Meet Dean Hunter – Webmaster Extraordinaire and Gallipoli Expert

IMG_8503How long have your worked for Fez?
I have been working for Fez Travel since 1998’ish. I have done almost every job in the company at one time or another. These days I am their webmaster and from time to time I guide groups around the Gallipoli Battlefields. While I love my work as Fez’s webmaster, Gallipoli has a very special place in my heart as this is where I first worked when I came to Turkey. I really enjoy the continued opportunities to show groups around Gallipoli.

How did you get started in guiding around Gallipoli?
I started working at a travel company in Canakkale on 11 January, 1995, 4 months before the 80th anniversary ANZAC Day service. I was a “newbie” to Turkey, having only arrived in the country on 23 December 1994.

When I started working in Canakkale, I asked our tour guide for a book about Gallipoli as I wanted to read up a bit on it. So I read that book, borrowed another, read that one, borrowed another, and so on, until he had no more. I asked him where I could get some more books about Gallipoli, and so he put me in touch with an English professor at the local university. So I borrowed and read all of his books. Meanwhile my mum was scouring second hand book shops at home in Australia, and sending books over to me. This was, after all, pre internet shopping, Amazon etc. Every day off, I would head over to the Gallipoli Battlefields. I’d get off the beaten track and explore areas that I had often just been reading about the night before. Slowly it all started to sink in and stick.

Each night, at the place I worked at, we’d have a BBQ for the group when they got back from their tour. I’d head down, grab some food and a beer for dinner, and I would listen to everyone talk about their Gallipoli tour, finding it quite fascinating to learn what interested them and what didn’t. But every now and then, I’d hear someone saying that they didn’t understand a part of the tour. I would try to resist, but eventually I’d have to turn around and say “Well let me explain what happened there….”. Sometimes I would have 20-30 people standing around me, as my beer went warm and my food went cold and I was blabbing on about Gallipoli. But they seemed to enjoy it, and I enjoyed sharing my newfound knowledge.

Then, one morning at about 7am there was a frantic knocking at my door. Anyone that knows me knows that I get up at the crack of lunchtime and that waking me at that ungodly hour is fraught with danger and that they should only do it under extreme circumstances. Begrudgingly, I dragged myself out of bed and answered the door. It was the boss looking quite distraught. He said “The guide is ill, and you’ll have to take the Gallipoli tour today”. I laughed and said no “No no no, me computer programmer, me sit in cubicle and have no interaction with other human beings at all. That’s what I do”. And my boss, being a clever man, said to me “Every night you sit down there and tell your Gallipoli stories. Why don’t you go and tell them where it all happened?” Hmm, that certainly appealed to me. To tell about the landings on ANZAC Cove, explain the August offensive from Lone Pine, the Nek and Chunuk Bair. I was tempted…. And then he said “And if you don’t take the tour, then all of these people are going to miss out on their once in a lifetime chance to see Gallipoli.” Damn, he was tugging at the heart stings now, “OK, OK, OK!!”, and so off I went. And I loved it.

That tour went for many hours – I don’t know what time we got back, but it was well after dark. What really made it for me was how grateful the people were. Handshakes and heartfelt thanks made me feel wonderful. I often imagined what is would be like to serve your country and I felt I knew now.

That must have been around 1987-88. I ended up taking tours almost every 2nd day, and I did that for around 2 ½ years until I fell in love with a beautiful Polish girl and moved to Warsaw where I lived for 2 years. It is there that I built the 1st Fez website. I then fell out of love with the beautiful Polish girl, went to Ireland and drank Guiness for 3 months and wrote some software for the Fez office. It controlled bookings, invoicing and who was on what bus, where and when they were getting on and off.

I never got tired or bored with it, and I’ll never forget one couple telling me that when they were in Egypt and told someone they were heading to Gallipoli, he told them to make sure they go on Deano’s tour. Wow. Some people would wait 2-3 days to be on my tour. I still love getting there with a group or just a friend. Out in the fresh air at my Gallipoli.

Did you always dream of going to an ANZAC Day service at Gallipoli?
Not as strongly as for some, I guess. I don’t have any relatives who died at Gallipoli, but like most Aussies, I have always had a sense of curious obligation to go to Gallipoli for an ANZAC Day service, although like many Aussies, I was not entirely sure why. My first ANZAC Day was back in 1995, on the 80th anniversary.

Looking back now, I laugh, because the funny thing is, that when I first left home to travel, I had no idea where Gallipoli was!  We never covered it in school, and I thought it was in Italy!  In my defense, there is actually a place called Gallipoli in Italy. It’s right near the bottom of the heel of the boot:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli,_Apulia

I also knew nothing about the Gallipoli campaign. I remember seeing grandfathers marching down Swanston Street in Melbourne on TV on ANZAC Day. I remember my Granddad talking with old soldiers at the RSL talking about Lone Pine, Quinn’s Post, the Dardanelles and wondering what those things were. I remember being surprised that Granddad hated Churchill as I’d only heard great things about him after WW2.

What was your first Dawn Service at Gallipoli like?
My first dawn service was quite a mystery for me, and I found myself more interested in what was going on rather than reflecting on what went on back then. These days, it is the opposite for me, the service is generally the same – the same order of services, and many of the speeches sound familiar, and so these days I spend the entire dawn service with my back to the rostrum, imagining the soldiers advancing through the scrub and up the hills in the faintest light of breaking dawn, imagining gun fire, the rattle of machine guns and bullets buzzing overhead. I wonder how they must have felt as they rushed headlong inland, in pursuit of the Turks, many into oblivion, never to be seen again. Wondering about the confusion on the beaches, knowing they have landed in the wrong spot, seeing friends and family members dead, dying and screaming out in pain, wondering will the medical corps land in the wrong spot also? Will the rest of the men land here also, or are we here alone?

When I think about what happened back then, I don’t differentiate between the Aussies, Kiwis, Poms, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Indians, French, Newfoundlanders, Senegalese, Ceylonese, Russian Jews, Germans, Turks, etc. Of course, I could go on to include countries that were then part of the Ottoman empire such as Syria and the like – the Turkish cemetery at Helles lists them. It seems most that corners of the empire were represented. But for me, they were simply all there to serve their countries.

What about the Lone Pine Service?
Lone Pine has always been a far more relaxed affair. A lot less sombre. There is almost a sense of relief amongst everyone, along the lines of “well we’ve been to a dawn service at ANZAC Cove”

Lone Pine is a special place for me. I used to be freaked out by cemeteries back home. But I swear that now, when I go there with a group, I can hear the diggers saying “G’day mate, do us proud, tell ‘em what we did.”

How many ANZAC Day services have you been to?
I am not sure, I haven’t kept count, but I guess it must be close to 10.

How are you involved these days with ANZAC Day and Gallipoli?
I take the occasional tour, and do the occasional presentation.  I guess I get out there several times a year.  During my time with Fez I have escorted groups of all types – school students, rugby groups, you name the type of group and there is a chance I have escorted them. Apart from the kick I get out of sharing my knowledge with visitors to Gallipoli, every group teaches me something too.  I’ve learned that everyone is interesting, and everyone has a story to tell.

Are there any particular standout memories for you from ANZAC Day over the years?
Some but they are stories within themselves.  My first ANZAC Day is probably one of the biggest stories I have to tell, maybe in another blog post one day.

What would you say to anyone thinking of make the trip over to Turkey for ANZAC Day?
People often ask if it is better to go to Gallipoli on ANZAC Day or at another quieter time. I suggest both.  This is because ANZAC Day is a very special occasion that you’ll never forget. Every ANZAC Day from them on you’ll remember when you were at ANZAC Cove for the Dawn Service. But when visiting for the Dawn Service, you only get to see a relatively small part of Gallipoli. Outside the ANZAC Day period, you are able to cover all the main places, able to explore a bit, jump in the trenches, walk around ANZAC Cove, wander away from your group, and ponder how it must have been.

Now, I am not just saying this because I work for Fez, but Turkey really has so much to offer, so the best thing to do, in my honest opinion is to do a 2-3 week tour as well. It would be such a shame to come all this way and not see more of what Turkey has to offer. So maybe take a tour that includes ANZAC Day, and then when the tour is finished head back down there for 1-2 nights and do a day tour of the battlefields. That way you not only get to see some of Turkey, but you also get to experience ANZAC Day and have a day there during the quieter period.

If you are interested in visiting Gallipoli for ANZAC Day, check out our range of ANZAC Day tours.

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