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McGirr, Michael: Bypass

Michael McGirr

Bypass: The Story of a Road, Picador, Sydney, 2004

Ostensibly, the story of a cycle trip down the Hume Highway by a former Jesuit. ‘In some ways’, McGirr says, ‘the Hume Highway is one long war memorial’ (p. 242). He describes the memorials in some of the little towns along the road then gives a searing characterisation of commemoration in Australia. He uses the term ‘creeping Anzacism’ to describe

the way in which the remembrance of war is moving from the personal to the public sphere and, with that, from a description of something unspeakable to something about which you can never say enough. As fewer and fewer Australians actually know somebody who fought in World War I or World War II, the commemoration of war has changed from a quiet remembrance of other people to an unrestrained endorsement of ourselves. As ideology comes to replace history, there are fewer and fewer faces to go with the stories. They have been replaced by a lather of clichés, most of which are as much about filling a void in the narcissistic present as lending dignity to the past. People now seem to believe that in looking at the Anzacs they are looking at themselves. They aren’t. The dead deserve more respect than to be used to make ourselves feel larger. (p. 246)

Similar remarks from Peter Stanley, 2006.