Centenary Watch June-July 2017

Update 5 July 2017: Enlistment news from a century ago: Australians prefer not to be there

We run this graph from time to time (courtesy of Joan Beaumont, Broken Nation, where the original graph and Ernest Scott’s figures appear in Appendix 2) to remind ourselves that wartime Australia was, by midwinter 1917, deeply divided and deeply disturbed by the Great War. And the declining enlistment figures, even more than the vote against conscription at the end of 1916, bring that point home in stark terms. Despite the rousing song, ‘Australia will be there‘, by 1917 Australians increasingly preferred not to be there.


Update 30 June 2017: By accepting funding from weapons suppliers the Australian War Memorial demeans Australia’s war dead

Link to and commentary on a post by John Menadue critical of the Memorial’s links with arms manufacturers (companies known colloquially to members of the Australian Defence Force as ‘gun-runners’). ‘Brendan Nelson should take stock’, says Menadue. ‘The AWM has lost its way.’

Update 18 June 2017: More on the strange goings on at Gallipoli – and some options for President Erdogan

The Turkish memorials at Gallipoli are being refurbished, including the Ataturk Memorial bearing the alleged  words (‘Those heroes that shed their blood …’ ) of the great man. The publicity about this has been cocked-up, leading to mutterings about Islamist plots. The real point though is whether the almost certainly bogus Ataturk words reappear. Our post offers some options for President Erdogan’s consideration.

Update 16 June 2017: ‘Restoration’ work on Turkish memorials at Gallipoli affects the Ataturk Memorial

The Turkish government is doing some ‘refurbishment’ work on Turkish memorials at Gallipoli, which has included defacing the Ataturk Memorial dating from 1985. There is an official statement here from Minister Tehan on the nature of the work, as well as ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. The ‘after’ picture – that is, as of now – is below also. There are some questions about all this and we will keep track of it all.

DCKfNwQUQAAJFxA(The Gallipoli Artist)

Update 13 June 2017 (updated): Senate Estimates; the War Memorial and Dr Chau Chak Wing; a memorial to when the Empire attacked the Boers; ministerials; the Darwin Anzac tourist bureau; the War Memorial website – ‘young and free’; elsewhere

Senate Estimates

Always worth a look is this twice-a-year encounter between senators arrayed in committees, ministers and ministers representing, and public servants. The elected people make the most noise – and occasionally pull off a notable coup – but the public servants usually win hands down, and walk out with honour intact and embarrassment limited.

This is particularly so with the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, the ‘grilling’ of which tends to happen after a long session with Defence brass and when the fires of the relevant committee (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade) are burning low. This is especially the case with the Australian War Memorial, which typically gets a rails run, because the amounts it is responsible for are relatively small, its spokespeople are genial, and, most of all, there are no political points to be scored by being seen to be too critical of this ‘sacred’ institution and all that it stands for. (On the politics of Anzac, see Frank Bongiorno’s chapter, ‘A century of bipartisan commemoration: Is Anzac politically inevitable?’ in The Honest History Book.)

estimatesSenate Estimates committee in session (Parliament of Australia)

The Australian War Memorial

The War Memorial this time around occupied just 21 minutes of the committee’s time, late on the afternoon of Tuesday, 30 May (pages 89-93 of the proof Hansard). Questioned by honourable senators, Director Nelson of the Memorial noted the successful completion of the national tour by the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience (though there is still an online version), told the ’emotional’ story of the Seabrook brothers of Petersham, soldiers in World War I, mentioned the opening of the Boer War memorial (see below), and described work under way at the Memorial on commemorating the charge at Beersheba, renovating the MV Krait from World War II, and other projects. There was no mention of the significant mistakes in the Memorial’s Annual Report 2015-16, although Honest History had drawn these to the attention of the Memorial and every member of the committee. As noted above, sacred cows get a rails run.

There were better things to report, however. Responding to Senator Gallacher, the Director spoke about recognition in the grounds of the War Memorial for servicemen and women who have taken their own lives. It would not be known as ‘the suicide memorial’ and would not carry names of individuals ‘but I certainly think’, Dr Nelson said, ‘that a memorial which is reflective, which is appropriately, in a dignified way, evocative of those who carry psychological traumas from their service and perhaps have taken their own lives, is an appropriate thing and a part of the continuum of the therapeutic milieu which is the Australian War Memorial’. While some people may question the therapeutic qualities of the rest of the Memorial, such recognition of these victims of war would surely be widely welcomed.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs

DVA took up rather more time (pages 93-131 of the proof Hansard), dealing with internal reforms in the department, means of better engaging with the veterans’ community, particularly younger men and women, information technology, mental health, veterans’ employment, counselling services, client relations, and procurement. Late in the evening, a few minutes (pages 125-26 of the proof Hansard) were devoted to commemoration, particularly the Budget-announced ‘grant program to enable communities to commemorate and perhaps celebrate the centenary of the armistice’, in the words of General Chalmers, the senior public servant responsible. Each electorate will get $50 000.

Guidelines for the Armistice commemoration grants are being developed and applications will be called in August. The guidelines for the equivalent 2013-14 Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program (ACLGP, total of $125 000 per federal electorate) gave a special place to ex-service organisations, effectively the RSL, in deciding which applications deserved grants and in eligibility to receive grants. In view of the special status afforded the RSL in past schemes like the ACLGP, it is perhaps not surprising that Senators asked DVA (pages 127-31 of the proof Hansard) about the implications of the investigations into corruption in the New South Wales Branch of the RSL.

The department [said the relevant officer, Amber Vardos] is currently undertaking a risk assessment of different entities within the RSL framework to determine whether they pose a higher risk for grant funding. The priority is to make sure that services within the veteran community are not compromised through lack of grant funding but that the department and the government have the right assurances in place while the allegations are being investigated.

There was some inconclusive discussion around these issues and also some unanswered questions about overseas travel by DVA employees in company with RSL representatives. Questions were taken on notice.

One interesting exchange (page 128 of the proof Hansard) should be flagged, meanwhile.

Mr Evans [DVA]: The major commemorative grants do not have an upper limit to them, other than the overall quantum allocated in a financial year. Normally we put aside in the order of $1 million to fund major commemorative grants across Australia. There are two funding rounds held each year.

Senator GALLACHER: What is New South Wales’s share of that? I do not know the answer. Are there more RSL memorials in New South Wales than anywhere else? Do you know what share of that $1 million they get?

Mr Evans: Major commemorative grants are rarely funded to RSL sub-branches. They are normally for projects being put together by local councils, universities and consortiums of community groups in order to develop quite significant projects. Renovating a memorial would not fit into that category. We also do not fund capital works under that program, so you would not use it to build a new memorial.

6407338-3x2-700x467South Arm cenotaph and Lone Pine Memorial, Tasmania (ABC/Lex Porebski)

What Senator Gallacher did not ask, and Mr Evans therefore did not answer, was whether renovating or building a memorial might be covered by other DVA grant programs than ‘major commemorative grants’, and whether RSL sub-branches might receive money for those purposes from these other grants. We checked information about the former Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program (ACLGP, linked from here) and found, as examples, the following grants approved in New South Wales and Victoria for the period 6 August to 9 October 2014:

  • South West Rocks RSL Sub-Branch, NSW: $13,159.00 for construction of a Remembrance Wall at South West Rocks Cenotaph;
  • Bega RSL Sub-Branch, NSW: $4,000.00 to restore two First World War Memorial Guns on display at the Bega RSL;
  • Taree RSL Sub-Branch, NSW: $2,610.00 to construct a commemorative memorial walkway with a dedication plaque in the Remembrance Precinct of Fotheringham Park;
  • Forster Tuncurry RSL Sub-Branch, NSW: $7,060.00 to improve accessibility to the Lone Pine Memorial;
  • Swansea RSL Sub-Branch, NSW: $63,500.00 to construct a ‘Rising Sun’ monument in Swansea to commemorate the centenary of the First World War;
  • Boronia RSL Sub-Branch, Vic.: $18,857.00 for ceremony and unveiling of Knox Roll of Honour major memorial;
  • Woodend RSL Sub-Branch, Vic.: $21,538.00 to construct a wall of remembrance, with engraving, inscription and mounting of name panels;
  • Bendigo District RSL Sub-Branch, Vic.: $15,000.00 to produce an Anzac Centenary historical painting;
  • Turkish Sub-Branch of the Victorian RSL, Vic.: $31,500.00 for three Australian Turkish Friendship Memorial sculptures;
  • Lara RSL Sub-Branch, Vic.: $9,166.00 to upgrade the Soldiers Avenue at Lara Recreation Reserve.

There were also many grants from the ACLGP to RSL sub-branches for projects that did not involve building or renovating memorials, as well as some grants to RSL sub-branches in partnership with other groups. (In the August-October 2014 tranche of ministerial approvals, 76 out of 275 approvals delivered money to RSL sub-branches for projects across Australia.) In view of the current cloud over the NSW RSL it will be interesting to see if the guidelines for the Armistice grants program still include a special role for the League.

The War Memorial and Dr Chau Chak Wing

The ABC’s Four Corners last week said this about Dr Chau Chak Wing.

NICK MCKENZIE: ASIO singled out two billionaire donors with especially close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The first was enigmatic property developer Dr Chau Chak Wing, a man who keeps a low profile except when it comes to his big donations.

PAIU2015_143_11Dr Chau at the Memorial, September 2015 (AWM Annual Report 2015-16)

Dr Chau and his company Kingold have been significant donors to the Australian War Memorial. Kingold appears on the list of donors just inside the entrance of the Memorial and is in the Memorial’s latest annual report (Appendix 9) as a benefactor which has contributed over $250 000. In September 2015, Dr Chau led a delegation to the Memorial to honour Chinese-Australian servicemen and to open the Memorial’s Kingold Education and Media Centre, a green screen studio with full facilities for broadcasting and recording. At the same time, Dr Chau was awarded an Australian War Memorial Fellowship and his name appears on the list of Fellows at the entrance to the Memorial.

According to the recent ABC-Fairfax investigation,

Dr Chau is referred to by the code name CC3 in a court case brought by the FBI over the bribery of the former president of the United Nations General Assembly, John Ashe. The FBI alleged Australian-Chinese consultant, Sheri Yan, used $200,000 of Dr Chau’s money to bribe Mr Ashe in November 2013. Ms Yan pleaded guilty to bribery charges and is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence. Dr Chau has never been charged or accused of wrongdoing.

Dr Chau has donated $20 million for a building at the University of Technology Sydney (it is named after him), has donated $4 million to Australian political parties, has paid $70 million for a home in Vaucluse (previously owned by James Packer), and is also known (in the dialect of North China) as Zhou Zerong. Another $15 million is going from Dr Chau to the University of Sydney for another building, also named after Dr Chau. Dr Chau/Mr Zerong is the chairman of the Kingold Group. His reputed net worth in October 2015 was $US1000 million. Here is more on his reputed networks.

Dr Chau is an Australian citizen. His doctorate is honorary, from Keuka College in upstate New York, and was awarded for community services. The institutions which have received money from Dr Chau for worthy causes have presumably made their own prudential judgements of the pros and cons of these transactions – at the least, the exchange is largesse in return for recognition. (See the report of the recent such calculation by the University of Sydney.) Perhaps the planned extensions of the Memorial might offer scope for a wing to be named for Dr Chau.

Ken-Doolan-with-Julie-Bishop-Brendan-Nelson-Dr-Chau-Chak-WingDr Chau gets his Australian War Memorial Fellowship, September 2015 (AWM Annual Report 2015-16)

Update 25 July 2017 updated

Dr Chau was recently in the news again with claims in Fairfax that he had links to an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, the United Front Work Department (UFWD). Chinese President Xi said in 2014 that the UFWD was a ‘magic weapon [for the] Chinese people’s great rejuvenation’, and academic observers say the UFWD is ‘dedicated to asserting and spreading Party influence inside China and abroad’.

A memorial to when the Empire attacked the Boers

The Governor-General recently unveiled a memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra, to Australian service in the Boer War 1899-1902. The memorial, four plus-size horsemen galloping over the veldt, cost $3.9 million, partly public money, partly subscription.

The Boer War has been described as ‘Australia’s forgotten war’ – Korea sometimes gets that epithet also – and agitation for a memorial had gone on for many years. If allegedly being forgotten is a criterion for memorial-building, no doubt we will eventually see national recognition in stone for the New South Wales contingent who went to the Sudan in 1885 , for the men who went to help defend the New Zealand Pakeha from marauding Maori, and even for the lads who sailed off to help put down the Boxers in China in 1899 but arrived too late to make much difference.

The Governor-General’s speech (from around mark 10.00 in the video) was full of references to Australian heroism and to our boys on the veldt being the fathers of the Anzacs. It contained no reference at all to the deaths of thousands of Boer women, children and old men in concentration camps (and untold numbers of Africans). (More on the camps.)


Minister Tehan continued his useful work for veterans, as well as marking the 75th anniversary of Bomber Command (without mentioning enemy civilian deaths), peacekeepers, Indigenous warriors (in uniform only and just since 1899), VE Day 1945 (mention of Australian casualties only), and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. There are to be New Guinea battle commemorations later in the year.

While the phrase ‘service and sacrifice’ is routinely cut and pasted into these media releases, it only ever seems to refer to Australians in uniform. Would the fabric of Australian commemoration be irreparably damaged if ministers were to broaden their focus? Alison Broinowski and David Stephens in The Honest History Book reminded us that Australians are very parochial in the way we look at wars. Our loss in wars pales besides that incurred by humanity in general. ‘Yet we act as if it does not – and that is national narcissism. If we are ever to value humanity as a whole, we need to cease “setting Australian life and sense of loss above this common muddle of bones and blood”.’ (The quote within the quote is from Jonathan Green.)

The Minister also gave speeches to RSL congresses in New South Wales and Tasmania. The practice now seems to be to not place these speeches on the Minister’s website; perhaps he only speaks from notes. The lack of a permanent record is a pity: the Minister’s predecessor but one, Senator Ronaldson, left a pithy (and bloodthirsty) speech legacy which has provided Honest History with useful source material.

The Darwin Anzac tourist bureau

Our contact in Darwin, history teacher John Shield, has passed us this fascinating postcard, sent out to all Year 9 and 10 students in the Northern Terrritory. We suspect – though we have not checked – that the design of the card may have sprung from a competition for students, so we will not be too hard on it. It was presumably produced, though, under some sort of supervision from someone in the Northern Territory Government. The wording on the card seems to us crass and inappropriate though, then again, recruitment marketing in World War I might also have offered ‘the trip of a lifetime’.


The War Memorial website – ‘young and free’

The Australian War Memorial has redesigned its website – under the Memorial’s new slogan, market-tested last year, noted by Honest History a while ago, and pinched from the national anthem: ‘For we are young and free’. The new website has a different, perhaps more bland look compared with the old one. We hope previous links still work; we’ll check. (There’s a TV advert as well: arty angled shots of the Memorial’s sombre sandstone walls, sad family faces reflected in the Pool of Reflection. The static version of the advert, displayed at Canberra Airport, carries the words ‘proudly supported by Northrop Grumman’, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers.)

We hope also that the new look is accompanied by more competent – or less deceptive – website visit statistics-keeping: see our analysis of the Memorial’s statistics in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In The Honest History Book, we used and endorsed this cutting quote from Don Watson about corporate spin-doctoring: ‘That’s the thing about spin – or what goes under the banner today of “communications” – you begin to believe your own bullshit. Spin is the stuff that myths are made of’ (page 61). Bland and bullshit don’t mix well.


We know some readers go to Centenary Watch first so we wanted to make sure they didn’t miss other new posts: Barry Jones on conscription battles during World War I; the second edition of Honest History’s Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial; Willy Bach’s work on the secret war against Laos in the 1960s; Derek Abbott’s review of Sue Rosen’s book, Scorched Earth, about total war plans in 1942; John Myrtle’s review of Bruce Munday’s book about the Australian war on rabbits.

David Stephens

Centenary Watch archive


Click here for all items related to:
To comment or discuss, Log in to Honest History.

Leave a Reply