Wednesday 6 May 2015
An Open Letter to all who joined ‘The Gallipoli 100’ Experience this Year including Thank You!
From Dr Paul Cooper
Dear Fellow Boaties, Tourists, Historians, Spectators, Children and Hangers on,
I would have written this letter last week immediately after the event but my family and I were still travelling, only returning home Monday of this week.
I joined SLS and Tamarama back in 1968 gaining my Qualifying Certificate; followed by many awards post that one and commenced rowing shortly thereafter. Some 14 years ago, Mark Walton, a fellow boatie, & I formed original concepts over cold ones post the many National Titles that followed for what became known as the G100. The concept quickly grew from rowing ashore at the Dawn Service to rowing 100kms, catering for up to 100 boats etc. It eventually became obvious to us that all of this needed something to cement the continuity of Surf Life Saving and its association with the Defence Force and the many theatres of conflict the two entities had shared since Federation. Fortunately a former work mate, Don Shearman, put me in contact with Paul Murphy whom he had known for some time and whom he recommended would be able to provide excellent on ground battlefield guides. On meeting Paul, Murf, I realised I had met him before, as you all would agree once you meet him you never forget him! Yes I had, it was when he was a boatie in Tamarama back in the late 60s-early 70s. Like Mark and I, he readily warmed to the concept and from that date back in 2009 the event was a goer.
One thing we all agreed was essential and never wavered from through the many challenges we overcame; t+hat was, our event was only ever to be something that would raise awareness for the Centennial Commemorations that would follow; promote Surf Life Saving – something that we all had a long love and association for and of; get a group of like-minded boaties together and hopefully promote surf boat rowing in Turkey and the world generally and Australia specifically. If all of these elements were successfully fulfilled then we knew our goals would be worth all of the effort that would be necessary to get this event off the ground.
Murf was confident we could row ashore pre-emptive of the Dawn Service given it had occurred at the 50th and 75th! So this was included as a possibility in our planning. Once our concept was cemented, SLSA was apprised and all Clubs Australia and New Zealand were circulated and sought to register interest. Having experienced being gazumped from accommodation previously in Turkey, Murf included the ship as a base in all planning to avoid unnecessary stress later on probably at a critical time!
In 2010 an inaugural trip was conducted to assess interest from the Turks; to promote the concept generally and to identify on-ground issues. Representatives from Tamarama, MacMasters, Yamba, Forster – Australia and Lyle Bay - New Zealand participated in inaugural Surf Carnivals on Birc and Kum Beaches coupled with tours of Istanbul and the Battlefields.
From the day of our return SLSA provided hurdles and retrospectively I believe never truly supported the activity. Fortunately ASRL came on-board and provided the necessary know-how to steer us away from SLSA and in all probability calm troubled waters.
You would recall that the Federal Rudd/Gillard Government invited submissions from interested parties in respect event/activities that could be used to embellish the traditional Dawn Service and following Lone Pine/Chanuk Bair Services. One was submitted on behalf of G100. Unofficial feedback indicated we had ticked all boxes with our planned row down the Dardanelles, row ashore pre-emptive of the Dawn Service, conducting activities on the Turkish National Childrens’ Day and as well involving elements from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey in the event. To this day we are yet to receive acknowledgement or endorsement or in fact any official comment! It turned out to be just another talk fest, how disappointing!
In the end Federal Government Departments found ways to interfere with our plans as did SLSA and SLSNZ. Then came the issues late in our lead up with ill-informed editorials suggesting we could not complete our planned activities, price gouging even after all fees and charges had been paid in advance and MSC reneging on the chartered boat and offering a late alternative that was not the same configuration, the entire list is too numerous and would make you wonder why we even bothered. Through it all Murf was dogged and determined, resolute as always and whatever support Mark and I could offer we did. Too much was at stake, the event had to go on and thankfully it did. I know I am indebted to Murf and am sure many others would feel the same.
I would also add that Murf somehow funded annual trips to Turkey to test the conditions down the course, which changed many times; coach Turks in the fine art of boat rowing and much more. The much more included regular briefings to the changing local Turkish Governments at all levels. I should recount a funny story. SLSA told us that we would never get approval to row into Anzac Cove or North Beach. How wrong they were. Within minutes of explaining the event all levels of Turkish Government had approved the activity, the Australian Embassy had applauded same and the Turkish Police were also in agreement. So who was telling stories?
Despite an overwhelming number of obstacles, I believe the basic concept was completed. The combined efforts of all of the people in front and behind Military History Tours should take a bow as should those in the ASRL Team. What a spectacle! Whilst most of us experienced speed bumps in our vision of how things should proceed for us personally, we did all manage to experience tours of Istanbul and the Battlefields; row the mighty Dardanelles and come ashore at Anzac Cove if a boatie; get to and return from the Official Dawn Service or participate in the first real alternative to an Official Service at Gelibolu with some four and a half thousand others.
We not only walked through history; living, breathing, stumbling like our forefathers did 100 years ago whilst absorbing the enormity of the challenges they faced then; pausing to thank them for their undeniable sacrifice even if not the supreme one, probably also while shedding the odd tear and even more remarkably that we participated in making history. Yes we did and the enormity of it may one day be recognised, for I do not believe anyone would have the determination, capacity, etc to bring together such a group to row the Dardanelles and for 26 surboats to honour that first landing by rowing into Anzac Cove and also to conduct a full all inclusive Dawn Service. Most unlikely at best.
In the end our original objectives were achieved. The G100 brought lustre to the Official Commemorations; waved the Surf Life Saving banner high; promoted fellowship between Anzacs and the Turks; promoted surf boat rowing generally and involved local communities in Turkey.
Disappointments, yes a few moreover with those who initially indicated they would participate and did not, especially those who travelled in 2010 to 2014 and not in 2015 and probably for me thinking SLSA and our Federal Government would wholeheartedly get behind something that was not going to cost them a cent, probably I am somewhat naïve?
So from me, a personal and heartfelt thank you to all who made this historical event I had the privilege of co-creating and participating in come true and realising my dream, thank you again, what fabulous life long memories I have thanks to you!
May your dreams also come true, good luck to you all and thank you for your company.
Dr Paul Cooper