Opposition growing to Australian War Memorial’s ‘Brendanbunker’: watch this space

We have reported previously on the proposed $500 million extensions to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. (Use our Search engine with terms like ‘extensions’, ‘grandiose’, and ‘Brendanbunker’.) Additional estimates hearings in the Parliament last week had more discussion (from page 101), though no dissent towards the Memorial’s ambitions.

The extensions have bipartisan support in the Parliament but there is still to be a hearing of the Public Works Committee into the plans. Honest History is monitoring (watch this space).

There was a letter published in today’s Canberra Times as follows:

‘No’ needed for Nelson

Your editorial (“Paradise paved by memorial,” February 25, p14) asks how the memorial “seems to be somehow immune to the usual processes of public consultation when it comes to development”.

There are two reasons for this apparent immunity. First, the memorial’s director, Dr Brendan Nelson, is a consummate salesman. He could sell ice to eskimos, so it is easy for him to convince politicians, including former colleagues, of the worth of whatever project he is spruiking.

Secondly, and more importantly, Dr Nelson can draw upon the idea that the memorial is a “sacred site”, and those who question the Anzac legend and associated projects risk being seen as unpatriotic.

Anyone who has seen Dr Nelson sail through Senate estimates hearings can attest to this; as the spokesperson for the “sacred” memorial and Anzac he is virtually untouchable. (One senator asked, only half facetiously, whether anyone ever says “no” to him.)

The memorial should be subject to the same rigorous accountability as other national institutions. Anzac is not a state religion, and we are entitled to be atheist or agnostic about it, while respecting those who feel the need to worship at Anzac altars. It is time we said “no” to Dr Nelson.

David Stephens, Bruce

Marilyn Lake, Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, had this in Australian Book Review recently:

Historians must attend to context. Even as the Coalition government intervened to veto ARC grants for young scholars in the humanities – eleven of the small minority of applications approved through an extensive independent review process – and insists on maintaining funding cuts to our major cultural institutions, including the Australian National Library and National Archives, it offers an astonishing $500 million to the Australian War Memorial so that it might expand exhibitions of the nation’s military history.

With its new insistence on research that serves Australia’s security, foreign policy, and strategic national interests (The Age, 11 November 2018), the Coalition government makes explicit its support for the militarisation of our history and culture at the expense of original scholarship of international significance. Border-force mentalities now police the nation’s intellectual work even as they preside over customs, immigration, and the turn-back of asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Architects is collecting signatures to oppose the demolition of the Memorial’s Anzac Hall as part of the proposed extensions.

Update 1 March 2019: Jamie Tarabay in the New York Times on the way the Memorial deals with war, including comments from Director Nelson, Professor Peter Stanley and Dr Sue Wareham of Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Update 7 March 2019: project leader appointed.

28 February 2019 updated

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