drive almost into a wall before 10 seconds are up, to jeers of the crowd.

For something where I still have no idea what it’s actually supposed to achieve, it draws an enormous crowd.

At the end of the qualifying round we depart to the Show n’ Shine field but many of the cars have departed as it’s about to transform into the arena for the night’s entertainment with Seth Sentry. In addition to a few remaining cars there’s a V8 simulation (not worth it), a Slingshot and helicopter rides.

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This car gets in trouble in a vehicle you’re about to see…

I’ve had a real assault on the senses by this point – the sun has sunk so low it feels like it’s glaring at eye-level, and combined with the fumes and smoke means I’ve got tears streaming down my face – even in the middle of the field! After a rest we head back to Tuff St where there is a lot of action. This is probably the most entertaining part of the day for me. The cars are interesting, and it’s great to see many of them in action. Directly across from us are a group of blokes who help make it even more interesting by asking cars to spin their wheels right in front of them. Given how close they are to the road, I’m also terrified that tyres are going to run over feet (and so surprised this doesn’t happen). This is also the only point that I see any, uh, exposure – of two vehicles, one is particularly devoted to this (but I see no competitions!) (this does not add to the entertainment factor for me!).

And that’s my experience at Summernats. The ticket is valid for the rest of the evening and there’s entertainment to be seen – as well as plenty more cars, and the judging pavilion is about to reveal the best cars – but five hours of heat, noise and fumes exhausts (ha, ha) me.

Does Summernats warrant its reputation? Yes and no. It’s loud and a lot to me seems senseless and plenty about it is crude. But I also saw so many families – so many very young children – having a truly great time. I saw how passionate people are about their vehicles and the money that’s gone into some of the cars and the effort that it takes to become someone who understands their vehicle’s every join and exactly how to make it do what you want. I saw a lot of security and spent a lot of time watching them, particularly on Tuff St, and their approach looked to me to be fair – having a chat to people when their behaviour made things a little unsafe, pushing crowds back a little bit, but largely being very watchful and quite simply very present.  It’s also no where near as big as I expected it to be.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been to in Canberra, ever. It brings something totally different to our city. While I know I’ll never totally get it – and some things I certainly question – I can see what the fuss is about.

The best Belconnen Christmas lights

19 Dec 051 web

Every year I see the published lists of Christmas lights in Belconnen, and every year I feel overwhelmed by the choice and limited time to see them all (especially when I leave it to the last minute/week).

For me, the perfect Christmas lights experience is getting in as many ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’ houses before I get annoyed listening to the GPS and/or too many hours go past. Achieving this means knowing where the best houses are. Once you’ve knocked these over, you can enjoy the fantastic efforts of so many contributors throughout town – every house offers something magical!

So, if you’ve only got a limited amount of time before your patience runs out, here are my top three picks in Belconnen (and they’re all pretty close together!).

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