ISSN:2202-5561 © Honest History Inc. 2013
This is Honest History’s final e-Newsletter before we launch our website. After the website goes fully live the e-Newsletter will change into a regular, short emailed advice of updates to the site.
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Stubbersfield family with others at Coolangatta 1936 (source: National Archives of Australia J2879, QTH549/2)
In this edition…
- Jauncey says we need to get beyond Anzac if we want to even get close to understanding and appreciating ourselves. Read more…
- Marilyn Lake writes that World War I led to the desolation of the national spirit, the nation’s joie de vivre and its high reputation in the world as an advanced, progressive, independent-minded democracy. Read more…
- Alison Broinowski says the leaders who planned and executed the 2003 invasion of Iraq – one of the more notable disasters of recent war history – said they would take ultimate responsibility but none of them did. Read more…
- Michael Piggott reviews Australian History Now, edited by Anna Clark and Paul Ashton, asking what is the sum of a book’s parts. Read more…
..while in other publications..
- Ross McMullin agrees that World War I put a stop to Australia’s grand days of hope and glory. Read more…
- Paul Daley in The Guardian Australia discusses our imminent expenditure of more than $140 million on Anzackery and what it says about our unbalanced understanding of our own history.
- Hugh White makes a link between Australians’ intense interest in military history and our understanding of our history in general, our image of ourselves and our view of war. (Honest History has an interview with Professor White in November on these and related matters.)
Studio portrait of a child dressed in military uniform, possibly the son of Pte Eldershire, Broadmeadows, Vic., 4 May 1915 (source: Australian War Memorial DA08570; photo: Darge Photographic Company)
History in secondary schools Part I: Honest History Factsheet
One of Honest History’s main ambitions is to provide a useful resource for teachers and students of Australian history. In this article we have matched sections of Australian Curriculum History Year 9 against sections of the Honest History website which is to be launched 7 November 2013. Read more…
History in secondary schools Part II
We provided some factual information in our e-Newsletter No. 5 about the views of the new federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, on the teaching of history in schools. Since then the Minister has spoken further, Honest History was asked for an opinion and gave it, some statistics have come out about secondary students’ declining interest in Australian history and Professor Stuart Macintyre has broached some ideas which might help, particularly linking our history to what was happening at the time internationally. We expect there will be more to come in this space.
Meanwhile, we have asked a number of historians from across the professional spectrum to comment on this statement of the Minister’s from April this year: ‘History is what it is. We should know the truth about it and we shouldn’t allow it to colour our present and our future.’ We hope to present the historians’ comments as a symposium on our website soon after the website launches. We then propose to seek a comment from the Minister.
Miles Franklin (l) and Vida Goldstein, c. 1900 (source: Flickr Commons/State Library of Victoria H42756; H42756a; donation: Miss Jean Robinson, 1980)
There’ll always be a Cambridge
The Governor-General recently launched the long-awaited Cambridge History of Australia (two volumes, 67 authors, 1536 pages, costing $325 and weighing as much as two solid planks of redgum). ‘Our interest is piqued’, Her Excellency said, ‘with the themed studies in each volume, topics as diverse as science, religion, gender, the environment, and media. Our land itself – its structure and how it has been used across centuries of habitation – features as a principal character.’ Editor Stuart Macintyre talks about the work here and Monash historian Ruth Morgan comments here (provoking some reader comments). We hope to review the books soon (if we can afford them).
Anzac and the republic
The Anzac Centenary is due to take another bite out of the republic’s popularity as we drown in well-funded sentimentality with a military flavour from 2014 to 2018. Fighting for the King of the British Empire – in a failed campaign in Turkey at the behest of British politicians and generals – should start ringing bells as some things get laid bare for all to see: it was men only; the handful of Aboriginals at Gallipoli were not even Australian citizens; not everyone is related to the combatants — or if they are, not necessarily on the right side! Eventually, the appetite for WWI will dull because its story does not have a discrete goal, a proper ending, nor is it about the future.
(We welcome the 200 or so subscribers to the ACTWomen list, to whom our e-Newsletter is being sent on.)
Water, water not everywhere
Talking of what has shaped our national destiny (as we inevitably do when centenaries loom), H2O deserves a close look. Plunging into Michael Cathcart’s 2010 book The Water Dreamers we find a quote from German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (‘History is geography set in motion’) plus the remark of economic historian AGL Shaw that ‘the history of Australia could be written as the struggle to conquer two obstacles – great distances and a lack of water’. ‘Water is the fundamental limit on how Australians live’, says Cathcart. ‘It determines where we establish our cities, how we think about country, how we farm it, build on it, defend it and dream about it.’
Northern Territory – Drought Country near Tempe Downs, c. 1924-35 (source: National Archives of Australia M4435, 586)
In the small print
Administrative history throws up interesting stories. Here’s one.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been involved in commemorations since 1990, implementing such notable enterprises as Australia Remembers in 1995, Saluting their Service after that, and now the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. The DVA commemorative program, like Topsy, ‘just growed’. Its growth was not accompanied, however, by official recognition in the Administrative Arrangements Order (AAO), the order signed by the Governor-General-in-Council which sets out ‘the matters dealt with by a Department of State’. AAO after AAO, under Hawke, Keating and Howard, appeared without recognising DVA’s growing commemorative task. It was not until 14 September 2010, that ‘Her Excellency Quentin Alice Louise Bryce, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council’ signed an AAO that included the word ‘Commemorations’ under the matters dealt with by DVA.
Perhaps this change was to mark the 20th anniversary of the commencement of DVA’s work in this field; or perhaps someone had noticed the lack for the first time. Machinery of government experts will tell you (correctly) that AAOs do not always fully reflect what departments are up to, that the matters column is only indicative, that other material like program statements has to be read as well, that there is a need for brevity and that, in the case of commemorations, other departments such as Defence do a bit of this sort of thing as well.
All that having been said, twenty years does seem rather a long time to take to fix up this piece of DVA’s paperwork and one wonders why it was done when it was done, noting that the tidy-up happened in September 2010 and the Reynolds-Lake book, What’s Wrong with Anzac? came out in about April 2010 (the review here is dated 7 April) and was critical of DVA’s activities in the commemorative and education areas.
There is still the question of whether the word ‘Commemorations’ adequately covers DVA’s education program.
General David Morrison at the UN
Some time before the Chief of Army fixed the camera with a steely gaze to condemn misogyny in the Australian Army he gave a speech at the United Nations in New York. The occasion was International Women’s Day and the General spoke, among other things, about Anzac. The Anzac spirit or tradition is a pillar of ADF culture, he said; it helps attract male recruits. But he had misgivings about an
Anzac legend – as admirable as it is – [which] has become something of a double-edged sword. Many Australians have an idealised image of the Australian soldier as a rough hewn country lad – invariably white – a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and who never salutes officers, especially the Poms. This is a pantomime caricature. Every soldier is Mel Gibson in Gallipoli and frankly it undermines our recruitment from some segments of society and breeds a dangerous complacency about how professional and sophisticated soldiering really is.
LT GEN David Morrison AO, Chief of Army (source: Department of Defence)
Paul Keating on Jack Lang on World War I
Lang [said Keating] was around during the buoyant days of Australian nationalism, the 1890s and the first 15 years of this [2oth] century. He was always dark on the First World War and all the personalities involved, and of course he knew it snuffed Australian nationalism out. He never attended an Anzac Day march in his life because he felt that the conservatives had taken the gesture of young Australians and made a conservative thing from it. (Michael Gordon, A Question of Leadership: Paul Keating, Political Fighter, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1993, p. 37)
New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang, watched by Governor Sir Philip Game, cuts official ribbon, Sydney Harbour Bridge, 20 March 1932, after Captain Francis de Groot of the New Guard had warmed up the crowd (source: Flickr Commons/State Library of New South Wales DG ON4/2144; photo: Sam Hood)
Coining our history
From water not in the land to coins buried in the sand. Australian anthropologist Ian McIntosh at Indiana University is trying to work out whether five coins found in the Northern Territory during World War II are evidence that sailors from Africa reached Australia up to 900 years ago. The coins originated in the East African sultanate of Kilwa around 1100 AD and were uncovered in 1944 by Australian serviceman Maurie Isenberg, along with some much more recent Dutch coins. The coins, found in the Wessel Islands off Arnhem Land, may also be connected to local Aboriginal rock art, which seems to show a sailing vessel. McIntosh believes ‘the argument for the involvement of Kilwa traders and also the Portuguese is quite compelling’. Most strands of our history go back long past Anzac.
Honest History’s current research has thrown up an intriguing contrast. Australian governments took an unconscionably long time to apologise for the Stolen Generation, a part of our history for which today’s Australians were not responsible. The same governments, on the other hand, have been eager to promote the idea that soldiers in past wars have fought and died ‘for our freedom’ when there is really no connection between those military actions and our lives today. Why is intergenerational gratitude so much easier to do than intergenerational regret?
Making war acceptable
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom has been advising the government there about ways in which war can be made more palatable to the general public, including by reducing the ‘profile’ of repatriation ceremonies (code for returning the bodies of dead soldiers at night and without publicity), reducing ‘public sensitivity to the penalties inherent in military operations’ and inculcating ‘an attitude that Service may involve sacrifice and that such risks are knowingly and willingly undertaken as a matter of professional judgement’. One assumes that the risks are being equally shared across all ranks.
Soldier On at the pointy end
Soldier On supports physically and psychologically wounded Australian service people, particularly those from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The importance of its work was reinforced tangentially for us by this article in the New York Times. Soldier On accepts donations here.
Forgotten War remembered
Then there are the wars we prefer to forget. Following our review last time of Henry Reynolds’s Forgotten War, here is another one, from James Rose. Rose notes the official view that commemoration does not extend to internal wars and argues that this view ‘skews our thinking even today and allows various falsehoods and untruths to permeate our national historic culture’.
George had a word for it
‘If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that can be given a name.’ (George Orwell, 1984)
Prime Minister Abbott joins the roll of Anzac PMs
The Prime Minister gave a speech to Legacy the other day. Much of the publicity was about his proposal for an Arlington-style national cemetery in Canberra ‘in which significant ex-soldiers could be interred’. What this might mean was left for later consideration, particularly of the word ‘significant’ – the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial has no distinctions of rank or mentions of bravery awards – although versions of the idea have been around for decades. More interesting, if predictable, were the PM’s remarks about Anzac and its centenary.
Yes, as all of us know, Gallipoli was in a sense, the cauldron that helped to shape a young nation. It wasn’t our first war – that was the Boer War. Nevertheless, it was the conflict, it was the battle, it was the campaign which seized the imagination of a young nation and helped to shape the way we think about ourselves as Australians… This was a time when Australia and Australians shaped the world. So, in thinking of the Centenary of ANZAC, we should think not just of Gallipoli itself, not just of the ideals of duty and service which motivated the young men who rallied to the colours in those days, but of our role in world history at that time.
The PM went on to announce an increase in the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program to $125 000 per electorate (up from $100 000) or a total of $22.5 million for this program (up from $18 million) and $144.5 million overall for centenary commemoration (was $140 million). Meanwhile, donations to Soldier On can be made at the link above – or for that matter, to Legacy here. One wonders what these organisations could do with $22.5 million.
Another anniversary in 1915
Ruth Russell of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom advises us that ‘we are an international women’s peace organisation that met in The Hague to develop the Permanent Principles of Peace to prevent war at the same time the Anzacs were dying in Gallipoli. We will be holding our centenary at the same time – April 2015 – but we get NO media coverage or mention that there were active suffragettes who opposed wars.’ One of a number of groups keeping that work going today – and keeping in tune – is Chorus of Women (and we welcome their 40 or so members to whom this newsletter is being sent on).
WILPF peace demonstration 1920 (source: WILPF)
7 November in history
Alert readers will have noticed that our website is being launched, purely coincidentally, on the 96th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia. It is also four days before the 95th anniversary of the World War I armistice and 95 years to the day from when United Press incorrectly reported the armistice had been signed. Not many people know that last one.
And a Melbourne book launch on Remembrance Day
Here is all the information for the launch in Melbourne of the new edition of Alistair Thomson’s Anzac Memories. Ken Inglis describes the work as ‘a masterly study of how Australians remember, forget, invent and imagine their experiences of war’.
(1) Whizzbang or whizbang: a small, high-speed shell whose sound as it flies through the air arrives almost at the same instant as its explosion; a firecracker with a similar effect. (dictionary.com)
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‘Not only Anzac but also lots of other strands in Australian history’. Our objectives and some of our distinguished supporters are under ‘About us’ at the top of the website page.
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Honest History is a coalition of historians and others supporting the balanced and honest presentation and use of Australian history in the context of the centenary of World War I.
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