A tourist at home

I am writing this from my apartment in Göteborg, as outside the sun shines the the flowers continue to bloom in every possible hue. It’s a contrast to the overcast chill of my last day in Perth, an irony that is definitely not been lost on me.

The morning choir

The morning choir

Though it has resulted in this post being a few days later than usual, I thought I’d wait till I returned to Sweden to write the final post about the trip to Australia. Now that I’m back I have a different perspective than what I had when I was sitting in my old bedroom, listening to the magpies in the trees outside the window. Sitting here in the apartment, listening to the cars roar past on the highway outside the window, the whole trip seems almost unreal. It’s the feeling I was somewhat expecting when we arrived in Perth 3 weeks ago, as though the months in Sweden had been a passing fancy, and we were now back home at last. Instead I felt off balance for about two weeks, a mix of jetlag and an unsettling feeling that the familiar was foreign. I tried to explain this to family and friends, and I’m not sure now whether it made sense, or whether I inadvertently sounded as though I was gladly clear of our home town. Although, the only way to really sound like a native is to knock it, right?

A black swan

A black swan

One part of the trip that I very much enjoyed was getting to spend time in by myself among trees. I do that here as well, but it’s different when it’s the types of trees and shrubs I grew up with and can name. There were walks around the home, including finding half of a smashed bee hive in the empty trunk of a fallen branch that still smelt of honey and visiting one of my favourite parks.

A pearly eucalypt

A pearly eucalypt

The pine plantation that surrounds the park was my childhood image of a fairy tale forest, and I spent hours there acting out adventures with friends or just wandering by myself and staring up at the towering pines and pretending I was in a forest in a far off land.
My family had bbqs in the curve of a creek, under a tree whose leaves turned gold in Autumn, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken there, as he supervised the wood-fire bbq.
Also in the park is an old oak, planted in 1870 which from a distance looks dense and no taller than the eucalypts surrounding it. When you walk along the raised platform and step underneath, it’s as though you’re inside a dome of leaves, sheltered by branches that reach almost to the ground that are in turn held up by an immense trunk. I’ve seen karri trees over 70 metres tall in the south of WA, and old olive trees in Italy, but for me they don’t compare to that old oak.

A 144 year old oak

A 144 year old oak

In addition to walks in the forest, I spent most of the final week driving around to last-minute catch ups, and eating a lot. I just looked at my calendar and Sunday through to Thursday are back-to-back lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. I also managed to see my grandma, who I haven’t seen in many years. It’s impossible to replace nine months of casual meet ups with a few hours over tea or a meal and surprisingly surprising to remember that time passes at the same speed across the world. People move on to new jobs, try new things, change plans and go about their lives, irrespective of any imaginary pause buttons. Hearing of new plans and ideas, I’m looking forward to seeing how much change another year will bring.

Dinner at Little Creatures

Dinner at Little Creatures

So what have I learnt from the trip?

That a holiday and visiting an old home are not the same thing.

Nothing beats good food and good company.

It takes a few days for my native accent to cease being hilarious.

Something can be both familiar and foreign at the same time.

Home doesn’t have to be one place.

Things that don’t change

I am happy to announce that my jetlag is over, yay! I have also ceased to giggle at Australian accents, although once or twice I have drifted to the right side of the road. Fortunately only my nana was there to briefly panic and suggest the other side might be better, so no incidents occurred.

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

This past week was a bit less planned out than next week, so on Monday I found myself at loose ends. My partner had started working so was unavailable for adventures, as were most other people I know, so I decided to head into ‘the city’. I still can’t help but think of it in inverted commas, despite the constant growth. Like a younger sibling, I’ve seen it grow, and grown up with it. From visits to the museum with mum and grandma to see the whale skeleton, to wandering up to 78 Records with my school friends, to working in A. B. Facey House and then after work drinks in new, crowded bars. And like a younger sibling, I have an irresistible urge to condescend, just a little bit.

London Court

London Court

It has grown since I was last there, though is still in flux, with giant stretches of construction sites and cranes peeping among the towers. I suppose some day it’ll be finished, but it won’t happen while the boom is still booming.

Perth from South Perth

Perth from South Perth

I caught the train in from Midland, and for those who know Midland, it is still very much Midland.

Midland train station

Midland train station

Once in the city I wandered, discovering that the final cinema in the city is gone and that otherwise little has changed. One of my favourite restaurants, The Greenhouse, is still there and I had a lovely lunch, which included the finest lemonade and the third best dessert I’ve ever had.



I then did a tiny bit of shopping and decided to catch the ferry across the river, because why not. Once across I took pictures of the city, and then strolled back around the river, with the sun in my eyes and the familiar trees and the walk warming me up.

The next day I had scheduled lunch with my dad, and then dinner at the house of 2 very good friends. I got up, baked an apple pie for dinner, then headed out to see my dad. It was a day and night of food and conversation, and wonderful company, and I finished by feeling extremely replete, and not just in my very full belly.

An apple pie

An apple pie

On Wednesday morning I drove down to Mandurah, where my nana lives, to spend the night. She is my father’s mother, and has lived down there for as long as I can remember. I have many childhood memories of christmas holidays spent at the beach, and lounging around the old house. I can remember the hot bitumen as we ran barefoot from the old red 4wd to the sand, the tides forming new sand banks each time we visited, the slick slatherings of suncream on my skin, the old fashioned music in the car and the sand that built up in the shower as we rinsed off the salt-water.

The summer beach

The summer beach

Creamy mashed potato, the old piano, playing with my cousin, trips to the shops, movies in the lounge and the hours of quiet reading and cards as the afternoon drew on. Years later the furniture has been moved around, the beaches seem smaller and the house still smells and feels the same. A constant, like lamingtons, the wisdom of old ladies and a cup of tea.

I also chatted to my nana about her father, who my father had found more information about prior to my return. She has vague memories of the man, who left when she was 6 (or more likely was told to go my her mother), and then returned years later when she had children herself, not recognising her and demanding to know who was living in his house. Not wanting to disturb her mother, she didn’t identify herself, and he left in a taxi, only to die, probably alone, a few years later. It was just one part of the tragedy of the man’s life, decided in large part when he signed up to the Australian Army in 1917, claiming the age of 18 but in fact 16. My father’s research says that he was sent to the Somme, probably as a reinforcement after the battle of the previous year. What he saw there we’ll never know, but he came back damaged, apparently never able to settle and often on the bottle. My father traced his grave, a bare patch of earth with the small numbered plaque, partially covered in sand. Soon we hope to give him back his name, something that I wish the countless other numbered graves could also receive.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

After I returned home from Mandurah, I drove over to a house where I have spent many days and evenings, and where another man damaged by the war spent the last of his years. Since high school I have whiled away hours at the KSP writer’s centre, writing, talking and working, and this being a Thursday I did what must be done: I went to the Thursday Night Group. The group meets to read out their work, critique that of others and drink wine and prior to moving to Sweden I spent most thursdays there, laughing, chatting and discussing the work that brought us all together week after week. Many of the usuals were still there, reading out new stories or poems, making very poor fowl related puns and kindly pulling apart each others writing. As with the house in Mandurah, it was another constant, unchanging, reliable and often quite silly.

Then finally on Friday I went into the city again, this time with a purpose. Before I moved to Sweden I had worked for one state government agency for about 3 years, so there were many memories and friends there, that I wanted to visit. There were a few doubletakes from those who didn’t know I’d be there, and questions about how I was, how Sweden was and what I was doing. Government agencies in my experience rarely change fundamentally, despite cuts, freezes and policy changes. The day to day goes on as always, and those I met seemed mostly as they had been when I left, if slightly busier. After wandering about surprising people for a while I headed out with a few particular cronies and spent the next few hours in another aspect of government service which is unchanging – the afterwork drink.

Gums in Guildford

Gums in Guildford

Next week I will be even busier, catching up with those I haven’t had a chance to see yet and spending some final hours with my family. Soon enough I’ll be back in Sweden, with Australia again another memory. Then in a year we’ll return, and I hope have a few days without rain.

Magpies and old places

I would be interested to know if there exists in any language a word for the feeling that something is both familiar and strange at the same time. It is a feeling that I have discovered since arriving in Australia on Sunday night. Driving up into the hills, seeing the old and newly greened bushland, and my parents’ house, it seems as though I never left. Perhaps the whole thing was some Eurovision induced fantasy.

Whether or not the months in Sweden have been a dream, the long flight over here couldn’t have been faked. As anyone who’s made long-haul flights will know, the only thing worse than 10 hours tightly packed into a cabin is the queues, waiting, security checks and sudden rush before and after the flights. The reward of course is arriving, and for us being able to see our families for the first time in months. Thanks to skype we never feel too far away from them but the internet is no substitute for a hug.

The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean

That first night we slept like the dead, waking up mid-morning to a strange feeling of warmth. While it’s been mostly cloudy with occasional showers since we arrived, it is much warmer than what we left behind and I am right now indulging in a pair of shorts, which I have not worn since we left last year. Though my mind is slowly adjusting to being on holiday and being in Australia, my body is still finding the warmth and humidity strange, and noticing more than ever the scent of eucalyptus, the soil after rain and the din of all the birds calling in the bush.

The sun behind a grasstree

The sun behind a grasstree

I went for a walk on Wednesday afternoon and felt a bit like a tourist, amazed by the cries of the various parrots, cockatoos, magpies, finches, mudlarks and other unknown birds, and the strange shapes and colours of the plants lining the gravel path. I was reminded again of the contrast between soft and hard shown in the Australian bush. The parrot bush, with its sharp edged leaves and downy yellow flowers, the prickly moses with buds not yet in bloom and an unknown grass the blades of which twist like calligraphy.



Another new experience was the other people cycling, walking or running on the path. Without exception, they smiled, nodded or said good morning and we passed each other. One fellow shooting past on a bike even said thank you when I moved to the side of the path in response to his bell ringing. I suppose people in Australia, or at least those who live out beyond suburbia, will probably shrug and wonder what I’m talking about. You see, in Sweden, if you meet someone on a path, or on a road, be they walking, cycling or running, the most acknowledgement you can expect is a nod. Mostly I get the briefest of eye-contact, if that. There are a few ladies who are an exception, as I pass them every day and one of their dogs generally chases me, so I get a semi-apologetic smile and ‘hej’ as I outrun the little ball of fluff. I am now experiencing the reverse of what I got used to months ago, as I blink in surprise at friendly greetings from strangers.

Prickly Australian natives

Prickly Australian natives

Further proof that I am in Australia came on Wednesday night, as I pulled aside the curtain in my bedroom to close the window. Perched on the sill, looking just as surprised as me, was a little gecko. It turned out that the top of the window screen was slightly open, so I climbed up and pulled it out so I could set the gecko free (no double glazed windows in Australia) and as I did so a big black spider scuttled across the screen. Thinking it was a redback, I may have sworn a bit, waking my dad up and startling both the spider and the gecko. It was just a plain black spider, and with a bit of shaking I got it off the screen and then tried to coax the gecko out of the window. It decided instead to scamper into a gap under the sill and as far as I know is still there. I have made sure that the screen is closed, so hopefully I won’t have any more surprise guests. On the fluffy side, I have also seen a bandicoot and two rabbits. I’m sure a kangaroo will be along at some point too.

The reason for the trip, or at least the reason for the timing, was a wedding. One of my partner’s closest friends set the date for his wedding shortly after we’d left for Sweden, so the plan to pop over had been in place for a while. The wedding was on Thursday, at a very nice venue right next to a river. It was relatively small, around 60 guests, and beautifully planned. The ceremony was short and sweet, the bride looked lovely and the groom slightly nervous but pleased. There were garden games while photos were taken, and I first beat my partner at giant-connect 4, and then we drew at chess. Well we reached an impasse so I distracted him, stole the king and made him forfeit. After which we had a reception in a very elegantly decorated pavilion, with tasty food, slightly embarrassing and sincere speeches and then dancing. The night ended as the bride and groom were driven to the airport and the guests who had lasted stumbled off to cars or taxis. I’ve only been to a few weddings, but in terms of planning, calmness and sincerity, it was the nicest.

This week has otherwise been spent recovering from jetlag, resting, spending time with family, talking, watching my brother and his girlfriend play netball (their team won), seeing friends and planning for the coming weeks. Already my days are filling up, and the first week is nearly over. Soon there will be more people to see and plans to make, but until then I’ll sit in my old room, listening to magpies and the rain.

A gravel trail

A gravel trail


In 2 days I will be in Australia, breathing in the familiar air and absorbing the broad accents of home. I can picture the dry earth, gangly eucalypts and somewhat more casual dress of the people, more accustomed to endless sunshine than months of drizzle. What I can’t imagine is whether it’s going to feel more like a home-coming or a holiday. A homliday?
However, the more I think about it, I realise that what I think of as the most yearned for aspect of the trip is seeing family and friends, who are home in one way or another.

The past week has flown past, in a mix of teachers tactlessly making a joke about Putler (Putin + Hitler) in front of a Ukrainian who supports Putin, watching a live-streamed interview with Hilary Mantel and for the most part preparing for the oncoming trip. As such my mind is casting itself forwards rather than backwards, which makes for a brief update. Short and sweet, is what I hope readers will take out of it.

I feel as though ever minute is being ticked off a list at the end of which is our arrival, tired and relieved, at the Perth airport.

There goes another minute, and another, and another.

Sunset in the hills

Sunset in the hills

Lights in the dark

Fourth Sunday of Advent

As I have been updating this post, the four advent candles have been burning behind my laptop, and a little while ago the first candle burnt out, leaving the others to slowly sink. It is the last Sunday of Advent and Jul is almost here.

The sunburnt buildings and sweet tea of Istanbul seem a long time ago now, with winter settling in and Jul approaching. We have seen snow come and go, and the city unite in traditions that date back before memory. In sunny Australia where the sun sets after 7pm on a christmas night, the profusion of lights on houses and in trees are a glitzy and fun gimmick, to celebrate the season and create as much flash as possible. Here, as the days shorten and are more often overcast, the lights in the windows and in the trees keep away the darkness until the year turns again.

Two of my favourite traditions I have seen in Sweden so far are related to keeping the darkness at bay and though are ostensibly Christian, feel like part of an older tradition.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

I must have heard something somewhere about Advent candles, as I’d been looking around for a candle-holder weeks before December arrived, to no avail. I wasn’t even sure exactly what to look for, other than assuming it held four candles and possibly looked like a smaller menorah. In case you’re reading this and wondering what I’m rambling about, the Advent candle tradition says that for every Sunday in December you light the first candle on the first Sunday, the second candle on the second, the third on the third and on the final Sunday all the candles are lit. As I understand it the tradition is some sort of count down to Jesus, but I like to think of it as a count down to Jul and the new year, and a good excuse to get involved in some old traditions.

As the weeks went on they started to pop up all over the place, and I eventually found just the right one in the city. I got four red candles and eagerly awaited the first Sunday, and watched as other windows filled with candles and lights. Most other windows have electric lights, with multiple candles in a triangle shape, which I’ll probably get next year for the sake of practicality, but in my opinion nothing beats slowly burning candles lighting up a room. Wherever I go in the city, in every neighbourhood, office building and shop, almost all windows contain Advent candles, lighting up the room and a little bit of the world outside.
There are also stars, in a variety of patterns and colours, which are hung instead of or over the candles, though what the specific tradition they represent is, I don’t know. Needless to say we have one.

Our star, with the Liseberg tree behind

The second tradition begins with far off voices gradually getting louder, and light slowly filling a dark room. When I first saw it and heard it, at the Göteborg City Hall, I was transfixed. They had stuck with tradition, and the girl who entered the room first had 6 real candles on her crown, and the other 5 were wearing pure white robes and red bands around their waists as she did. They were all singing the traditional song, Santa Lucia. They sang a number of songs in Swedish, a couple in English and then ended with the first, slowly walking out in a line as their voices faded away. I have since seen a Lucia tåg (train) at my Swedish school and semi-accidentally took part in an attempt at the world’s longest Lucia tåg, both of which were more fun and felt like part of the glue that holds Swedish culture together. The first one I saw, though, felt magical and reverent.

Lucia, watched over by Hermes

One version of the story says that in around 300CE there lived in Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, a young woman named Lucia. She was betrothed to some guy, and all was fine, until her mother became sick. She prayed to all the gods she could think of (this being in the late Roman Empire, they had amassed plenty for her to choose from) and ran from doctor to doctor to find a cure but to no avail. Then one night she dreamed of an angel who promised that her mother would get better if Lucia converted to Christianity, became celibate and did some proselytising.
Despite Christianity apparently being a crime at this time, she agreed. So she went around talking about Jesus and broke of the engagement, which upset her betrothed (I assume that her mother also got better, as I couldn’t find a mention of her after this stage). He told the local law enforcers about her proselytising and they attempted to arrest her, but though they grabbed her and tried to drag her away they were unable to move her. Then someone else came up with the idea of stacking wood around her and set it alight, but even engulfed in flames she lived, until someone else stabbed her with a sword. Later she was made into a saint. Even later than that her story was combined with ancient Swedish traditions and became the festival of today.

In addition of the procession of girls, and in some cases cone-hatted stjärngossar (star boys), on this night many younger people are said to party late into the night. This is supposed to be a celebration of the ending of the school or uni year, but again the tradition goes back further. An ancient Swedish tradition said that on the 13th of December the Lussi, an evil female demon, would fly around the land with her followers the Lussiferda, and kidnap anyone silly enough to be outside or who had been naughty. To protect themselves and the households people would hold a vigil all night long, keeping candles lit and watching the darkness. These days people don’t fear evil spirits who may steal them away, but some things last long after people remember why they started.

Last night we held our own party to keep the darkness at bay, a gathering of friends who came to eat and drink and talk, and enjoy the warmth and light. It happened to be on the Winter solstice, and in memory of our country that had just celebrated the Summer solstice, we served kangaroo, among curry, pepparkakor, cheesy, nutty, honeyed bread and pastries supplied by one of our guests. Before the year is over, and as the year turns, we may gather with friends again in the night, with yet more eating, talking and drinking, marking time till the end of winter.

The last Sunday draws on

In two days we’ll celebrate Julafton (christmas eve), opening the presents piling up under our little tree and watching by skype as our families open their gifts. Then we hope to travel somewhere not too far away, to explore more of Sweden and get away from the day to day life, and if we’re lucky see some snow. We may not get a white christmas this year, but it has so far been more of a christmas in other ways than I have ever had, apart from the lack of my family, which for me has always been the heart of Jul.

Pilgrimage to Gallipoli

To any Australian reading this, I don’t feel as though I need to say why a trip to Turkey requires a visit to the Gallipoli peninsula. Assuming you are not an Australian, however, I’ll try and explain.

99 years ago, during WWI, the Allied forces under the command of Britain (in particular a certain Winston Churchill) decided they need to take the Dardanelles in order to reach Istanbul and so get through to the Black Sea. The plan was to land forces at Gallipoli and have them over the peninsula and having breakfast in Ecebat on the other side by morning. What could go wrong, right? A lot, as it turned out. The campaign was a failure for the Allies and after 9 months they retreated (oops, spoilers!). Incidents such as this are probably liberally scattered throughout the histories of war, but this one became a defining moment for Turkish Independence and formed part of the foundations of the Australian identity.

I can speak with far less knowledge about the Turkish perspective of the campaign, but since the tour I understand a lot more. They refer to it as the battle of Çanakkale and consider it a victory for the Turkish nation, or the Ottoman Empire as it was, against invading forces. It was also when a chap named Mustafa Kamal started to make a name for himself.

ANZAC memorial at North Beach

Most Australians of my generation would have been fed on the heroism of the ANZACs since early school, partly due to a previous PM who was rather into nationalism, with words like mateship, bravery and independence of mind being presented as part of an Australian culture that was born on a beach in Turkey. What it really means to Australians, if you were to ask one of the thousands who are standing at a Memorial on the morning of 25th April, could be any number of things. They may have had family who served at Gallipoli, or who served elsewhere during the War or one of the other wars since. It sometimes seem close to a semi-religious response, a reverence for the young men who sacrificed themselves all those years ago on far off craggy shores that we might have a better life. Even though they ultimately failed they never gave up and they fought like devils for the men next to them, and recognised the humanity of the men facing them.

Whatever the reason, ANZAC Day is probably the closest to a secular holy day that Australia has, with more genuine emotion than Australia Day, from my experience in any case.

For me it’s memories of acting out a battle in Primary school (being a girl I was a nurse, obviously) and playing dead on the hot grass during the minute of silence, that final image of Mark Lee in Gallipoli, the quiet verandah of an old house in Greenmount and most of all getting up early with my dad year after year to stand with the silent crowds for an endless minute.

So, now that I’ve attempted to lay bare part of my nation’s psyche, let’s get on with the trip.

We got up at an uncomfortably early hour to meet the bus, which duly arrived and then whisked us around Istanbul to pick up the rest of the travellers. A majority were Australians of our parent’s age, whose kids had flown the nest and who had decided to use their retirement to see all those things on their bucket list. Plus a father and son probably on a bonding trip and a young Italian couple who were actually going to Troy and probably knew nothing about this Gallipoli place. The drive was long, and we entertained ourselves with occasional chats, reading, staring out of the window and dozing. Outside it was almost as though we were travelling through time, as we passed shepherds tending their scraggly herds, crooks in hand, tumbledown villages and rolling fields of nothing that I could recognise. This old land, that had formed part of the cradle of many civilizations, seemed exhausted by thousands of years of supporting people, and now managed a few small truck stops which served not especially awesome food but kept us on our journey.

Around midday we arrived at Ecebat, where we wandered around the fairly new memorial park and then had lunch. After Istanbul Ecebat seemed a tiny place, sitting quietly on the European side of the Dardanelles. I imagine that Australian and New Zealand tourists are a common attraction in the area.

View from the Turkish trench at the memorial

The drive from Ecebat was much shorter, and after picking up our guide and a couple more tourists we headed for the coast. The first stop was Brighton Beach where our guide put us straight n regards to why the landing happened where it did, why is was a disaster and where we can find a 6 volume book series that will tell us as much as we want to know. He was very knowledgeable, and passionate, which you would have to be if you were telling the same story day in and day out. In short communications were confused, beaches were mixed up and unlike I’d always been told, it wasn’t just the fault of the British. Really.

Brighton Beach

Further along the coast was a gravesite, which included the grave of Simpson (but not his donkey) and more importantly in the opinion of the guide, the man who had mapped the area prior to the landing and whose name I shamefully can neither remember nor find. There were also the usual stones for young men, with messages from family or friends, sometimes trite but always desolate. Next was a memorial for Ataturk, a large bronze monument inscribed with his famous quote which ends with

‘…your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.’

This is one of the many examples of the connection between the invading forces and the Turkish army that has become part of the legend, and which we saw more examples of later.

Graves at the ANZAC cove gravesite

From there we went to ANZAC Cove itself, a surprisingly small beach, with a steep bank meeting a steep hill. Looking down at the peaceful beach, the guide removed another misconception I’d long had about the landing: that it had been made under a barrage of machine gun fire, leaving the cove littered with bodies. On that first morning it was a bloody sight, but Eric Bogle was wrong when he sang that, ‘Johnny Turk he was ready, he’d primed himself well…’

Apparently, the original plan to land around Brighton Beach was what the Turks expected, and so they had concentrated their forces over there. Around what’s now ANZAC cove was a skeleton force, who would have been rather surprised when a rush of men landed on the small beach and began to swarm up the hills towards them. They did have guns, but not machine guns. The machine gun fire was from the British forces themselves, and in the confusion I doubt I would have been able to tell. The blood and bodies that later arrivals saw and remembered was mostly from men who’d pushed on in that first rush, climbing the hills and valleys in groups, taking up positions and losing them and settling in for the short, brutal campaign.

My overall feeling looking down at the beach was, ‘gosh, that’s a small beach’. I couldn’t transpose on it images I’d seen or how I’d imagined it. It was a calm beach, and as with so much else in this place, the slowly eroding sand was less important that the ideas that people fill it with.


Just around a corner was North Beach, the site of the ANZAC memorial that is televised every year and where most of the landings and photos took place. It is larger but nowhere near Cottesloe, or even Bondi. As you turn inland, however, the Sphinx stares down at you, the point of the tallest of a few tall, steep hills that encircle the beach. I wonder whether the beach of the old photos has washed away, because even imagining 200 visitors packed in the flat part with sleeping bags seemed uncomfortably cosy. The memorial itself is a wall with a history of the campaign facing the beach, and down a short path between the lawns is a low wall with ANZAC written in bronze, the sea lying behind it. It is again a calm beach, though the Sphinx adds an impressive and slightly menacing backdrop.

The Sphinx

Leaving the beaches behind we then went up into the hills, stopping at the Lone Pine memorial. The pine itself is long gone, but a new one stands there now in the middle of the graves, in an area about the size of a tennis court. The guide described the actions taken to reach this point, and I tried to imagine it as a battlefield rather than a peaceful cemetery with a wonderful view of the sea and surrounding hills. We were then lead in a minute’s silence at the memorial, a tall stone edifice, which had the names of those who died but whose bodies were never found.

Lone Pine, though not the original

We got back into the bus again and drove on, stopping along the road at a lightly forested spot that turned out to be full of trenches. It was Johnson’s Jolly, where the short distance between the Turkish and Allied trenches was very clear. Here the guide told us more about how bonds grew between the two armies, from respect during truces, food thrown over no man’s land and how it somehow survived despite the constant stream of new recruits. He also told us about an Australian officer who had been confronted by Turkish soldiers who assumed that the Turkish medals on his chest were stolen from one of the bodies. He then told them, in Turkish, that he was a veteran of a famous battle that the Turks had won years before, and had been given the medals in thanks for his services to Turkey. They were amazed and kissed his hands, delighted to meet someone from their own history, despite him now being on the other side of a new war.

The trenches themselves are shallower now, and walking through them brought a strange feeling of walking through history and over places were people had died. The pines that have grown on the old battlefields now hold the ground together and everywhere we went up on the hills I could hear the needles whistling in the wind. It made me wonder whether there was ever enough silence, or enough trees left, for the sound to be heard all those years ago.

Old trenches

The next stop was the Turkish 57 Infantry Regiment Cemetery, a memorial similar to the others we’d seen, only with different writing on the graves and a number of merch tents set up in the car park. It was good to be reminded that this is a shared site, after all, and not just a memorial to the Allied forces who died here. There were memorials to Turkish forces and sites all over the area, and from maps I’ve seen it seems about 50/50.

Our second to last stop was The Nek, even smaller than Lone Pine, where I could imagine the site as it would have been more clearly. Much of it is overgrown, and views of the sea and countryside, including other war sites to the north surround it, but it seems rough and signs of the trenches still remain. I remembered reading that Hugo Throssell, the VC winner who was married to the woman whose writing centre I’ve spent more than half of my life involved with, fought here in hellish conditions, which the guide confirmed. He pointed out a site to the north called Hill 60 where Throssell won his VC, shortly before be was invalided out. Having spent so much time at the house he and Katharine had built, and where he had been happy, despairing and ultimately died, I felt more of a connection at this place than any other, and would have happily stayed there longer pondering history if we hadn’t been piled back onto the bus to go to the final stop.

Trenches at The Nek, looking to the north

The final stop was Chunuk Bair and the New Zealand Memorial, which was the goal of the campaign. On that first night, and briefly afterwards, Allied forced reaches the hill but never managed to hold it, fended off by the defending army and forces lead by a certain Mustafa Kemal whose huge statue now stands there. From the hill we can see over most of the sites of the campaign, including Ecebat to the east and beyond that the Dardanelles. It seemed an appropriate place to end our tour, the goal of the campaign that was never attained.

View from Chunuk Bair

We went back to Ecebat then, with a short stop to see the old batteries that stand on either side of the Dardanelles, and then back on the road to Istanbul. It seemed a shorter ride going back, most likely because I slept for quite a lot of it, and in the darkness I missed where the countryside ended and the city began. On the way out I’d counted down the time it took to get from the centre of Istanbul to the outskirts and lost count somewhere around 20 minutes, after being surprised by yet another towering block of flats and obligatory mosque. We eventually made it back to our hotel, tired and thoughtful, and preparing for one more day in Istanbul.

A poignant memorial

PS: Wow, 2327 words, congrats to those who made it to the end! Also I just watched the end of Gallipoli and I know realise why I’ve long believed Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings op. 11 is the saddest music ever.

PPS: I highly recommend RSL Tours, and in particular our guide Hasan Gundogar who was extremely knowledgeable and approachable. Ask him about The Stories of ANZAC by Charles Bean, he’d like that.

Weekend trip to the land of Angles

I write this latest update inside the apartment, as the weather outside fretfully decides whether to continue with the wind and rain of this morning, or return to the sunny skies that I’ve become used to. I fear that in returning from across the seas last night we may have brought with us the wind and rain of England. Sorry Göteborg.
It was not all rain and bluster fortunately, though I think the fact that the weather lived up to my expectations of the typical, cliqued sort of conditions I’ve heard so much of was a bit satisfying in an odd way.

So what were we doing in England you ask? Well, before we’d even left Australia my partner had heard of an annual airshow in Southport, which includes some of his favourite airplanes, and which he was pretty eager to go along to. Göteborg being a mere hop, skip and jump from England, we duly made plans and bought tickets and so last weekend popped over to see the show. I’ve wanted to visit England for as long as I can remember, seeing it as the home of many of my ancestors and a large part of the culture of Australia. Plus Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Dorothy L Sayers etc etc etc… The idea that Australia technically has a Queen also makes me geek out a bit, in a historical way. How Medieval eh?

So, we caught the plane to Stansted and landed, all running more or less to plan and found the hotel. Morning arrived and so did we, though possibly not as quickly as we should have. By the time we were in our hired car and pootling up the M1 it was a bit later than planned, but after all, Google Maps had told us it would only take a couple of hours to get to Southport. No problem right? Guess.

Green sunlit fields

For all that it was longer than planned, it was a lovely drive. Traffic issues meant that we went on a small diversion, passing through small villages that were so very English that I almost didn’t believe it. Twisting streets, hedgerows, old churches, quaint double-storey houses and the most fabulous names, it almost seemed a parody of itself. As we drove, the sky cleared and for much of the afternoon the fields and houses were bright and sunny. I also enjoyed reading out the names of pubs that we passed, such as The Bears Head, The Green Wheelbarrow and The Wrestler. I’d guess there would be a story behind each name, that would be as old as the buildings, or at least an invented tale.

Though late, we did arrive in Southport in time for the displays that were most eagerly anticipated. Eventually making our way to the beach, we stood and watched and photographed the planes as they wooshed overhead. From the Typhoon, a modern jet that sounded as though it was tearing the sky apart, to a Lancaster bomber flanked by Spitfires in honour of the Battle of Britain, it was a very interesting show. The planes and helicopters eventually headed off into the distance, and so did we, venturing into town for something to eat and somewhere to sit. During our wandering I realised that without being really aware of it, Id become accustomed to the reserved, almost genteel manner of Swedes and being confronted by people who shouted questions at us and loud groups of swaggering sorts of men trailing young children and tired women was a bit of a shock. It felt like family night in Northbridge and I felt like a cosseted stranger. We did find a very nice hotel though, with friendly and gracious staff who also employed a very good cook. More relaxed and full of food we headed to Chorley, the closest place I could find accommodation an prepared ourselves for another early morning.

Southport beach

I mentioned that the weather was typically English didn’t I? Well on the Sunday this trend continued, and as such the second day of the airshow was cancelled with the expectation of storms, so we hopped into the car earlier than the previous day, with plans still up in the air. If we returned the car in good time, I hoped, there might be time for a quick trip to London, but as we drove on and I checked times, this seemed less and less likely. Fortunately, as it turned out, our route back took us closer to Cambridge than the previous day’s drive, so we decided to stop there for lunch. After some traffic issues, we parked in the city and looked around. Where is the University? I thought, peering around for old towers and gates and finding only winding roads and old buildings. Then it occurred to me why I couldn’t find the University; the city was the University. I was right in the centre of it. The old buildings were colleges and campus buildings, and those young people trotting and cycling around us were students, tolerant of the peering tourists who must be often getting in the way.

Cambridge street

I decided pretty quickly that I very much liked Cambridge, with it’s mix of the old and the new, and rather than just stay for lunch we made an afternoon of it, wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. A particularly touristy activity we did was a punt up the Cam, guided by a student who had a lot to say about the history of the town and University, and in particular the colleges that we passed as we floated upstream. It was the perfect way to get to the heart of the town, passing the old houses of Trinity, Trinity Hall, King’s and Queen’s, and under the bridges. Some ducks and swans also joined us, as tolerant of us tourists as the students had been.

Cam swans

After the tour we hurried back to the car to head to the airport, and managed through a little bit of speeding to get there only 30 mins later than planned, and after more running made it to the gate with time to spare. Then all that was left was to wait for the plane to take us back over the sea, and home.

Punts waiting on the Cam

Tomorrow I am off again, this time to Stockholm, to hopefully find the house where my mum grew up, find something suitable for my brother’s impending birthday and general exploration. Adventures and another blog post are on the way!