Apr 18, 2005

Breakfast: ANZAC Cove

Breakfast: ANZAC Cove

Monday, 18 April 2005

FRAN KELLY: At the end of the week, John Howard will fly out of China to Turkey to spend the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove where controversy abounds over the construction of a new road. Intended to relieve pressure on the small war cemetery at Ari Burnu, the headland of Gallipoli, the road was meant to help the almost 25,000 Australian and Kiwis expected at this year’s dawn service to navigate their way between memorial sites. But instead the roadworks have disturbed artefacts and almost certainly some human remains of those who were killed in the historic battle, though the Australian and Turkish governments have been loathe to confirm this unpleasant fact.

Two observers who know Anzac Cove well are Jonathan King and Mike Bowers, authors of the book Gallipoli: untold stories. You might remember, we spoke to them a couple of weeks back about that new book. Mike Bowers is the pictorial editor for the Sydney Morning Herald and he joins us now from near Anzac Cove in Turkey. Mike, good morning.

MIKE BOWERS: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Mike, you’ve been there, to Anzac Cove, plenty of times. Are the roadworks as devastating as the critics argue? Does it look different?

MIKE BOWERS: I saw it on TV and I was prepared for it mentally, but when I saw it, I was shocked. It is an enormous roadwork and the change to Anzac Cove itself and, in fact, the whole way along beyond Anzac Cove—both ends—it is much more than … I was absolutely shocked when I saw it. It’s gone beyond what I thought it was.

FRAN KELLY: Mike, tell us a bit more about that in terms of, you know, people come and look at the landing sites and they clamber up the areas where the diggers clambered up. Are those sites still there or have those actual key points been disturbed by the roadwork?

MIKE BOWERS: Well, Anzac Cove is where, and particularly one point of Anzac Cove at the northern end, Ari Burnu, is where the Ninth Battalion first stepped ashore on 25 April in 1915. And Ari Burnu, I asked a Turkish interpreter today what it meant and he said in Turkish it meant ‘bee’s nose’, a bee as in a honeybee. That’s because of the shape of the spur that drops down into the water, where the Australians from the Ninth Battalion first stepped ashore. They’ve cut right through that, Fran, and it no longer looks like a bee’s nose; it looks more like a bee’s leg, a broken leg at that. There’s a large gouge or a reverse ‘L’ if you like, right-angled into the side of the hill, and they’ve taken an enormous amount out to widen it. In the widening process, the excess, they’ve dumped it down into Anzac Cove. And I read a little while ago when I was doing research for the book that in 1915, the beach was 25 metres wide. It was, of course, used as a supply dump for the entire campaign.

There are places now on Anzac Cove that are less than a metre or two metres wide from the high tide mark. Now what that means is that the beach is completely narrowed and there is a great tradition after the dawn service at Gallipoli that you walk along Anzac Cove. That’s now no longer possible in a few places, especially if the tide is high. So it has dramatically changed what that area is.

FRAN KELLY: And it changes, in a sense, the power of the retelling of the story, doesn’t it, because it doesn’t look the same any more? You can’t imagine how they tried to climb up that bee’s nose or cross that beach.

MIKE BOWERS: No, because it has now turned into a sheer cliff. And it’s quite ugly. It is exposed earth and I think there’s going to be a lot more erosion and I think that a lot more of the cove will get buried because of erosion and what’s going on.

FRAN KELLY: Mike, what about the claims that human bones have been unearthed during these roadworks? Have you been able to confirm that?

MIKE BOWERS: Yes. I was shocked. Yesterday, I was walking along with my translator, who was a few yards behind, and I was approached by one of the workers on the roads and I thought he was telling me that everything was going to be all right, or maybe having a go, because we are media, I had cameras all over me as I normally do. The translator caught up and he was in fact trying to tell me that he’d found a bone and he was waving this bone at me. It was quite a large bone. It turned out to be the upper part of a human arm. We had it looked at by a doctor. He showed it to us and then threw it back down on the rubble and we didn’t think it was right that the bone sort of stayed there, so we actually took it and we are giving it to the Commonwealth War Graves people tomorrow morning.

So yes, I can absolutely confirm that human remains have been found, and it was quite a shock. We’re less than seven days away from upwards of 25,000 record Australians, New Zealanders and people from all over the world coming in. It’s quite disturbing that there’s remains. My grandfather was lucky enough to live through this campaign but, if I’d lost a relative, I would be deeply shocked to walk past some roadworks and find human remains sticking out.

FRAN KELLY: Mike, it sort of conjures up an awful image, doesn’t it, of all these people clambering over the beach. When people are there, I think they look around for artefacts anyway. That’s just natural. If they’re coming up with human remains that have been unearthed, it’s not only undignified and disrespectful, it’s just wrong, isn’t it? What’s going to happen with these remains?

MIKE BOWERS: Well, one of the good things that’s come out of it—we were speaking to some War Graves people today. They’re going to try and build an ossuary. I’d never heard the term before, Fran. But an ossuary is a bone grave. It is almost impossible, as you walk around this area, there are so many bones around that you do find fragments, and it happens all the time. Now an ossuary is an official bone grave where you give the pieces of bone, and they’re treated properly, and they’re placed in this ossuary. It’s going to be in the Seventh Field Ambulance Cemetery, which is north of the commemoration area, the new commemoration area that they set up in 2000. So that’s kind of a positive step forward but it is unfortunate that it has taken these roadworks to have that done.

FRAN KELLY: Mike, can I just ask you finally, when you rang the person from the War Graves Commission and said you’d found this bone, what was their reaction? Because there’s been no real confirmation, as I understand it, yet by the Australian and the Turkish governments that remains have been found. Did they seem shocked or horrified?

MIKE BOWERS: We got a mixed reception. We’ve spoken to a few of them. We had a very good reception from a couple of them, but disbelieving from others who said, ‘Well, this bone has probably been washed down there’. I said, ‘ Well, I’m not quite sure of the laws of physics. I’m not a physicist, but this was up on top of an embankment, so I don’t a large bone would have been able to be washed up that embankment’. So a bit of a mixed reception.

I think they’re shocked as well and running a little scared, I’ve got to say. They don’t quite know what to do with it. Especially, it’s so close to Anzac Day now, I don’t know how they’re going to have these roadworks anywhere near finished. There’s about four kilometres still to do of tarring, so they’re going quite late into the night.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, Mike. Thanks very much for joining us.

MIKE BOWERS: Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: We’ll talk to you again over the next week, I think. That’s Michael Bowers, the pictorial editor for the Sydney Morning Herald.

So when the anticipated 20,000-plus Australians arrive at Anzac Cove next week, as we’ve heard, the local topography will be markedly different from when the original Anzacs landed there 90 years ago. And although the roadworks were requested by the Australian government, Prime Minister John Howard has reportedly now asked officials on the ground there not to make any further modifications. But according to some experts, the stay in works has come too late to stop irreversible damage and, as we’ve just heard, the disturbance of human remains, even though the Australian authorities were warned as far back as 2003 that the site was littered with the bones of those who fought and died there.

The opposition says the Australian government is to blame because it failed to heed those warnings. And yesterday, the opposition released a letter from a Defence department officer, an archaeologist, Dr David Cameron, to the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, in which he detailed how he’d told the Office of War Graves in 2003 that they’d found human bones in the area now being disturbed by the bulldozers.

Anthony Albanese is the Opposition Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage. Anthony, good morning.


FRAN KELLY: What does Dr Cameron say in his letter?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What Dr Cameron does is outline in detail, as he has also on his website, the fact that himself and Dr Dowling, another Australian archaeologist, went to Anzac Cove and to the area in early 2003, that there they found human remains and other artefacts, that at that time they came back and reported in April 2003 to the Director of the Office of Australian War Graves. They provided him with their report.

That report very clearly said that the site was very vulnerable and sensitive, that there needed to be a further heritage assessment in order to ensure that the site was protected. They also spoke and reported to people, including people from the Department of Environment and Heritage, to the Australian Ambassador to Turkey and to other government officials. And essentially, they were fobbed off. Nothing was done, arising out of this report.

FRAN KELLY: What was done, we now know, is eventually roadworks were ordered. What should the government have done to protect the Gallipoli Peninsula given that there are now tens of thousands of people visiting every year? That does require some management and infrastructure to cope with an influx like that, doesn’t it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, they should have done nothing more and nothing less than what the Prime Minister unequivocally said that they would do.

In December 2003, following this report, you had the Prime Minister standing up and declaring that Anzac Cove was the most important piece of land for all Australians and it would be the first site listed on the National Heritage list. Now that was intended to be a first step on the process to World Heritage listing and yet nothing occurred. The government then went ahead and requested these roadworks in August 2004 without putting in place, at the time of that request, any in advance heritage assessment of the roadworks and without putting in place any monitoring.

As I understand it, there still isn’t monitoring taking place on the site by Australian officials. We should have had, before you go into this scale of works, firstly an assessment of is it appropriate or not? And secondly, if any work is to occur, surely there should have been Australian archaeologists and experts on site monitoring these works.

FRAN KELLY: And just briefly then, what should happen now? The roadworks are still not finished. What happens now?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, unfortunately, I think the damage is done, just listening to Michael Bowers. What needs to occur though, is that the government needs to actually come clean about the information that it has. We asked questions of the Prime Minister in parliament on 17 March.

The Prime Minister said he wasn’t aware of the detail but he’ d get back to us. Dr Cameron wrote to the Prime Minister on 19 March and hasn’t even received a reply. This is contemptuous of Australian history by a Prime Minister who is happy to get a political advantage when he sees an opportunity but isn’t prepared to do the follow through and accept responsibility for the actions of the government.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for joining us on Breakfast.


FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage.