From the Honest History vault: Australian War Memorial has a role in Truth-telling about Frontier Wars

Fourteen months ago, we posted this below (originally in Pearls and Irritations) on the need for the War Memorial to step up and do a proper job on the Australian Frontier Wars. Since then, the Memorial’s stepping has been forward, back and a bit sideways.

We have done our bit to get the process back on track: see our Action Plan for proper recognition and commemoration of the Frontier Wars at the Memorial. (We first wrote about this matter in 2014.) Rachel Perkins’ documentary, The Australian Wars, has raised the profile of this shameful period in our history, as has David Marr’s just published Killing for Country.

The defeat of the Voice Referendum has not reduced the urgency of Truth-telling about the Frontier Wars, a subject that Henry Reynolds wrote about in his 2021 book. Watch this space for more from the Defending Country Memorial Project Inc., which has already entered the field.

David Stephens

17 October 2023


David Stephens*

Australian War Memorial needs to own Australian Frontier Wars‘, Pearls and Irritations, 7 August 2022

Proper recognition and commemoration of the Australian Frontier Wars at the Australian War Memorial would be a practical expression of the Spirit of Uluru …

First, the Memorial should have an Australian Frontier Wars Gallery as part of the 2.5 hectares of additional space being built in the current extensions project …

Secondly, the Memorial needs to add a prominent panel to its Roll of Honour to commemorate the dead of the Frontier Wars …

Thirdly, the words ‘Australian Frontier Wars’ should be carved into the walls of the Memorial surrounding the Pool of Reflection …

The Memorial should grasp the common thread between the Frontier Wars and our overseas wars: Defence of Country. Defence of their Country by First Nations warriors. Defence of their country, Australia, by uniformed soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and nurses, some of them Indigenous. Defence of Country is the common history that belongs to all of us, and that the Memorial should recognise and commemorate.

There are three options for achieving these outcomes:

    • use existing legislation, reinforced by political suasion;
    • use the Memorial’s corporate planning process to broaden the focus of the place while keeping within the current Act;
    • amend the Memorial’s Act.

Whichever option or options are used, we need, on the government side, courage to pull aside the ‘Anzac cloak’ that has for so long protected the Memorial from proper accountability and full responsiveness to modern Australia. On the Memorial side, we need willingness to make the place less a military mausoleum and trophy house – run mostly by white blokes with a military background and catering primarily for uniformed service people (particularly recent ones) – and more the possession of all Australians, First Nations and non-First Nations.

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and co-editor of The Honest History Book (2017).

Related material, especially from Professor John Maynard, Professor Peter Stanley, Stephen Bargwanna, and Canberra Times editorial writer. ‘[A Frontier Wars memorial] should be part of the Australian War Memorial’, says Maynard. ‘When you look up that driveway and they’ve got monuments to the Boer War, and they’ve got monuments to Korea and Vietnam, how about a monument to the Frontier Wars as well.’

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