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Schoolgirl gets the Anzac spirit
Schoolgirl gets the Anzac spirit

In Beach Cemetery, where the crashing of waves in Anzac Cove echo like thunder among the tombstones, there is one plot where the grass does not grow.

The manicured lawn before Pte John Simpson Kirkpatrick's headstone is worn down to bare earth, hard-packed by the tread of countless Australian pilgrims who come to pay homage to the Digger who gave rise to the legend of the man and his donkey.

On this rough dirt pew, Perth Modern student Eleanor Lau sat quietly yesterday and stared at the iconic Digger's epitaph: He gave his life that others may live.

A stiff sea breeze pulling at her hair, the 14-year-old cast her eye over the curve of the shoreline below the cemetery, the beach where Australian soldiers first stepped on to the Gallipoli Peninsula 97 years ago.

One of those Diggers, Pte James Charles Martin, from Melbourne, was her age when he died of enteritis after six months of fighting in the trenches.

Gallipoli, the Glendalough teenager said, was a place you felt as well as saw.

"It's very emotional being here, very moving," Eleanor said.

"There's something about this place. It just seems very sad, they were so very young, and they were all sons or fathers or brothers. They were all someone's family."

Eleanor is one of seven winners of this year's Australian War Memorial Simpson Prize.

The student, who competed with thousands of other children across Australia who enter the competition each year, won a trip to Gallipoli for her essay on why Anzac Day commemorations have increased in popularity.

But her research had not prepared her for the "moving" reality.

"We are standing on the ground that they stood on. It makes me connect with them, feel that they are people, not out of a book."

Eleanor conceded she and Pte Simpson shared a common bond.

She was born in Hong Kong, moved to Australia at a young age and grew up in Perth.

Pte Simpson was born in England, lived in Australia for four years and, among other things, became a miner in Kalgoorlie and later a stoker on a steamship out of Fremantle.

"The Anzac legend isn't just for Australians who are born in Australia," Eleanor said. "It's about mateship, bravery and courage."

As it did almost a century ago, when it brought the newly federated colonies into nationhood, the Anzac legend forged at Gallipoli continues to unite Australia.

In recent years, there had been "a steady number of young Australians" making the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove, Department of Veterans' Affairs spokeswoman Erin White said.

But not all the youths converging on the peninsula are from Down Under. Gallipoli was also the place where the founder of modern Turkey, Lt Col Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, forged his reputation holding back the Anzacs.

This is why every Turkish citizen is entitled to one government- subsidised trip to the peninsula in their lifetime, arriving in droves on buses to pay homage to the father of their nation and his honoured enemy, the Anzacs. Oguz Duman, leader of a scout group from Antakya, does "not speak good English".

But the 21-year-old managed to convey why he and his young charges had travelled to Gallipoli by saluting a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Digger.

"Anzac, Ataturk, Anzac," he said. "We learn."

In a different time, these young people would have been enemies, facing each other across the battlefield.

Both Eleanor and Mr Duman are grateful that their duty now is not to fight, but to remember all those who did.

"Pte Simpson is important because he helps people connect with the Anzac legend," Eleanor said.

"But he's no more or less important than any of the others who died here."

Eleanor left the well-worn patch over Pte Simpson's plot, moved on to the next grave, stood on the untouched grass before that forgotten soldier's headstone and read his epitaph, too.

'It just seems very sad, they were so very young, and they were all sons or fathers or brothers.'" *Eleanor Lau * <div class="endnote">

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