National Commission on the Commemoration of the Anzac centenary: report

National Commission on the Commemoration of the Anzac Centenary

How Australia may Commemorate the Anzac Centenary, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Canberra, 2011

The Commission was chaired by former Prime Ministers Fraser and Hawke and received 600 submissions. This is the Commission’s report and its opening paragraphs set the tone.

War has played an undeniable role in shaping Australia. That today we live in a peaceful society is due in no small part to our experience and understanding both of war and of its consequences. Our military history provides us a valuable insight into how we have developed as a nation into the 21st century.

The term “Anzac” is instantly recognisable in Australia and has come to mean far more than just a military acronym. The Anzac spirit encompasses values that every Australian holds dear and aspires to emulate in their own life: courage, bravery, sacrifice, mateship, loyalty, selflessness and resilience. This spirit has given Australians an ideal to strive for and a history to be proud of, even though it was born out of war, suffering and loss…

The Anzac tradition has undeniably shaped the development of Australia since the First World War, and has a clear lineage running through the subsequent conflicts that Australians have been involved in during the past 100 years. From the Western Front, through to the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, the peacekeeping operations in Solomon Islands, East Timor, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan — all of these conflicts have carried the Anzac tradition with them and all are crucial markers on the Australian historical timeline.

For a relatively young nation on the world scale, our extraordinary military history over the past hundred years provides a valuable insight into how Australia has shaped its future. The sacrifice of our forebears has ensured that we are able to enjoy living in a safe and peaceful society today. (pp. vi-vii of the pdf version of the report)

From the beginning the Commission had a dual role, to recommend how to commemorate not only the Anzac centenary but also ‘the other significant events that would take place during the centenary period, including the 70th anniversaries of Second World War events, the 70th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping, the 70th anniversary of the Malayan Emergency and the 50th anniversaries of battles that occurred during the Vietnam War’. Thus, Appendix 8 of the report (pp. 76-84, pdf version) includes a list of some 250 ‘key commemorative dates 2014-2018’ with the caveat that the list is ‘not all-inclusive’.

The recommendations of the Commission are summarised at pp. xiii-xiv (pdf version). Most of them have survived, if in modified form, the subsequent process of report to government by the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board and government response thereto, a notable exception being the recommendation for an Anzac Centre for the Study of Peace, Conflict and War (p. 20, pdf version). On the other hand, the finding of the focus group research (p. 13, pdf version) that new memorials were not generally favoured was set aside later and the centenary program does now include the possibility of new memorials: eligible projects under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants progam include ‘new First World War memorials or honour boards’ (see ‘Guidelines for the public’, p.2).

The Colmar Brunton focus group research is summarised at pp. 67-75 of the pdf version of the report. The key findings were: Anzac Day was the pre-eminent event, representing a wider range of events than just the Gallipoli landing; there was a risk of ‘commemoration fatigue’ from too many high profile events over the four years; recognition of a century of military service was seen as secondary to recognition of service associated with Anzac Day; there were some risks associated with the commemoration, notably in relation to the attitudes of multicultural Australia (though multicultural Australia seems to have been under-represented in the focus groups); and finally

while commemoration should be the dominant tone, there was a desire for the anniversaries not to be unrelentingly gloomy. It was thought that a sense of celebrating what service has brought us (freedom, our current lifestyle) could be an appropriate element, probably at the conclusion of commemorations, and in a style that did not detract from or overshadow the serious aspects.

There were ‘isolated concerns’ at the contradiction between brief reverence for veterans and allowing them ‘to live in poor conditions the rest of the time’. Government concern at the findings on multicultural sensitivities led to a further report.

Neither the complete first Colmar Brunton report nor the complete text of submissions to the Commission is now available on the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board website, although Damien Williams has produced a paper, not yet published, focusing on ‘the ugliness of Anzac’, as revealed by some of the submissions. An abstract of the paper is here (p. 99 of pdf).

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