ANZAC stories

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Driftwood on Mutton Bird beach

ANZAC stories and the beautiful beaches of South West Australia

ANZACs came from all over Australia but they set all off from South West Australia to fight in Gallipoli in the first world war. We set of on our road trip to explore this beautiful coastline. Heading South here, is obviously the same as heading North in the Northern Hemisphere, ergo, it gets a bit cooler. Summer in Perth, where I was staying with my friends, is a guaranteed roasting toasting experience.

Lots of folk head South for their festive break where the temperature drops by about 10 degrees.It’s still as hot as it ever gets on the North East coast of England where I’m from of course, so no worries!

Surfer girl

South West Australia – Mutton Bird Beach

Our first stop was near to Albany. We stayed in a cottage called the Rooster Retreat in the tiny hamlet of Elleker. Close by is the stunning Mutton Bird beach, or Muffin Top beach as I christened it. It has the most beautiful protected bay and a small central island just off the coast. This creates a very picturesque cove with lots of interesting rock formations.

South West Australia
Orangutan rock

This beach isn’t so crowded as some of them get at this time of year. In the wintertime the bay is frequented by breeding humpback whales who swim in with their babies and use it as a kind of nursery. It is a very lovely place to while away a few hours. The Southern Ocean stretches away into the horizon and the next land you would reach from here is Antarctica.

It also has very good sandcastle sand. One chap was making a kind of fantasy castle with a large moat. It was ostensibly for his small children’s enjoyment, but I reckon he was a Game of Thrones fan..

Is it Casterly Rock?

The National ANZAC centre

The coastline’s newest attraction is the National ANZAC centre (Australia, New Zealand Army Corps) This modern cantilevered building is built high on the cliff, overlooking the bay of King George Sound. It has a panoramic view of where the ships sailed from in 1914 carrying 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders off to the great war.

This is as much a memorial as it is a  museum. Although only 300 sqm in size – there is an awful lot packed into that space. It uses state of the art technology to enable visitors to interact with the exhibits.  There are  video exhibits and microphone pens. You use these pens which you draw across various points to listen to the actual words of the person in the picture. They speak directly to you telling their tales of life in the trenches or some other hideous experience.

ANZAC lads in the trenches

ANZAC museum – who were you in the Great War?

Another uniquely personal viewpoint is given to each visitor. On entry you are allocated a  picture card of one real person involved in the war. Each card has a digital reference, and at each stage of the conflict you can check in with your particular chap and see what happened to him.

At the end of the tour, you reach the memorial wall and find out if your soldier survived the war, and what happened to them afterwards if they did. My man was Major Alan Stitt from the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment NZEF. He did survive the war and was decorated for great bravery, becoming a Major aged only 23.

For those who were lost

In my experience, this type of attraction (not mentioning the Imperial War museum in Salford here) can risk sacrificing content for trendy ‘interactivity.’ The ANZAC centre gets the balance right. The deeply personal stories really bring the whole thing to life in a powerful way.

Remembering the ANZACs

There is an artwork at the edge of the building which is set high on a coastal ledge. The names of all those who died reel off into the distance underneath a shallow shelf of water which appears to spill out over the cliff.

This small museum is very popular and opened on the 100th anniversary of the troops sailing out on their perilous journey. Thirty percent of the ANZACs were killed in the of war and another thirty precent died as result of their experiences there. A terrible toll of young men from these underpopulated countries who took more than their share of casualties.

Memorial Malamute

The ANZAC centre gives you a real sense of how global this war really was. The war brought so many countries into play through the complicated system of allies. This event which led to the greatest human toll of any conflict, will never be forgotten.

These days we can enjoy the beautiful beaches and coastline without fear for our lives.