In part two of my interview with fellow Australian Craig Roach, he shares his love of Gallipoli and suggests which places should go on your ‘must visit’ list for Turkey. If you missed part one you can read it here.
Craig, what might readers be surprised to learn if they take one of your tours?
I’m a stickler for the saying, ‘A day where nothing is learned is a day wasted’. My Gallipoli, my Anzac is like that. Everyone I bring to the place either has a story, a family connection, a local myth or legend from home, or they know nothing at all about it and have no connection or real interest in the place. Either way everyone leaves with an Anzac Story and those stories become part of my story.
The commentary I use on my tours is anecdotal, lots of stories and yarns. I see historians boring their clients into a catatonic stupor sometimes, and I know that by the end of a long day on the battlefield those poor clients will have forgotten most of the mind-numbing statistics and Quartermaster’s inventory. When you’re guiding people around a place you’re passionate about, you still need to measure their interest and their attention span. Move on to something else when you seem to be losing them.
I like to take people off the beaten track and away from the main places the day tourists head to. Sure, we see Anzac Cove, the Commemorative Site and so on, but when you force them up the track to Plugge’s Plateau or down to The Farm cemeteries, you see the gleam in their eyes, and mine. With me, they’re on an adventure and I let them discover it along the way, like the French Guns or Gully Beach in Helles or some of the shipwrecks along the Gallipoli beaches such as W Beach, Gully Beach and Suvla Bay. The trenches, the bones, the stories.
What other activities are there in your area of Turkey that people might like to take part in?
Living in Thrace opens up a whole different perspective on Turkey. It a part of Europe which has been the stomping ground of just about everyone on the planet, you name them, the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Thracians, Trojans, Macedonians, Bulgars, Macars, Ottomans, the lot. They’ve all left their little marks on the place. One thing they mostly had in common was their love of the grape and its finished product, wine. Grapes have been grown in these parts for well over 6,000 years and they were exported all over the ancient world. Not only that, loads of marble used to build fine ancient cities like Rome, came from the Turkish island of Marmara in the sea named after it. Along the shores of this sea lie ancient ports and cities yet to be rediscovered.
I’m a big wine lover so for the last few years I’ve been involved in promoting and consulting to the Thracian wine community.
I know a lot of the people who take your tours are from Australia and New Zealand. It’s a long way from the Antipodes to Turkey, so what other cities and sites would you recommend visitors include in their itinerary?
Having lived in Avanos, Cappadocia, for such a long time, I don’t think any trip to Turkey is complete without a visit there. Its unique mix of ancient, manmade and natural history is astounding. Even after all these years, I can walk down the main street of Göreme and see something I never noticed before. Whether it’s viewed from a different angle, or something has been removed to reveal something else, it’s just amazing. Back in the day there were still people living isolated within the rocks. You’d hear about a local legend or myth, and simply go out and try to find it. For example, in 1996 I heard about a long lost underground city from a local near Ozkonak. He remembered finding the entrance when he was a kid and that when you looked out through an air duct you could see Belhia Monastery. Well, we spent three months looking, only to find it ten metres further than where we looked on the first day! That’s just one example – I can’t give too much away!
Being a bit of an artist, I quickly made friends with a retired schoolteacher and fellow artist Muharrem Hoca, the owner of Sofa Hotel in Avanos. Every room in his place is a unique work of art, along with the many original paintings and drawings by Hoca himself. He’s been a friend for a long, long time, and helped me beyond belief while I spent 12 years restoring my old house in Avanos.
Of course, no trip to the region is complete without two iconic activities – hot air ballooning and an underground folklore show. I helped out the originators of the sport in Turkey and spent many a morning and evening in the presence of Kaili and Lars from Kapadokya Balloons. In those days they were the only ones doing it, alongside the occasional cowboy start-up. Now there must be a hundred operators and a couple of hundred balloons. I have to say I preferred it when you could quietly glide to a halt in someone’s garden without 200 balloons following you and destroying the garden forever.
Turkey is fascinating from east to west and north to south. The ancient sites of the east and southeast are stunning, the ancient Armenian capital of Ani, near Kars, the obsidian hills of Kağızman, the wildflowers of the steppe-country, the Kaçkar Mountains, Mardin, Diyarbakır, Urfa, Gaziantep, the list is endless. It’s a country I’ve fallen in love with and haven’t finished exploring yet. There’s still so much to see.
What’s up next for you?
Hmm, what’s next for me? Well after all the stress of upper management in tourism around the world, and the trauma of cancer and treatment in the last 12 months, I seem to have lost my stupid, false sense of immunity, from being shot at a few times, being in wrong places at the wrong time and getting away with it. After being attacked and left unconscious in a Bangkok canal, then going through the whole cancer/chemo thing, I’m now happy to spend my time painting and exploring Gallipoli, learning more about the place and taking people there. As I’ve stated before, everyone has an Anzac Story, whether they came with one, have a family connection or they leave with one, they all become part of my Anzac story, my legacy. Promoting and learning more about the Turkish wine industry will also play an important part in my future. I love the wine! I want to see out my days with my wife and daughter, see peace and tolerance sweep over the land like a tsunami. I also want to highlight the risks that this fragile, natural environment is in. Nature may be winning the war in Gallipoli but unless a serious long-term policy on sustainability is developed and implemented, the whole place will collapse.
Talking to Craig has made me want to go on one of his tours because I know I’ll get the true story of Gallipoli, of the men and women whose lives were changed by the momentous battles that took place, and not the glossy nationalist version I was taught at school. If you’ve been thinking of visiting Turkey, why not contact Craig and take one of his battlefield tours?
You won’t regret it. Well, you might when you wake up with a hangover after too many beers or glasses of wine, but the enjoyment will make the headache worthwhile!