Bongiorno, Frank: Labour and Anzac

Bongiorno, Frank

‘Labour and Anzac: historical reflections: Honest History lecture, Manning Clark House, Canberra, 15 June 2014’, Honest History, 8 July 2014

Associate Professor Bongiorno spoke to help launch his co-edited book (Labour and the Great War) on the same subject of his talk. He points out, as others have noted, that the First AIF was predominantly a working-class and urban-grown force. Yet the class origins of the Diggers have been lost in jingoistic rhetoric and the Labor Party has always been uncomfortable with ‘Anzackery’.

Bongiorno notes CEW Bean’s efforts to construct a bush-based version of the Digger and he recalls the work of David Kent on how Bean selectively edited The Anzac Book to give a favourable impression of Australian soldiers. He refers to the work of Peter Stanley and others as essentially showing the working-class origins of the Australian forces, with all the wide range of behaviours and outlooks that those origins entailed. He reminds us that Digger icons like Simpson, Alec Campbell and Bert Facey were working-class men with radical ideas.

Bongiorno notes political Labor’s awkward relationship with Anzac. On the other hand, he points to ‘a notably rich history of contestation over the meaning of Anzac, in which the labour movement and working class frequently played a major part’. Labor governments in Victoria and Western Australia immediately after World War I wrestled with appropriate forms of commemoration. The political contest over how to treat Anzac continues today.

Bongiorno Anzac and Labour MCH

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