Centenary Watch: February 2014

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Update 26 February 2014: Additional Estimates discussion of Anzac centenary public funding, James Brown’s criticisms and Albany November 2014 commemoration

Minister Ronaldson and MAJGEN Chalmers, in charge of commemoration, answer questions.

Update 11 February 2014: Minister’s second statement on Anzac centenary

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, made a statement to the Senate on 11 February 2014 outlining further plans for the centenary. There is to be an additional $1.35 million for the Anzac Interpretive Centre at Albany, WA, perhaps responding to local complaints of underfunding but ignoring local concerns about the commemorative plans.

There is to be New Zealand representation at the Albany re-enactment in November this year and there is an Australian war memorial being built in Wellington. The ballot for tickets to the Gallipoli ceremonies on Anzac Day 2015 has closed and about 50 000 applications were received for the 8000 places available for Australians.

The Government plans additional commemorative events in Gallipoli, particularly at Lone Pine in August 2015. There will also be ceremonies to mark the centenaries of the battles of Fromelles and Pozieres in 2016, Polygon Wood and Beersheba in 2017, Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel in 2018, the Armistice 1918, as well as other anniversaries caught up by the ‘century of service’ concept which is being combined with the Anzac centenary – D-Day 1944, VE Day and VP Day 1945, battles in the Korean War and battles in the Vietnam War.

The Minister listed donors to the Anzac Centenary Public Fund which will enable corporations to donate to augment the $150 million coming from the Commonwealth. Donors include BHP Billiton, Telstra, the big banks, News Corporation, the AFL and James Packer. The minister’s statement is relatively sober as these things go (compared, for example, with recent prime ministerial speeches on Anzac Day: search this site under name of Prime Minister) with the words ‘solemn’ and ‘dignified’ appearing a couple of times.

The Government is ‘taking the hands-on approach necessary to ensure that the Centenary commemorations are the success they must be’. The expected words ‘sacrifice’ and ‘horror of war’ appear but the Minister’s reference to ‘a legacy of understanding.  An understanding of what we fought for, where we fought and why we fought (emphasis added)’ is welcome. So is his assurance that the travelling Anzac exhibition will tell ‘the story of Australia and Australians during the First World War’.

Honest History hopes that these words presage an honest attempt to deal with the reality of war and events on the home front, as well as with the clash of arms. The Minister noted the arrangements for Anzac merchandise approval and in his speech (but not in the written statement) mentioned that he had refused some applications for the use of the word ‘Anzac’. Honest History is trying to find out more details about these applications.

The Minister’s first statement (November 2013) is here. There the Minister said the Anzac centenary will be ‘the most important period of national commemoration in this nation’s history’. That debatable statement lies at the root of the government’s approach.

David Stephens