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Clip description

Communications with headquarters have been cut during a disastrous attack at The Nek. As the men of the 10th Light Horse Regiment wait to learn if they too must go over the top, Frank (Mel Gibson) rushes to bring word that the attack has been postponed. The telephone rings, indicating the lines are working. Frank is too late.

Curator’s notes

The scene expresses the full weight of Peter Weir’s intentions in making Gallipoli – an almost unbearable combination of admiration, regret, sentimental detail (the rings and watches on bayonets) and accusation. The officer who orders the men to go via telephone was an Australian – but many viewers took him to be a British officer, sending 'our boys’ to a meaningless death. This is one of the most powerfully emotional scenes in all of Australian cinema, even if it was widely misunderstood.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Australian Major Barton (Bill Hunter) receiving a telephone call from his commanding officer, Colonel Robinson (John Morris), who insists that Barton order his men to attack. Barton is reluctant to issue the order, but his resistance weakens. Footage of Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and fellow soldiers in the trenches waiting for the order and removing their valuables is intercut with footage of Barton addressing his men and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) desperately racing back to confirm that the assault has been delayed. Archy, who had been a sprinter in the outback, recalls the words that had inspired him to run fast. Barton blows his whistle and the push begins. Hearing the whistle and realising his failure to stop the assault, Frank convulses with despair.

Educational value points

  • The clip pairs film footage with emotive music to extremely powerful effect. Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor plays in the background, and the elegiac strains of organ and strings highlight the poignancy and futility of the young men about to lose their lives. The music also serves to thematically unite the pointlessness of all three potential heroes’ actions: Barton’s resistance, Archy’s determination and Frank’s race against time. These scenes and their musical accompaniment are often considered the most moving parts of the film and have contributed to its status as a classic.
  • A variety of film techniques are used to enhance the emotional power of the film and the audience’s empathy with its characters. Carefully constructed shots include the close-ups of photos of loved ones, farewell letters, watches and Archy’s medal, as well as the loaded machine gun ready to fire over a wasteland of corpses, revealing to the audience the inevitability of the slaughter. These techniques ultimately make an overwhelming statement about war, using all the power of film to influence the audience’s perception of this aspect of war as a tragic mistake, mismanaged by leaders and resulting in the futile waste of young lives.
  • The film recreates a key moment in the making of the ANZAC legend. On 25 April 1915 Australian and New Zealand forces, together with combined British and French forces, landed at Ari Burnu (soon renamed Anzac Cove) and other sites on the Gallipoli Peninsula. After eight months of battle, during which little progress was made, the decision was made to withdraw all troops. Although there was no military victory at Gallipoli, the qualities of courage, endurance and mateship displayed by the ANZACs have continued to play a central role in the discussion of Australian identity.
  • The clip portrays the attack at The Nek, a widely mythologised but relatively minor aspect of the August 1915 Offensives of the Gallipoli campaign. The August Offensives involved an attempt to break the Turkish hold on high ground by staging a major landing by British troops north of Anzac Cove, at Suvla Bay with the Anzacs providing support through a series of attacks in the south. One of these was an attempt to cross a small area of flat land, known as The Nek, in which four waves of Australian Lighthorsemen were killed within minutes.
  • Gallipoli has been criticised for its perceived anti-British stance. This is often discussed in the context of the growing Australian republican movement of the late 1970s. While the film focuses almost exclusively on the Australian contribution to the Gallipoli campaign, in fact, the British losses (21,255 deaths) were much greater than the Australian (8,709 deaths). Criticism has arisen from the fact that the actor playing the Australian commanding officer who orders the attack (John Morris) sounds and is assumed by viewers to be British, a perception that Weir has said he regretted.
  • Weir’s motives for making the film arose in part from a visit to the trenches of Gallipoli in 1976 where he found 'buttons and bits of old leather, belts and bones of donkeys’ and it was perhaps this sense of 'really touching history’ rather than a consciously pro-republic stance that inspired him to make the film.
  • The importance of sport in Australian popular culture and in national perceptions of heroes is highlighted in the clip. Archy dwells on the motivational words that inspired him as a sprinter before he sacrifices himself, and the loss of his life seems somehow greater because he is a talented sportsperson whose potential will never be realised.
  • This is a key scene from Gallipoli, a pivotal film in Peter Weir’s career. Gallipoli won nine Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in 1981 including Best Director, Best Film and Best Screenplay (David Williamson) and was instrumental in launching Weir’s international career. Gallipoli was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film in 1982.
  • Mel Gibson (1956–) is shown in a role that contributed to his rise to fame playing ordinary reckless young men who become reluctant heroes struggling against adversity, in some ways similar to the role he played in the Mad Max series (1979, 1981, 1985). Gibson won an AFI Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role (1981) for playing Frank. This early success has culminated in his status as one of the world’s most well-known actors. he is also an acclaimed director, having won an Academy Award for Braveheart (1995).

Albinoni’s Adagio in D Minor plays on the soundtrack as the phone rings.

In the trenches.
Soldier 1 They’re not going to make us go, are they?
Archy No, there’s no point.

Frank sprints towards the front, panting.

An officer speaks on the telephone.
Officer Those men should have gone, Barton. Marker flags have been seen.
Barton in the trenches Not by me, sir. I’ve asked for confirmation. From General Gardner.
Officer Your orders are to attack, and you’ll do so immediately. The British must be allowed to get ashore. Is that clear? You are to push on!
Barton It’s cold-blooded murder!
Officer I said push on.
Barton Yes, sir.
Barton stands up.
Barton Can’t ask the men to do what I wouldn’t do myself.
He approaches the men in the trench.
Barton Alright men, we’re going. I want you all to remember who you are. You’re the 10th Light Horse. Men from Western Australia. Don’t forget it! Good luck.
Soldier 2 Good luck.
Barton You too.
The men hug, mouth prayers, write last letters and attach their rings and other valuables to bayonets stabbed into the trench wall.

Frank runs as fast as he can to deliver the message to stop the charge.

Archy What are your legs? Springs. Steel springs. What are they gonna do? They’re going to hurl me down the track. How fast can you run? Fast as a leopard. How fast are you gonna run? As fast as a leopard! Then let’s see you do it!
The soldiers raise their weapons in preparation for exiting the trench.

Frank Make way! Get away! Get away! Urgent message!

Barton blows his whistle, signalling the start of the charge. Frank cries out in anguish as the soldiers climb out of the trench, shouting.