Outrage as Lone Pine ceremony at Gallipoli axed

The axing of future Anzac Day ceremonies at Lone Pine in Gallipoli was "sacrilege" to veterans, deeply disappointing to war widows, and a move which Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said would outrage all Australians.

"To scrap it would be a sacrilege," said Barney Flanagan, the president of the RSL sub-branch in Chatswood. "Lone Pine is Anzac. Together with Anzac Cove, the landing at Gallipoli, Lone Pine is part of the tradition."

A photograph taken in 1919 showing the short distance between trenches at Lone Pine.
A photograph taken in 1919 showing the short distance between trenches at Lone Pine. Photo: Australian War Memorial publication, Gallipoli Revisited

The federal government announced late on Friday that the Lone Pine service would not be conducted in the future because of concerns about the well-being of visitors on the rough, high terrain, where between 5000 and 7000 men were injured or killed in 1915.

"Given the extended time period visitors are on site, potential for extreme weather conditions, and exposed location on rough terrain, the Lone Pine service will not be conducted from this year onwards."

An old photo of Lone Pine before it was shattered by shell fire.
An old photo of Lone Pine before it was shattered by shell fire. Photo: Supplied

The review of the Lone Pine service was announced in November by the outgoing Minister for Veterans Affairs, Stuart Robert, who was sacked on Friday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for breaching ministerial rules during a trip to China.

It was immediately attacked as a "nanny state" measure by many. At that time, the RSL said it would only agree to a scrapping of the service if holding the service was a terrorist risk.


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a "disgrace" that the news was snuck out on Friday afternoon under the cover of Minister Robert's sacking.

"This is a hugely important event in Australia's history – and we must honour the sacrifice of so many of our own," he said.

Mr Shorten, who visited Turkey for last year's 100th anniversary ceremonies at Lone Pine, said the site was also personally significant.

"I have two relatives who are buried in Lone Pine, their names are on the memorial there from the Gallipoli campaign," he said on Saturday.

Mr Shorten said he would accept the decision if it was made for security reason, but if it was being done for cost cutting it was disgraceful.

"If what we're doing is seeing some ... cross-cutting so that Australians don't celebrate a tragedy and commemorate the great honour of thousands of young Australians men who died in Gallipoli and in particular the Lone pine conflict, then that is disgraceful." 

"We must never stop honouring them and their sacrifice. This threatens the solemn promise we make at the going down of the sun and in the morning. It is contrary to the whole spirit of Lest We Forget."

A spokeswoman for the War Widows' Guild of Australia Meg Green said it was an upsetting decision, although she conceded it did get very hot and crowded.

"If you attend the dawn service, you then have to walk up to Lone Pine," Mrs Green told ABC's AM program on Saturday. It was quite a long walk, she said, but there were medical teams to help. In the past, most visitors have made their way from the dawn service at 5.30am at Anzac Cove up the hill to the Lone Pine service at 11 am.

"When I was there it was exceedingly hot and there was nowhere to take off your thermal layers, which you need for the dawn service. Facilities are fairly poor. The road in and out is quite difficult."

Despite these problems, Mrs Green said the service should continue throughout the commemorative services to mark the centenary of world war one, ending in 2018.

"I think that the population will be very disappointed that the Lone Pine service is not going to continue," she said, adding that she hoped veterans groups like hers could change the government's mind.

Many young people, particularly Australian backpackers travelling through Europe, will often camp at Lone Pine, arriving on the eve of Anzac Day and not leaving until late in the day. Because of the crowds and the narrow roads, it is difficult to get in and out of the area, and there is little shade to escape the often sweltering heat.

The battle of Lone Pine occurred on August 6, not in April, but it has become one of the most sacred sites because of the bloody battle, which resulted in a rare win for the Anzacs.

The author Ion Idriess, a light-horseman at Lone Pine in September, 1915, recalled the stench was just awful: "The dead men, Turks and Australians, are lying buried and half-buried in the trench bottom ... the flies hum in a bee like cloud."

Chatswood's Mr Flanagan said it was important to keep these ceremonies going.

"We want younger people to keep on going there," said Mr Flanagan. "It is not just for the older people, but we want to the younger people to keep the tradition going."

Additional reporting by Han Nguyen