Gallipoli legend inspires young essayists

It was almost a clean sweep for girls in this year’s ANZAC themed Simpson Prize schools essay competition. They took out six of the eight state winners places and all but one of the runners-up. The winning girls Phyllida Behm, Maddison Turnbull, Emily Stewart, Taylor Joppich, Jessica Walch and Eleanor Lau joined Samuel O’Connor and Andrew Tran for the winners’ trip to Gallipoli for ANZAC Day services where they were escorted by two teacher chaperones (Joanne Bleby and Elizabeth McGinnis).

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 1915

The annual competition, established in 1998, is named in honour of Gallipoli soldier John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick – the ‘man with the donkey’. As a stretcher bearer in World War I he used a donkey to evacuate wounded soldiers while under enemy fire at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. His story and image are often drawn on as representative of the ‘ANZAC legend’. The government-funded competition is open to all Year 9 and 10 students to write a 1200-1500 word essay or prepare a 10 minute audio visual presentation exploring a set theme. This year around 900 students addressed the topic of why ANZAC Day commemoration had increased in popularity in recent years.

Phyllida Behm, the Australian Capital Territory winner from Canberra Girls’ Grammar, nominated four factors in her essay – a rise in the commemorations’ profile, better access to the ‘ANZAC narrative’, increased understanding of Australian war history and identity, and ‘…a perception of ANZAC values as increasingly important in the modern world.’

Maddison Turnbull, New South Wales’ winner from San Clemente school in Mayfield, talked about the ‘…selfless and noble sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand men and women [who produced] the eternal legend of gallantry we now recognise as the ANZAC spirit in following generations’ while Emily Stewart, Northern Territory’s winner from Palmerston Senior College, drew on the proud tradition of ‘heroes’ like her great grandfather – a Gallipoli survivor – and how he ‘… exemplified the bravery, courage and resilience of Australian soldiers in such hard times’.

Taylor Joppich, from Queensland’s William Ross State High School, attributed the popularity increase to ‘…a heightened awareness of the heroic acts and sacrifices’ as well as ‘…an amplified personal empathy for the implications of wartime conflicts’. Tasmania’s Jessica Walch, from The Friends’ School, noted there had been times such as the 1970s anti-Vietnam war period when ANZAC Day was ‘almost taboo’. She attributed its more recent popularity to the expansion of the ANZAC legend ‘…to commemorate all aspects of Australian warfare’ and its ‘expression of national identity’ as well as greater access to information and a ‘…growing recognition of the potential economic and tourism value’. Perth Modern School student Eleanor Lau, Western Australia’s winner, also commented on the impact of the Vietnam War protests on the commemorations, noting ‘… it seemed as if ANZAC Day was quietly dying..’ She attributed the ‘astonishing resurgence’ to ‘…a combination of the roles of media, political leadership, and attitudinal changes amongst the younger generations over time.’

Each state and territory winner and runner-up attended a two-day study program in Canberra on 19-20 March, including visits to Parliament House (where they also received a special medallion), the War Memorial and the National Museum. The winners and the two chaperone teachers travelled to Turkey for two weeks in April, participating in a range of activities including the 25 April dawn service and other ANZAC Day ceremonies.

You can read all the individual entries of the 2012 winners and runners-up at the Simpson Prize website.

The Winners:

ACTPhyllida Behm (Canberra Girls’ Grammar School)

NSWMaddison Turnbull (San Clemente)

NTEmily Stewart (Palmerston High School)

QLDTaylor Joppich (William Ross State High School)

SAAndrew Tran (Blackfriars Priory School)

TASJessica Walch (The Friends’ School)

VICSamuel O’Connor (St Kevin’s College)

WAEleanor Lau (Perth Modern School)

The Runners-up:

ACTLucy Rose Dingwall (Gold Creek School)

NSWGenevieve D’Netto (Loreto Kirribilli)

NTTamara West (Kormilda College)

QLDEmma Kearney (St Andrew’s Catholic College)

SADeclan Sharp (Prince Alfred College)

TASKiah Charles (St Aloysius Catholic College)

VICTasneem Zaytoun (Lyndhurst Secondary College)

WAAdelaide Crossing (Presbyterian Ladies’ College)

The Teacher Chaperones:

NSWJoanne Bleby (Loretto Kirribilli)

ACTElizabeth McGinnis (Marist College)