On Tuesday 26 September, the Peking University Australian Studies Centre welcomed Adjunct Professor Bill Gammage of Australian National University to give a guest lecture on Peter Wier’s Gallipoli and its allegorical significance to Australia’s unique experience during World War I. The event gave local students the opportunity to learn about history and legacy of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) from a prominent historian, award-winning author of The Broken Years: Australian soldiers in the Great War (1974) and a consultant on Wier’s cinematisation of the Gallipoli campaign.

Professor Gammage presented a highly descriptive account of the tribulations faced by the ANZACs during World World I and gave thought to why the collective experiences of these young soldiers on the Gallipoli peninsula have come to symbolise the cementation of Australia’s national identity. He drew attention to three distinctive characteristics of the campaign: the intense, close-encounter bayonet combat between Turkish troops and the ANZACs; the voluntary nature of Australian military enlistment and the Gallipoli landing’s legacy as the first conflict in which different Australian states fought under the same flag. These features, he argued, helped give shape to a distinctive national identity and enduring notions about Australian values and beliefs.

Students engaged well with the lecture, showing amazement at the playful exchanges among Australian and Turkish combatants and the continuation of respect and goodwill between both sides to this day. Comparisons were drawn between the significance of the Gallipoli campaign and the Long March in the respective collective memories of Australian and Chinese people, while attendees questioned the role of war and conflict in the construction of nationhood.

Reade Allison and Natalie Omond