Tag Archives: concept

This is Australia: Gallipoli (Weir, 1981) and Nationalism

31 Mar

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CONCEPT ANALYSIS: Nationalism and Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981)

The following is a concept analysis of nationalism, designed to define this idea in the context of Australian national identity and analyse its representation and projection in the Australian film, Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

Gallipoli is a compelling fictional story of friendship and adventure between two Australian soldiers, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), travelling from the Western Australian outback to the deserts of Egypt to Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. Michael Bodey (in Hocking(eds.), 2006), as well as other film critics and historians, believe that ‘Gallipoli is a truly grand Australian film. A searing national character study[…]’ (p.104).

Gallipoli embodies and projects Australian nationalism by ‘offer[ing] [a] re-enactment of events already invested with national significance’ (Raynor,2000, p.110). All Australians know of Gallipoli and the ANZAC myth/legend. The film celebrates Australia’s essential culture, qualities and values as embodied by the battle of Gallipoli and the consequent ANZAC myth/legend.

What is meant by (Australian) Nationalism? Anthony D. Smith (2001) outlines his five meanings of nationalism as follows:

  1. The process of formation, or growth, of nations
  2. A sentiment or consciousness of belonging to the nation
  3. A language and symbolism of the nation
  4. The social and political movement on behalf of the nation
  5. The doctrine and/or ideology of nation, both general and particular (p.7)

As Smith’s definitions clearly show, there are different meanings of nationalism that tend to overlap and reveal common themes. The main theme is an overriding concern with the nation. Nationalism seeks to achieve national autonomy, national unity and national identity (Smith,2001, p.9).

Every nation’s defining features are different. Australia’s idea of nationalism is centred on a post-British, unified country, and how we define ourselves in terms of unique and valued qualities. The motif of the harsh outback and landscape is also key to our national identity, as is our desire to distance ourselves from Britain and reassess (and sometimes rewrite) our history (Freebury,1987, p.43).

The battle of Gallipoli, as Jane Freebury writes, was ‘an episode in Australia’s history which has become associated with the birth of nationhood’ (1987, p.44). This true unification of the Australian nation, fourteen years after Federation in 1901, is the focus of Weir’s film. However, Gallipoli is not essentially about or centred on war. The majority of the film, in fact, follows Archy and Frank through Western Australia and Egypt. But this is done purposefully. Weir uses an extended period of time to construct the kind of valued Australian character found in ANZAC soldiers.

Gallipoli then is focused on the quality of the men who fought and died, celebrating ultimately national ideology. The film largely centred on what is intrinsically Australian – for example; mateship, endurance, the battler image, anti-authoritarian, anti-British, the outback, competitive spirit, courage, selflessness and a ‘nationalistic belief in an as yet unrealised potential’ (Freebury,1987, p.45).

Weir’s focus then is on dramatising and examining elements popularly associated with national character (McFarlane in Murray(eds.), 1993, p.74) through cinematic techniques, visual symbolism and narrative devices. He portrays the spirit of Australia through the lives of two typical Australians; Archy the bushman, and Frank, the urban larrikin. The characterisation of these protagonists is exceptional and allows them to both symbolically embody perceptions and interpretations of the ANZAC legend/myth (Raynor,2000, p.113).

Archy, is the first of the two introduced to the audience. He is a bushman of the outback, an athletic sprinter, who seems to beat adversity in running races. Frank on the other hand, is an urban dweller and more wise than Archy in certain ways (he forges birth certificates, jumps trains) (Rattigan,1991, p.137). They both embody accepted Australian characters, but with an emphasis on Archy being the more ‘pure’ Australian (Rattigan,1991).

Mates: Archy & Frank (screen shot)

Australian concepts of loyalty and mateship are explored through the powerful relationship between Archy and Frank. Their mateship, a nationalistic feature in Australia, is cemented when they ‘navigate’ across the vast desert to reach Perth. The cinematography of these scenes is amazing. It captures the landscape, as a feature of national identity, but also as a transformative agent of the Australian spirit; a place where boys and men endure adversity and hardship, and ultimately grow into the strong and ideal Australian bushman.

Another very Australian character quality, emphasised in Gallipoli is competitive spirit. Competition plays a key role in developing the friendship and emergent mateship of Archy and Frank, who verse each other in rural running races. Other examples of Australian competitive spirit are borderless, with the football played in the deserts of Cairo (Western Australians v Victorians) and the constant haggling of prices with Egyptian traders (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The battle of Gallipoli also represents a national development, of stepping away from Britain, and towards Australia as a nation. While still under the umbrella of the British Commonwealth, the film highlights the anti-authoritarian/anti-British sentiments felt by Australian soldiers. When the Australian soldiers move through the traders in Cairo, they spot British officers and take it in their stride to disrespect and imitate their formal manner. Another example is the description of the British sipping tea on the beach, while Australians sacrifice their lives going over the top (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The final scene of Gallipoli is where the film really exemplifies Australian national character. Weir has chosen to remember the courage and selflessness of the ANZACs, epitomised by Archy’s final act (of mateship). Archy encapsulates what it means to be Australian when he knowingly runs towards certain death – dying for his country, but more importantly, for his mate, Frank.

Archy’s final act (screen shot)

Australian audiences responded to Gallipoli’s celebration of national identity (Freebury,1987, p.44). ‘Film, […] is the most powerful medium for projecting a “national identity”’ (Freebury,1987, p.43). Australians need to ‘see’ themselves in order to form a ‘national identity’. From this analysis one can see how nationalism is represented and projected in the film Gallipoli, a prime example of how Australian cinema can add to the resurgence of Australian nationalism.  


Bibliography: (Harvard, In-text)

Bodey, M 2006, ‘Gallipoli’, in Hocking, S (eds.) 2006, 100 Greatest Films of Australian Cinema, Scribal Publishing, Richmond (VIC), p. 104.

Freebury, J 1987, ‘Screening Australia: Gallipoli – a study of nationalism on film’, Media Information Australia.

McFarlane, B 1993, ‘Gallipoli’, in Murray, S (eds.) 1993, Australian Film: 1978-1992 – A survey of theatrical feature, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p.74.

McMahon, B and Quin, R 1990, Australian Images, Science Press, Marrickville (NSW).

Rattigan, N 1991 ‘Gallipoli’ in Images of Australia, SMU Press, p.135-138

Raynor, J 2000, Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Smith, A D 2001, Nationalism: theory, ideology, history, Wiley-Blackwell, Great Britain.


Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

By: Megan Walford, z3291268, ARTS2062

Word count: 980