Stanley, Peter, et al.
‘From the Honest History Archives: five April takes on Anzac and Anzackery’, Honest History, April 2016
Honest History as a coalition has been going for three years. We have been publishing newsletters since May 2013 and we have had our website up since November 2013. People who have followed us over those three years will be familiar with many of the themes we have built on.
Honest History’s objectives remain as they were when we started and as they are set out on the site. We still try
to present the full richness of the tapestry of Australian history, within which the Anzac motif can retain its appropriate and proportionate place. It is not a question of “either Anzac or (some alternative single myth)” but “not only Anzac but all of the other important threads of our history”.
This month, however, in the lead up to Anzac Day, we want to re-run some of the notable articles we have presented about the theme of Anzac and about its ignoble twin, Anzackery, the over-the-top version of the legend.
The articles (most recent first)
No. 5: David Stephens in Teaching History, March 2015, on five arguments for downsizing Anzac.
The five arguments are vainglory, strangulation, bellicosity, ideology, and child protection. Twelve months on, the arguments are still relevant, even after we have passed ‘Peak Anzac’ and the extravaganza that James Brown called a ‘four-year festival of the dead’ and ‘a military Halloween’ is starting to look a bit limp.
No. 4: Carolyn Holbrook at Fremantle, March 2015, on the commemorative music of Lee Kernaghan and the difficulties of marching against the tide.
This speech touches on the politics behind sentimental remembrance anthems, in this case Lee Kernaghan and friends’ ‘Spirit of the Anzacs’. Dr Holbrook describes the song and the accompanying video as ‘an example of the subtle ways in which the Anzac legend—with its tendency to appeal to our hearts rather than our heads—might lead us to be less cautious than we should be in our attitude to contemporary military conflict’.
No. 3: Douglas Newton’s Anzac Week speech at Crows Nest Uniting Church, 2015.
The speech is a forensic examination of what was at stake in the Great War and of the version of the war that has come down to us. Dr Newton looks at respect, the styles of commemoration, the plans to divide the spoils of war, the lessons of the war, and peace and reconciliation.
As we reflect on the centenary of Gallipoli [Newton concludes], let us ask hard questions: should the Centenary be used to boost our tradition of expeditionary warfare, far from Australia’s shores, and thus subtly to vindicate contemporary commitments to war? Should we be spending up big on what may descend into a mere nationalist jamboree, if at the same time we are neglecting the health needs, and especially the mental health, of returning veterans today?
No. 2: Genevieve Jacobs’ Anzac Day 2014 address at Wallendbeen, NSW (population 316). The speech questions high profile commemoration and suggests we need to return to a quieter version of Anzac Day. This is directly relevant to how we ‘use’ Anzac Day in a forward-looking sense.
I think, in fact, the greatest act of patriotism we can undertake is to keep watch on where we are going as a nation, not to betray ourselves and the memory of our fallen soldiers with cheap jingoism and easy commercialisation.
No. 1: Peter Stanley’s address of 7 August 2013 to the venerable Gallipoli Club in Sydney. Professor Stanley discusses his own long-term interest in Gallipoli and Anzac, then goes on to answer four questions put to him by the organisers of the symposium: How important is Gallipoli to Australians? Is the Gallipoli story just a national myth? Is Gallipoli’s importance based on tenuous history? Should our national mythology focus more on the victories of the Western Front?