‘The real “history war” is the attack on our archives and libraries‘, Brisbane Times, 16 September 2022 (and other Nine Newspapers) updated; pdf from our subscription
Chronicles the gradual running down of our national cultural institutions, to the extent that the National Library is having to deny access for months to its precious special collections while it repairs three-year old water damage to its roof. The authors link the neglect of cultural institutions to the weaponising of history under the Coalition:
To debate the place of colonial statues in our contemporary cities was heresy. To suggest that Anzac was “contested” was wokeness. To encourage students to participate in evidence-based debate about our complex past, rather than absorb by rote-learning some bits and pieces about favoured themes, events and personalities, threatened national cohesion.
History wars were part of an attempt to paint historians as out of step with the community, or even as enemies of the nation. Yet as the tide washes out on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison era, it is clear that the real history war is the long war on our libraries and archives. Its full effects are only now hitting home.
In this picture of institutional wreckage, the Australian War Memorial is an anachronism, but in a good way for the Memorial, which is the recipient of funding which should have been shared around:
While the National Library has been unable to repair its roof, there is bipartisan political support for an unnecessary and extravagant extension to the Australian War Memorial, which will cost more than $500 million (and counting).
The Albanese government should inject emergency funding into national cultural institutions before some of our most precious materials are lost forever. A healthy democratic society values its past and provides the means by which it can be known through the documentary record.
These themes have been constant on the Honest History website and more recently in the Heritage Guardians campaign against the War Memorial project.
Frank Bongiorno is a former President of the Honest History incorporated association and a contributor to The Honest History Book (2017). Michelle Arrow spoke at the Sydney launch of the book in 2017.
Update 24 September 2022: ABC Radio Canberra report concentrates on effects of efficiency dividends and has a revealing graph.
Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven (December 2022); survey of the sorry state of national cultural institutions; leaking roof and donors paying for staff at the National Gallery of Australia; some hints that the Budget will deliver; Frank Bongiorno, Michelle Arrow and Joshua Black; artist Ben Quilty; Guardian Australia survey of differential funding, with War Memorial doing very well, thank you; pre-Budget announcement of increased funding for National Library Trove service; but Finance Minister sticks with efficiency dividends; opinion piece in Australian Financial Review says War Memorial has done well, others not so much; Michelle Grattan in The Conversation summarises government pre-Budget announcements – nothing for War Memorial, nine others to benefit