Centenary Watch: September-November 2014

[Links checked 27 October 2017 and some were found to be broken, due to removal of material from websites or simply the passage of time. Honest History may be able to help users track down resources where links are broken. Please contact admin@honesthistory.net.au. HH]

Update 4 November 2014: more Anzac Centenary Local Grants announced; Albany re-enactment speeches; ANZAC letters stolen; World Socialist Web Site reviews a war movie; Discovering Anzacs at the Archives; Love and Sorrow in Melbourne; Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign; No Glory in War in Britain; Poppies no more; Twistory on Twitter

Local grants (updated 9 November)

Minister Ronaldson announced another tranche of grants on 24 October. There were a few arithmetical glitches in the media release which DVA has kindly corrected but we are still crunching the numbers. We will bring out another analytical Factsheet shortly (now posted). The pattern of grants continues much as before – an emphasis on bricks and mortar and pageants as constrained by the criteria for the program.

Albany events

The first convoy re-enactment went off on 1 November with further activities continuing over the next couple of days. Large crowds descended and speeches were given by the Prime Minister (and again), the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Minister, and others. The event was reported and discussed. And again. Here, too.

ANZAC letters stolen

The Turkish police are pursuing thieves who stole from Gallipoli the letters forming the word ANZAC. There is no suggestion of terrorism and no group has claimed responsibility. A picture.

World Socialist Web Site reviews Brad Pitt movie, Fury

It is nice to read a movie review from other than the mainstream media, particularly when the movie is about war. WSWS explores this Brad Pitt offering in considerable, sometimes scathing depth. The review is good on some of the clichés in the film, how it justifies the horrors of war and how the attitudes to soldiers that it evokes are relevant to today. It is not Margaret and David, though. Another review in The Conversation. Read the reviews before or after you see the movie.

Discovering Anzacs

The National Archives of Australia has officially launched Discovering Anzacs, a new way of trawling through records. ‘Enhance a profile’, the NAA suggests, ‘dedicated to the wartime journey of someone who served. Uncover the personal stories of service men and women through original archival records.’

Love and Sorrow

Meanwhile, further south, the Melbourne Museum has an exhibition, Love and Sorrow, which includes more than 300 objects and photographs telling the stories of eight people, including a mother awaiting the return of her son, brothers from Tyers River fighting on the Western Front and a Jewish soldier fighting for the Kaiser. The last – studying an ‘enemy’ soldier in depth – is a breakthrough for Australian museums, as is the entire exhibition, which is notable for its critical and revisionist approach, while expressing a warm sympathy toward those who lived through or died in the Great War.

Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign

This is a group based in Marrickville which ‘contains a variety of perspectives on the Anzac centenary program, Australia’s military history and the prevention of war in the future. While all parties within GCPC recognise the legitimacy of remembering those who died or were wounded while serving their country in war, they also share a critical stance towards the Anzac legend and the shadow it casts over commemoration, our history and our ability to truly reflect upon Australia’s military engagements, their costs and their impacts.’ See also.

No Glory in War

There are dissenting voices in Britain also and among the most forceful is No Glory in War, whose work we have mentioned previously. At 2 November some of the articles on its website were titled ‘Just like WWI, today Britain remembers dead soldiers and neglects those who survived’, ‘How to prevent the 21st century from being defined by the nightmare vision of endless war’ and ‘How the UK government is rebranding the first world war to promote militarism today’. Powerful stuff; universal themes.

Poppies no more

Harry Leslie Smith, aged 90, writes in the English edition of The Guardian that he is not wearing a poppy for Remembrance Day after this year because of the way in which remembrance has been hijacked to justify current wars. Attracted more than 1900 comments.


Finally, on a different, but still centennial, note there is our Twistory offering on Twitter. David Stephens tweets on behalf of Honest History (@honesthistory1). Apart from tweets about items on the Honest History website there is a daily Twistory tweet, a random note from newspapers of a century ago (to the day). Twistory is at once a testament to the wonderful Trove resource at the National Library of Australia and a way of dipping, ever so shallowly, into the lives of Australians then, at war and at home. Follow us on Twitter; we expect to reach 500 followers before the centenary of the Christmas Truce.

Update 7 October 2014: sensitivity and announcements from Minister Ronaldson; state roundup and questions for teachers; around the world

Minister Ronaldson busy

The Minister was exercised about what he said was the insensitivity of an ABC segment that suggested there may have been a massacre by Australians after the Battle of Bita Paka in 1914 in then German New Guinea. We felt his remarks raised some important issues about censorship and we said so. We suspect there will be a number of similar incidents over the next four years.

Other important aspects of the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, though not explicitly related to the centenary, led the Minister to make announcements commemorating peacekeepers, encouraging former service personnel to try their hand at art and writing, and linking veterans to employment opportunities. On the centenary front, there is now a commemorative app linked to the official centenary Facebook page, as well as some funding for art projects.

There have been no further ministerial announcements of new grants under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program and neither the Minister nor his department have taken up our invitation to them to clarify how the program works (see below Update: 4 September 2014: more Local Grants; Update: 1 September 2014: Local Grants). This seems a shame.

We continue to politely send the department and the Australian War Memorial links to relevant items on our site, particularly items that refer to the work of their organisations. We haven’t received an equally polite ‘Thank you’ in response for quite some time. Again, this seems a shame.

We are always ready to provide space on our website to the Minister or officials. We quite liked the remark of the musician and commentator, Michael Stipe – we ran it as a Whizzbang in our newsletter: ‘More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion’. Perhaps the Minister or his spokesperson could write something to try to convince us and others that Mr Stipe’s remarks are way off the mark for Australia 2014-18.

State roundup – and questions for teachers

The History Teachers’ Association of Western Australia has been subsidised by the Western Australian Government to develop a website ‘to commemorate the Western Australian contribution to World War I within the broader context of the Australian Curriculum’. The site has an interesting collection of military history resources relevant to Years 3, 6 and 9 of the curriculum. However, the titles of the material, ‘Western Australians in World War One’ and ‘Western Australia at War 1914’ are deceptive: there is very little in the material that is not about soldiers. Perhaps the home front (the ‘contribution’ made by families and the society in general) is covered or is to be covered by other materials.

In Western Australia also, Albany is gearing up for the commemoration next month of the departure of the first 1914 convoy. Clippings sent to us from the Albany Advertiser and the Great Southern Weekender disclose disputes about how many ships were needed in the harbour to make the commemoration look fair dinkum, rehearsals by cheerful residents in period costume, work proceeding on the shiny new National Anzac Centre, arguments over whether horses should be included in the parade and ambitious and potentially lucrative plans by local chefs to feed the expected visiting multitudes.

Minister Ronaldson has had a couple of tense and detailed discussions on radio stations 6PR and ABC Great Southern about the decision (for safety reasons) not to include horses. Still, Albany expects a tourism bonanza like the one enjoyed by Darwin as that city has worked up various attractions to commemorate the 1942 bombing. ‘Apart from the five commemorative ceremonies’, Alan Powell said of Darwin’s 2012 effort, ‘nearly all of the planned events were principally concerned with tourism, commercial opportunity and/or politics’.

Moving on, if we had time we would do a detailed analysis of the various state Anzac centenary websites compared with the equivalent history teachers’ association website. The latter vary considerably in the prominence given to Anzac-themed initiatives like the Simpson Prize (which we have looked at) and the state Anzac awards.

Honest History would love to hear from teachers about how, in practice, the Anzac centenary – and the teaching of the war-related parts of the curriculum generally – works out in the classroom. Do teachers rely heavily on class materials and extra-curricular programs from official sources or do they range more widely? How much pressure is there from official Anzac organisations to focus on particular aspects? (Honest History is reviewing the recent publication from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Schooling, Service and the Great War, on the face of it, a thoughtful and nuanced set of materials.)

There is certainly plenty of material available for classroom use and for the pleasure of young military buffs. Before us as we write this is the catalogue and other promotional material from the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland (ADCC), founded 1916, chaired by the Queensland premier and presided over by Colonel Arthur Burke OAM. (Honest History has used Colonel Burke’s piece ‘The spirit of ANZAC’ as a benchmark of ‘Anzackery’, the overblown rhetoric of Anzac.)

The trinkets and memorabilia available from the ADCC include forty or so medallions commemorating everything from Simpson and his donkey to tracker dogs in Vietnam, temporary tattoes for children, key rings, bumper stickers, biros in desert and jungle camouflage, wristbands, rulers, poppies in seven different arrangements (including the ‘Poppy and Rememberance [sic] Ribbon’), a collection of Rising Sun badges and much more.

The ADCC describes its ‘mission’ as ‘to ensure that the youth of today are aware of and appreciate the importance of our military history to our Australian way of life today’. The ADCC’s education resources website, significantly called ‘War and identity’, offers material linked into the Australian curriculum as well as plaques to affix to school memorials – the ADCC’s ambition is to have a war memorial in every Queensland school. The ADCC has extended to the end of December 2014 its special offers on ‘Anzac themed education packs’, sets of books costing from $125 to $245. (Some of the money raised goes towards the care of aged war veterans and their widows.)

The ADCC’s recommended publications include thirty books by various authors, offering a sanitised view of war – messenger pigeons, Walers and Duffy the donkey, rather than shrapnel wounds, PTSD and yearning on the home front. Again, Honest History would love to hear from teachers about whether and how they use the ADCC material.

ADCC promotional bumph featured in the showbag handed out at the otherwise excellent History Teachers’ Association of Australia national conference in Brisbane a few days ago. David Stephens from Honest History was pleased with the turnout and feedback at his session explaining our website as a resource but the big highlights were the keynotes from Canadian Tom Morton (history as a contest between interpretations) and Australian Marilyn Lake (Anzac alternatives and Australia before 1915 as a world leader in social policy). A great conference and a credit to the Queensland History Teachers’ Association and Brisbane Grammar School.

Around the world

Talking of resources, we have just caught up with the well-stocked Centenary News website. Based in London and staffed by volunteers, the site aims ‘to provide independent, impartial and international coverage’ of the Great War centenary. It is supported by many organisations, ranging from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Australian War Memorial to the No Glory in War coalition and the War Poets’ Society. The site has a rather ‘khaki’ appearance at first, quick glance but Honest History will look into affiliating.

Update 4 September 2014: more Local Grants

Honest History Factsheet No. 3 analyses the most recent tranche of Anzac Centenary Local Grants, announced by the Minister on 1 September. It finds the pattern of grants continues much as before.

Update 1 September 2014: Local Grants; travelling exhibitions; Fremantle lays it on; Canadians cry ‘enough’; Trotskyist website watches Aotearoa New Zealand

Apart from the list below there are separate items on the Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign and by Ben Wellings comparing aspects of commemoration here and in Britain. We have also done a couple of reviews of the ABC’s The War that Changed Us, a production which is recommended, and which is supported by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (Good on them in this regard.)

Update 3 September: viewers of episode 3 of The War that Changed Us will have seen the suggestion that events in Ireland influenced the attitudes in Australia to the first conscription referendum. David Hayes has more on Ireland and World War I commemoration (you need to scroll down a bit through some very interesting material about Irish-British relations today). A salutary reminder that there was lots happening during the Great War years that did not involve blokes in uniform hacking at each other and that Ireland – and countries like Australia where Irish people found themselves – were considerably conflicted about the war both then and now.

It is difficult for our small team to keep up with everything that is happening in commemoration land – that should provoke a question about why there is so much happening but we address that in other parts of the website (perhaps the old saying ‘everybody loves a parade’ goes part of the way to an answer) – but the items below still cover some territory.

Local Grants

We have been following the history of the Commonwealth’s Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program, where some 1700 applications have been received. There was a further tranche of applications approved 1 September – 119 grants worth $975 000, bringing the total value to more than $3.34 million. We will analyse this latest batch as soon as possible.

The spreadsheets of ‘approved grants’ prior to the latest announcement do not match the ‘approved applications’. When we last checked on 8 August about 10 per cent of the applications approved by the Minister and announced on 19 June had not yet appeared in the spreadsheets as approved grants. We will have another look, comparing the latest batch of approved applications with the spreadsheets.

We think the discrepancy is to do with the process including about six separate dates (approval of application-announcement of approval-signing of grant agreement by grantee and minister’s delegate-date of effect of agreement-date of publication in the spreadsheets as an approved grant-project commencement date). We have asked the Department to confirm this but so far have received no response (two emails and a phone message). We will print unaltered any departmental response that we do receive, as we have done previously. Meanwhile, we hesitate to suggest that there was a rush to approve applications before some details had been sorted out or before it was clear that some projects were viable.

Meanwhile, here are some projects that have made it to the spreadsheets, that is, that are goers:

  • Electorate of McPherson, Qld: Burleigh Heads RSL Sub-Branch: To install a new First World War memorial near the site of the Burleigh Heads Cenotaph, including a sculpture, plaque and plinth, and an official unveiling ceremony ($35 000).
  • Electorate of Wills, Vic.: Pascoe Vale Primary School: Construct a community mural on the roof and sides of a student bike/scooter shed depicting the journey the young Anzacs endured during 1914-18 ($15 000).
  • Electorate of Grey, SA: Eudunda RSL Sub-Branch: Lighting of Eudunda War Memorial to ensure that the names of the First World War fallen soldiers from the Eudunda district are visible at all times ($8470).
  • Electorate of Denison, Tas.: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: To assist with the cost of development of the production of “Freedom and Honour – Tasmanian Aboriginal Soldiers in World War 1” a multimedia display of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and provision of iPads for public interaction with the display ($20 000).
  • Electorate of Fremantle, WA: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre will stage a production of the children’s book In Flanders Field on the eve of the Anzac Centenary to pay its respects to the Anzacs ($10 000).

By our quick count on 29 August there are 227 ‘approved grants’ on the spreadsheets in 61 electorates. With the Minister’s latest announcement, there have been a total of 331 ‘approved applications’ in 72 electorates but, as noted above, that is not the same as approved grants – at least, we don’t think it is: the Minister’s media release interchangeably uses the words ‘grants’, ‘applications’ and ‘projects’.

Accountability and administrative processes for 1700 applications/grants/projects must be daunting. For those interested, the Department of Finance Guidelines are online.

Update of update: Senate Hansard from 1 September has Minister saying this (p. 41):

In mid-July this year I wrote to all members in the other place to say that if they had not expended their $125,000 then the opportunity was open until the end of September for projects to be topped up or to submit new projects. Some projects required extra funding, and if the members in the other place require extra funding then they should apply. I should also say that the Saluting Their Service grants program is also taking applications for projects which commemorate the Centenary of Anzac.

By making the local grants program virtually open-ended, the Minister has constructed a handy cushion if some of the 1700 applications received so far turn out to be unviable.

Travelling exhibitions

We followed a brief flurry about whether and which Australian War Memorial travelling exhibitions were to be cut back, apparently because of decisions in the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio to curtail its contributions to the Memorial’s program. While some ‘routine’ travelling shows will be brought home to Canberra, it seems that the ‘blockbuster’ road show for the Anzac centenary ($10 million plus, under the command of a Major General) is not affected.

All a bit of a storm in a helmet really, possibly set off from somewhere in Campbell, A.C.T., to provoke a reaction and ensure funding is found. It is a shame, though, that the Ben Quilty After Afghanistan exhibition is affected, given the Memorial’s stated concern to pay more attention to recent conflicts.

Fremantle lays it on

Talking of Freo, as we did briefly above, it is an example of where a single city has gone all out commemoratively. Its website indicates that at least the following will occur: collecting stories of ‘descendants’ (sic, possibly ‘ancestors’) involved in World War I (the emphasis seems to be on uniformed service); compiling a complete list of Fremantle residents who were killed in World War I; commemorative service on 31 October 2014 to mark departure of Western Australian soldiers; parade by Submarine Force from HMAS Stirling; events to commemorate the centenary of submarines in Australia; special Remembrance Day service, 2014; special Anzac Day service and six other Anzac Day events, 2015; Royal Australian Navy Ceremonial Sunset Service, June 2015; self-guided walking tour of World War I related sites; online exhibition of Fremantle’s war history; building the Australian Sailor Centenary Monument. Hello, sailor!

These events are supported in various ways by the City of Fremantle, the University of Notre Dame and the Government of Western Australia. Volunteers are invited to help. For those who wonder whether expenditure on Anzac centenary activities might be better directed to other causes, it is worth noting that youth unemployment in Fremantle is 12 per cent, the city has a significant homelessness problem, and West Australians in 2011 had the nation’s highest level of illicit drug use. And the Partners of Veterans Association WA warns of an imminent growth PTSD cases, leading to further calls for the group’s voluntary services.

What price, say, the Fremantle Anzac Centenary Drug Rehabilitation Fund or a City of Fremantle Anzac Centenary subsidy to a local PTSD counselling service? We raised some of these prioritisation issues in our earlier piece on Anzac Centenary Local Grants. We will offer the City of Fremantle an opportunity to respond.

Update 4 September: the City of Fremantle has responded as follows:

The City has a strong link to Australian War history due to the Fremantle Port. The City has a number of outreach programs and affiliations which provide services for the needy. The City’s balanced $97.3m 2014–15 budget includes $8.5m on community facilities (including heritage), $2.8m on amenities and parks and $4.5m on infrastructure projects | visit www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/budget2014-15 for a list of more key projects.

Canadians cry ‘enough’

Last week brought a lengthy article from Canada airing complaints that the government there is overdoing spending on commemoration at the cost of helping veterans with PTSD. The article drew 1381 comments. Canada is spending a lot less than Australia is on World War I commemoration but the unease there may not be as great – yet.

Earlier in the year, the historian JL Granatstein discussed Canada’s approach. ‘Critics have repeatedly talked’, according to Granatstein, ‘about the Conservatives focusing their pitch to voters on the military and Canadians’ glorious record in the field. The reality, a litany of cutbacks and withheld funding, is much different – and shameful.’ The patriotic pitch also belied the historical reality; as in Australia, conscription divided Canada during 1917.

We have noted already that Canadian comparisons are instructive. We saw Yves Frenette’s article about how the Harper Government has used history for current political purposes. The Australian War Memorial is working closely with its Canadian counterpart.

Trotskyist website watches Aotearoa New Zealand

The World Socialist Web Site is an excellent source of news items from a different perspective, closely aligned with that of the late Leon Trotsky, the anniversary of whose death fell recently. We have recently caught up with WSWS’s trenchant articles about a New Zealand Government-sponsored history of World War I, issued to mark the Great War centenary.

The book is New Zealand and the First World War: 1914-1919 by Damien Fenton, a government historian. The book was reviewed by Tom Peters, who described it as ‘a tendentious piece of pro-war propaganda and historical falsification’. More recently, another New Zealand historian, Stevan Eldred-Gregg, author of The Great Wrong War, was highly critical of the Fenton book, including the pictures it contained. Here, he is looking at a painting of fighting at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli:

Where’s the blood? Where are the body parts? That was a really disgusting battle. Within an hour or so, there were all these body parts everywhere. This is just total propaganda: good-looking young men, well dressed, not an intestine to be seen, not an eyeball hanging out.

It doesn’t show what it’s like to be killed or maimed in a pointless, bloody war. And what’s it like for the people left behind, who’ve got to carry the can. It’s just so heartless, it’s emotionless, it’s passionless, it has no real love of people.

Another review of Fenton’s book is more laudatory. The book is one of a number due in Aotearoa New Zealand to mark the centenary. We will try to note them. Of course, if anyone else, particularly anyone ‘across the Ditch’, is already on the case we would love you to write something for us.