Centenary Watch updates October-November 2015

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Update 20 November 2015: missing the target in the AWM’s Great War galleries

Christina Spittel’s review in the National Museum’s journal analyses how the refurbished galleries both overclaim and underachieve.

Update 13 November 2015: honour those who refused to go to war

Robert Nelson in Fairfax looks at the types of bravery in war.

Update 12 November 2015: 100 Great War stories book launched

Honest History attended the launch of World War One: a History in 100 Stories, which ‘challenges and extends the way we remember the Great War’.

Update 11 November 2015: lavish spending on memorials cloaks reality of PTSD

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia compares the centenary splurge with attitudes to the suffering of modern day soldiers. He uses Honest History figures and calls for scrapping of the Monash centre project at Villers-Bretonneux.

Update 10 November 2015: fights over conscription made us unique in WWI

Ben Wellings argues we need to both modify the myth about our citizen soldiers in the Great War and focus more sharply on what happened when the government tried to impose conscription.

It may be that it is difficult to commemorate the intense divisions created by the conscription referendums at a time when bipartisanship rules in the rhetoric of contemporary commemoration. Nevertheless, this could be just the breath of fresh air that the potentially repetitive centenary needs.

Update 9 November 2015: a building, a book launch and Berlin: Remembrance 2015

Note about the massive poppy decorating the Department of Veterans’ Affairs building in Canberra, the launch of the book World War One: a History in 100 Stories, and the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Update 1 November 2015: another sniff at Rose of No Man’s Land

We try to find out whether the makers of Rose of No Man’s Land unisex fragrance (see below 22 October) are donating some of their profits to the Swedish division of Medecins sans Frontieres. (Update 9 November 2015: nothing heard from either Byredo or MSF. Update 13 November 2015: MSF Sweden confirms they have a ‘collaboration’ with Byredo but did not respond to our question as to how much of Byredo’s profits was being donated.)

Update 30 October 2015: another Monash juggernaut rolls across Northern France (boondoggle update)

Honest History reports how a Senate Estimates Committee gently questioned the Department of Veterans’ Affairs late at night about DVA’s implementation of the Monash Interpretive Centre project at Villers-Bretonneux. ‘If anyone in Australia, 97 years after 1918, wants to throw a spanner in the works to bring this boondoggle to a shuddering halt they’d better move pretty quickly.‘ Also starring in this brief report: Brendan Nelson; Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Update 22 October 2015: from machine-gun pits to intimate bits: Rose of No Man’s Land perfume (updated)

From a Swedish perfumery comes the latest pong, unisex (though a bit floral for most blokes) and guaranteed to mow them down. Fairfax sniffs the story, too.

Update 15 October 2015: Trans-Tasman youth production asks important Anzac questions

Honest History review of Dead Men’s Wars, a joint Aotearoa New Zealand-Australian production which does not accept the dominant commemoration paradigm and, instead, asks important questions about how to balance respect and scepticism.

Update 13 October 2015: an open letter from Honest History to the new Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Minister

On behalf of the committee and supporters of Honest History may I congratulate you on your appointment as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac. I would like to introduce Honest History, explain its relevance to your department and responsibilities, and offer our expertise and advice to you as you take up your duties.

Honest History is a loose coalition of Australians linked primarily by its website, www.honesthistory.net.au. Our hundreds of supporters, including historians, archivists and other historical professionals, but mainly concerned members of the public, live in all states, taking many individual positions – Honest History has no formal membership, dogma or binding policies – but united in encouraging and support balanced and evidence-based approaches to Australian history in all periods and styles.

A central focus has been the current centenary of the Great War: war is clearly an important part of Australia’s history because of its impacts on individuals and the community but the centenary also encourages us to look more broadly; there is a lot more to our history than Anzac. We encourage a questioning and critical attitude to the centenary, deprecating excesses of nationalist boosting and unjustifiable celebration, a tendency we call ‘Anzackery’. This term was coined by the great Australian historian Geoff Serle, Monash’s first biographer, and we are pleased to see that it is being taken up and used to criticise the unduly boastful presentation of Australia’s military history, all too common during the Anzac centenary.

As you have doubtless been advised by your departmental officers, Honest History has criticised programs and activities in your portfolio, such as the Australian War Memorial’s unrealistic and misleading presentation of the reality of war in its exhibitions and school programs, and its manipulation of impressionable children. We have been especially critical of the scale and cost of the Sir John Monash Interpretive Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, which we regard as the prime example of the celebration of Anzackery. We will, of course, continue to express our opinions about this and other Veterans’ Affairs projects, in a spirit of frank and fearless criticism if need be.

We hope that you will accept such criticisms as expressions of the freedoms which Australian sacrifice in war secured for us, and not as ideological or personal attacks. Indeed, Honest History extends to you and your officers an open invitation to meet our committee members if we can offer views that might be useful to you in informing Australians about the experience, cost and consequences of war.

Finally, I should explain that I am not only an active military historian (having published thirty books, mostly on aspects of Australian military history) but also was Principal Historian at the Australian War Memorial, where I worked from 1980 to 2007, so my criticisms are based on an authoritative knowledge both of history and of the nation’s most important commemorative institution.

Honest History exists because we regard the nation’s history as important and worthy of our concern. We look forward to meeting you and to engaging in a productive dialogue with your department and the War Memorial in fulfilment of our shared goal of informing Australians of the nature and significance of war in our past.

Yours sincerely


Prof. Peter Stanley, FAHA

President, Honest History

10 October 2015

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2 comments on “Centenary Watch updates October-November 2015
  1. Robert says:

    Though not a tertiary qualified ally of Honest History, I am more than grateful to be a member, a reader, and I appreciate the flow of information on the site and in the newsletters.

    Australia, I believe, is navigating its way through a hazardous period politically, and historically. The policies of extremism and knee jerk reactionists, seem, sadly, to me, to have reached the forefront of not only the nations active foreign policy direction, but utilises through misinformation and disinformation, our nations military history incorrectly, potentially disenabling many to reach reasoned, balanced views.

    An example of current foreign policy that concerns me greatly is the ghetto styled asylum seekers confinement to isolated island communities and nations. From media reports I gather the facilities do not even compare to the WW2 era internment, transitional, concentration camp described as “Paradise Ghetto”, ie, Theresienstadt. (An isolated colony for internees and refugees caught up within the machinations of political policies and agendas at the time). While allowing for the elasticity of historians, in many cases due to their own obvious platforms and agendas, the predicament of the predominants, and their expedient practices, ignites my imagination as to not only their recorded altruistic values, but of their core, or centric values, nepotism, survival and such.

    With the influences, both literally and figuratively available to Honest History executives, due to their educations, experiences and aptitude, as indicated by the open letter to Minister Stuart Robert; to expand the culture of honesty, while considering the past recognisable negative effects of selective deceit upon the evolving generations, is something I willingly and gladly embrace.

    From the Vietnam era, to the more recently Iraq and Afghanistan follies; our younger generations will struggle to balance the scales of the legitimacy of recorded military history unless the past accepted cultures, that of the supposed official views, is correctly countered by information that adequately presents a reader or viewer with, the honest and clinical, forensic facts.

    From the original “Anzackery”, to the more recent 2015 “Dollar Diviners”, many latter day predominants, or revisionary historians, continue with the propaganda of the possessing classes that created the circumstances leading to devastating dislocations, and, with their flows of information today that maintain their distorted views.

    Contested to conclusion will not satisfy all and sundry, but a conclusion closer to accuracy and honesty is more readily acceptable than an institutionalised nationalised indoctrination. Thanks for the opportunity.

  2. Mike Puleston says:

    A timely letter. Let us hope that PM Turnbull takes a more sophisticated and nuanced view of the events of 1914-18 than did his predecessor.

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