May 13, 2014

The two men who created the myth of the Anzac



David Ellis


AS thousands of Australians and New Zealanders descend on Turkey's Gallipoli Peninsula for Anzac Day, and millions at home and abroad honour the importance of the day, most likely few will give thought to two Australians whose quietly-played roles were so important in having April the 25th recognized as it is today. 


One was a war correspondent, Charles Bean, and the other a photographer, Hubert Wilkins who was ultimately knighted for his deeds as a trailblazing aviator, cinematographer and war hero.


Bean had been commissioned by the government at the outset of WWI to write an official history through the eyes of those Australians who fought on eventual battlefields from the Middle East to the Western Front and in Gallipoli.


In the latter he had put himself into the frontline and quickly earned recognition for his first-hand reporting on the bravery of the Australian and New Zealand 'Diggers' – and while wounded himself at one stage, his writings were credited as a major influence in creating the legend of the Anzacs.


Thus it was fitting that Bean should have been appointed in 1919 to lead an Australian Historical Mission whose role was to attempt "to solve the riddles of Anzac," and to collect material for a national war museum Bean proposed, and which would ultimately become today's Australian War Memorial.


Bean already had his own diaries that he'd diligently written up every night on the battlefield, and as well had also collected trunks-full of relics – personal items discarded by Australian soldiers on the various war fronts and which, to Bean, provided a human side to the conflict.


However because of the hurried nature of the retreat from Gallipoli, he had been unable to gather any relics there; the Australian Historical Mission would allow him to do so before they were lost to the weather – or souvenir hunters.


He also wanted to view the battlefields from the Turkish side, giving his mission a balanced perspective.


Amongst his 8-member team, Bean chose photographer and war hero Hubert Wilkins rather than the AIF's other official photographer Frank Hurley… whose habit of superimposing two or three different images to achieve more dramatic pictures, Bean was disdainful of.


"Wilkins sought to provide our future historians with a record of places and events so accurate that they could be, and often were, relied on as historical evidence," Bean explained, and also included in the Mission the war artist George Lambert to further capture the quintessential Gallipoli.


Bean knew he had chosen well as the team scrambled over the rough terrain, at one stage attributing much of its success to the enthusiasm and spirit of Wilkins – once described by General Sir John Monash as "Australia's answer to Lawrence of Arabia".


"He [Wilkins] was a born leader," Bean explained. "As we strode and climbed about the difficult hills, the rest of the party unconsciously followed his lead…"


Today, modern-day tour guides still take visiting Australians largely in the footsteps of Bean, Wilkins and their team across Gallipoli.


And at Lone Pine they pause in front of the Memorial Wall where the names of more than 4,900 Australian and New Zealand servicemen whose bodies were never found or identified are inscribed.


Or admit to shivering at the cemetery at Lone Pine that lays atop a broad "No Man's Land" where during a bloody five day battle, 2273 Anzacs and more than 4000 Turks were killed.


And those visitors shiver, not because of temperatures – in summer they can climb into the 40s – but because of such inscriptions on Australian and New Zealand headstones:


                                              He went away as a Boy

                                                 And died as a Man

                                                       Aged 17yrs


One of the earliest to make the now-famous annual Anzac Day pilgrimages was Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce, who fought (with the British Army) and was wounded at Gallipoli, and went back in 1924.


The remains of the WWI trenches can still be seen everywhere today. In some places they are less than 10m apart… on Christmas Day 1915 temporary "cease fires" were called between some trenches and the bitter enemies tossed cigarettes and food to each other – before  resuming with bullets next day.


Travel agents have details of organized tours to Gallipoli for next year's 100th anniversary of Anzac Day.







[] LONE PINE Cemetery in quiet peace today. (

[] ANZAC Cove, Australian troops come ashore in 1915. (City of Kingston,Victoria)

[] ANZAC Cove: today just the wind and the waves. (David Ellis)

[] AUSTRALIANS advance at Gallipoli in 1915. (

[] WWI trenches still remain at Gallipoli today. (NationalLibraryOfAustralia)

[] CHARLES Bean works on his history of WWI. (NationalLibraryOfAustralia)

[] HUBERT Wilkins at Gallipoli. (NationalLibraryOfAustralia)



Bus leaps London's Tower Bridge



David Ellis


AS evening began falling across London on December 30 1952, bus driver Albert Gunter most have wondered if he'd lapsed into a nightmare as he started driving his Number 78 bus across Tower Bridge straddling the River Thames.


For the centre of the bridge comprises two 30m long hinged bascules (or leaves) that open upwards at over eighty degrees to allow ships to pass through, and to his horror the one he was on was rising at an increasingly sickening angle right under his bus and its twenty passengers.


Making a split-second decision, Albert dropped two gears and gunned the engine of the cumbersome double-decker as fast as it would go – miraculously leaping the vehicle forward from the bascule, and somehow "flying" it through mid-air to drop, deafeningly but still upright, almost two metres down onto the opposite leaf that had not yet begun to rise.


His conductor suffered a broken leg, twelve passengers received minor injuries, and Albert himself was given a ten-pound reward for his heroics (about AU$450 in today's money)… with a subsequent inquiry finding the bascule had been raised due to a mix-up amongst staff.


There've been plenty of other mix-ups over the years with the timing of Tower Bridge's openings, the most bizarre involving a motorcade of US President Bill Clinton in May 1997.


The President and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair had dined at a restaurant on the banks of the Thames that day, and were warned that Tower Bridge which they needed to cross to get back into Central London, had been booked to open in the early afternoon for a tourist sailing barge, the Gladys to pass through.


Because he was late leaving the restaurant, when President Clinton got to the bridge and his limousine and lead security vehicles were almost across, to the horror of his tailing security agents, to allow the Gladys through on time the two bascules had begun rising before those agents, too, could get across.


Screeching to a stop they watched unbelievably as their President disappeared unprotected into the chaos of London traffic on the other side of the river; when asked why they'd cut the motorcade in two, bridge staff said they'd simply opened the bridge on schedule, and as for the late-arriving motorcade "when we'd tried to contact the American Embassy, they wouldn't answer the phone."


When it was decided a bridge was needed near to the Tower of London, over fifty entries were submitted in a competition for a suitable design. The winning one came from London's City Architect, Sir Horace Jones – who happened to be one of the judges – and the bridge opened on June 30 1894.


Some 11,000 tonnes of steel went into its twin towers, two walkways between the tops of these, the opening bascules, and suspension bridge approaches linking the towers with shore on either side of the river.


The steel towers were then granite- and stone-clad to give a more pleasing appearance, although not everyone agreed with that. Prominent artist of the time, Frank Brangwyn complained "a more absurd structure was never thrown across a strategic river," while noted architect, Henry Statham sniffed that the bridge "represents the vice of tawdriness, pretentiousness and falsification of the facts of the structure."


The 60m long open-air walkways between the tops of the two towers were designed to add support to the towers, as each hinged bascule weighed over 1,000 tonnes, exerting a huge pull on each tower; 120 years later those bascules are still raised some 1,000 times a year.


The high-level walkways that quickly proved convenient places of business for prostitutes were soon closed, to be re-opened seventy-odd years later as an enclosed permanent Tower Bridge Exhibition. This features films, photos and interactive displays depicting the bridge's history, construction and workings, and includes access to the Victorian- era engine rooms and huge original hydraulic pumps that operated the bascules.


And water traffic still takes precedence today over road traffic as President Clinton was to discover, while in August 1999 a Freeman of the City of London, a title going back to ancient times, claimed another old right and held-up road traffic as he herded two sheep across Tower Bridge in protest at the erosion of government services for older citizens.






[] LONDON Tower Bridge showing its major parts: the bascules that raise and lower, suspension bridge approaches on either side, and high-level walkways now housing Tower Bridge Exhibition. (Draper Management Company)

[] BUS driver, Albert Gunter describes how he "flew" his double deck from one bascule to the other when Tower Bridge began rising. (Daily Mail)

[] DOUBLE decker bus like the one Albert Gunter miraculously leapt through mid-air.

   (London Transport)

[] MODERN-day cruise ship, SeaDream I passes through Tower Bridge after crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean. (SeaDream Yacht Club)

[] MACHINERY that raises and lowers Tower Bridge bascules can be seen as part of a visit to Tower Bridge Exhibition. (Tower Bridge Exhibition)



Struth! Island of Ideas for dreamers

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a philanthropic author and inspirational speaker in Sweden in offering a week-long holiday free of charge on one of two islands he owns off Stockholm for entrepreneurs, inventors, writers and pure-dreamers to seek mental inspiration for their projects.


Fredrik Haren says that being cut off from civilisation on one of his islands will hopefully allow those he gives a week to "to re-discover their creative or entrepreneurial fire."


Successful applications get their island to themselves, and can take three or five guests, depending on which island they are allocated. They only have to meet their own costs to get to Stockholm, and the costs of their food and drinks for the week.


However while their week is otherwise "free," Frederik Haren asks for a donation of US$1000 (or less for those who can't afford that) which he gives to a charity assisting Stockholm's homeless – pointing out that if you take some friends, it can work out to as little as US$167pp for the week.


If you want to put your name up for consideration, visit


May 05, 2014

Struth! Cutting my grass


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says there's a museum in Merseyside in the UK that's dedicated to those who get their kicks out of that backyard taskmaster, the lawnmower.


Because this museum walks us through the history of lawnmowers from Victorian and Edwardian times, has collections of antique mowers and rare gardening tools to marvel  over, and in a museum shop, everything from spare parts for vintage mowers, to lawnmower postcards, key-rings and drinking mugs.


And amongst more-prestigious items are mowers and gardening items once owned by the likes of Prince Charles, UK radio and TV presenters James May, Nicholas Parsons and Vanessa Feltz, British garden guru Alan Titchmarsh, and even some of the tools the late Princess Diana pottered around with in her royal gardens.


The British Lawnmower Museum says the lawnmower was invented in 1830 by Edwin Budding who worked in a textile mill in Gloucester, and had designed a machine to trim the knap off rolls of cloth destined to be used in British Guardsmens' uniforms… and one day when he took it outside to move from one building to another, it's fine blades partly trimmed the grass he pulled it across as well.


So he took it home for further tests on his own lawn, but when neighbours suggested he'd gone mad, he confined these tests to the cover of night. But to this day the cylinder cutting principal Mr Budding invented back in 1830, is still used on mowers for keeping in trim the best of the world's formal lawns, golf and bowling greens, and cricket pitches.








[] WORLD'S first lawnmower required two men to operate – one pulling, one pushing. It's on display at the British Lawnmower Museum. (British Lawnmower Museum)

[] AND the world's first power mower, a bit more cumbersome than today's rotary jobs.  (Wikimedia)


Outrageous, but true, travel insurance claims

DON'T leave your car unattended in UK wildlife parks – or lean out of the
window with your camera, as you may not have it much longer as one man found. (Hyundai Motors)

David Ellis

QUESTION: WHAT is there in common between a fellow losing his false teeth overboard while being seasick on an Atlantic cruise, a family unable to remember where they'd buried their video camera "for safety" on a beach in England while they went swimming, and a farmer who lost his mobile phone up the back end of one of his cows while using the phone's light as he assisted her in calving?

Or more outrageously, a young lady in England who reckoned her mobile phone failed while she was using it in vibrator mode as an adult toy, a tourist in Athens who broke his nose walking into a bus shelter corner post while ogling young ladies in bikinis, and a bloke who suffered a heart attack in a brothel in West Africa – and complained he'd not got his money's worth?

ANSWER: THEY all claimed on their travel insurance – and remarkably all but the bloke in West Africa had their claims paid.

These bizarre tales are but a miniscule example of the thousands of weird and wacky claims that pour into insurance companies world-wide daily, alongside the more serious that remind us of the perils that await the traveller health-wise and accident-wise, and of the need to never leave home without travel insurance.

Grant Waldeck from major Australian insurance comparison website, says too many travellers fail to take out travel insurance suited to their individual needs, make the wrong choice by doing so on price alone, or worse, don't take out travel insurance at all.

And he quotes some worrying facts, including how 1.2-million Australians are victims of identity theft every year (and suggesting that when travelling we take a pre-paid travel card not connected to our bank, and keep our passports on us at all times.)

Grant also says that while traffic accidents are the Number One cause of death of international travellers, before leaving home you should also check-out the reputations of local services such as ferries and the like that you are planning on using, and that to avoid being conned, mugged or raped, never use un-licenced taxis, only those from a rank or displaying an official licence.

Also, be aware of the health dangers of swimming on polluted beaches… amazingly the UK has fifty such beaches currently threatened with closure, and in the US there's at least one polluted beach in every coastal state.

And there are places you actually need keep watch for pirates. "While the risk is low, areas in which to be wary include India, the Western Maldives and Madagascar. And petty theft is common in these regions on local boats," Grant warns. "So always be cautious in these areas, and never take valuables aboard with you."

Not that all thieves are of the human kind. One travel insurance company paid out after a visitor to England's Longleat Safari Park, leaned out of his car's window to take a photo, and had a monkey snatch and scamper off with his camera.

And a woman walking her dog on a beach in Wales and talking on her mobile phone, put in a claim after a seagull grabbed the phone and flew off with it, while in Malaysia a couple returned to their hotel to find they'd left the window open – and invading monkeys had dragged all their clothes out into the surrounding jungle.

Closer to home a tourist ducked into an Aussie outback grocery store, and came out to find a camel kicking his rental car. His travel insurance company paid after he produced video footage of the grumpy camel in action.

But best we think was the lawyer in America who bought two dozen very expensive cigars, insured them against damage "by flood, storm or fire," and after enjoying smoking all 24 over some time, claimed to his insurance company "all had been totally lost in a series of small fires."

When the insurance company refused to pay he took them to court, with the judge ruling that as the contract "did not specify the type of fire," the insurer had to pay-up.

It did – but he was then charged with 24 counts of arson and insurance fraud, jailed for two years and fined USD$24,000.

For useful guidance about travel insurance visit



[] I WONDER what this does? Inquisitive monkeys in an unattended car in UK wildlife park. (Hyundai Motors)
[] SEAGULLS don't just steal food – they stole a mobile phone a lady was using on a Wales beach, and this man's cap on another. (Wikimedia)
[] A UK farmer claimed on his insurance after losing his camera in his cow's rear end while assisting it give birth.(CowLocale)
[] TOURISTS are warned about the dangers of beach pollution: in the UK fifty polluted beaches are threatened with closure. (Greenpeace)
[] NOT quite Long John Silver: modern-day Somali pirates intercepted by the Indian Navy off India. (Indian Navy)

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