Eveline Harvey 's Opinion

Eveline Harvey is nzherald.co.nz's travel editor.

Eveline Harvey: Cap on Gallipoli numbers necessary

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New Zealanders and Australians wait for dawn to break at the 90th anniversary commemorations of the Gallipoli landings in 2005. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealanders and Australians wait for dawn to break at the 90th anniversary commemorations of the Gallipoli landings in 2005. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There was outcry in Australia last week over a proposed ballot to determine who would be allowed to attend the centennial Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015 - a proposal our Government is also looking into.

While I can understand the reservations of those who fear such a plan will see many miss out on what is undoubtedly an unparalleled experience, it's certainly an issue which needs to be addressed.

I was living in Europe in 2005 and was lucky enough to be able to attend the 90th anniversary commemorations in Turkey.

It was a moving experience and one I have no hesitation in recommending to all interested New Zealanders and Australians. However it was also obvious to me as I lay rugged up in my sleeping bag with the many thousands of other pilgrims that a cap on numbers probably needed to be implemented.

I have no idea how many were packed onto the headland that night (unofficial estimates I've found range from 15,000 - 20,000), but moving anywhere once you'd staked your claim really wasn't an option.

Certainly, there had to be more than the 10,500 last week's reports said was the maximum number of visitors the peninsula could cope with.

Despite that, I'm not sure a ballot is the best way to resolve the numbers issue. As was pointed out last week, some organised people have already booked their trips for 2015. Additionally, a ballot runs the risk of splitting up groups wanting to travel together.

Perhaps a better solution would be for both New Zealand and Australia to decide how many places should be made available for their citizens at the centennial commemorations. Those wanting to make the trip could register their interest with the appropriate authorities, but once each country's allocation is exhausted, that would be it.

Of course, in order to work, such a system would need to be well publicised ahead of time not only in New Zealand, but also in Europe and in the United Kingdom, where many expat Kiwis who may be considering a trip to the commemorations live.

And contrary to the opinion expressed by an RSL state president last week, I don't believe the descendants of Gallipoli veterans should be given precedence over others who wish to make the pilgrimage to Turkey.

The events of April 25,1915, have often been referred to as marking the dawning of nationhood for both New Zealand and Australia. As such, Anzac Day is - and should be - a commemoration for all residents of those lands.

The fact that my great grandfather, by some chance of history, was involved in the assault on Chunuk Bair, doesn't give me any more or less right than any other New Zealander to attend an Anzac Day service at Gallipoli.

No solution that involves restricting numbers will be popular, but for the sake of the site's preservation it's something that should be considered.

Unfortunately, some Anzac Day visitors to Gallipoli seem to forget that it is a national park and that the horrific loss of Antipodean life there was surpassed many-fold by Turkish casualties.

I've often wondered, if the scene of that campaign had been on New Zealand shores and the commemoration of it in one of our national parks, would we have been as accommodating of the annual throng as the Turkish people have been for all these years?

Lest we forget, the site is sacred to them too.

Eveline Harvey

Eveline Harvey is nzherald.co.nz's travel editor.

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