Honest History miscellany: more angles on Anzac 100

Update 1 May 2015: Last posts?

On the Mcintyre case, Gillian Triggs in Fairfax noted the limited mileage in free speech arguments, given Australia’s current legal arrangements. Anticipating some of Mcintyre’s remarks, Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson had his thoughtful adjournment speech on Anzac reprinted in the Tasmanian Times, with some quotes from the late Peter Underwood, former Governor of Tasmania.

The “senselessness” of the Great War [the Senator said] is best reflected in the questionable reasons for its occurrence. To date, I have seen very little of the ANZAC commemoration’s public focus on this topic. Where is the dialogue or messaging on the reasons, the madness and hysteria, the leadership failures,  that led the world into a war that killed 37 million people, 3 million of them “unknown soldiers” whose bodies were never even recovered. A war that helped set up another world war, which was years later to claim another 85 million lives.

In Inside Story, Nic Maclellan added some context to our Australo-centric view of the Dardanelles campaign by writing about the many other Allied soldiers who fought and died there while John Blaxland (The Conversation) pointed to the vexillological context of the invasion then and the commemoration now. Andrew Ramsey (cricket.com.au) linked cricket and Gallipoli, with particular reference to the Shell Green incident. Tony Iltis in Green Left Weekly picks up and extends some themes from Phillip Dwyer (below 30 April).

Finally (and this may well round up our coverage of this year’s burst of Anzac commemoration) Clare Wright (The Conversation) put the case for a broader focus in commemoration.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with military commemoration that honours the dead. Last weekend I planted Gallipoli rosemary in my backyard; part of the proceeds go to the Avenues of Honour, a national project to preserve and restore Australia’s living memorials.

More objectionable is the fact that war remembrance is played like it is a zero sum game. To widen the scope of historical tribute, and also recall the words and deeds of the Australian men and women who fought against the prescribed route of militaristic sentiment, is to risk being branded disrespectful and divisive.

But the unassailable fact is that the first world war ripped Australia asunder. Even at the time, the Great War itself was divisive, a historical reality belied by today’s bland, blanket coverage of “the Anzac spirit”.

Update 30 April 2015

Phillip Dwyer in The Conversation puts the Mcintyre tweets to a historical test. Many comments coming in. Among many other good thoughts, Dwyer says this:

It is difficult if not impossible for historians to overturn popular myths. Myths are popular because they represent stories we want to hear; they feed into the collective psyche. Anzacs behaving badly is not something we want to acknowledge.

Update 28 April 2015

Nicholas Stuart in Fairfax reckons Anzac mythologising hides a deeper malaise.

Anzac Day is meant to be about remembering the dead. What occurred over the weekend was a staged festival that was more about controlling the future. Yes, some Anzacs were brave. Others less so. It is fitting to remember them. But memory has been turned into something else entirely.

Gallipoli is being used, today, for something that was never intended. It’s become an artificial event; our new creation-myth, yet it has little or nothing to do with our country today.

Stuart goes on to discuss elements of the failed military effort at Gallipoli.

In a different vein is Mervyn Bendle, speaking at the launch of his book Anzac and Its Enemies.

Even while record crowds attend the Centenary Dawn Services across the country, the Anzac legend remains under con­certed assault by the intelligentsia, a former prime minister, and academics in Australia’s elite universities and institutions, including the Australian National Uni­versity, the Australian Defence Forces Academy, the Australian War Memorial. And, of course, Fairfax Media, the ABC and SBS also feel compelled to denigrate the tradition.

Honest History gets a mention as ‘a major internet vehicle for the anti-Anzac campaign’. ‘Anti-Anzac’ is inaccurate, Merv, but thanks for the plug.

Meanwhile, Martin Hirst has a wide-ranging piece in Independent Australia, riffing off the Mcintyre sacking imbroglio (another one by Mathew Kenneally in New Matilda) and David Stephens chatted with Brett de Hoedt in Melbourne (1377amMyMP) at the weekend about centenary issues. And No Glory in War website has some Gallipoli-related resources.


We kind of hoped that we could stop with this material on 25 April but still it comes, so rather than update our earlier collection, we’ve started a new one. There is some perceptive material and some dispiriting material.

Where better to start with than with the prime minister, who spoke well at the Gallipoli Dawn Service, again at Lone Pine, and gave a number of interviews? He then moved on to France, where he announced that Australia would build the Sir John Monash interpretive centre (hi-tech museum) at Villers-Bretonneux. (The effect of this on the total commemorative spend is noted elsewhere.)

SBS sports commentator, Scott Mcintyre tweeted trenchantly about Anzac and lost his job. Michael Koziol in Fairfax was one of a number of commentators and he attracted many comments, in turn. Geoff Lemon wrote in Guardian Australia:

Opprobrium didn’t pour down on McIntyre out of respect for historical veracity. It was because he’d disturbed a broadly accepted idea of sanctity on a day that has been secularly consecrated. Without a whole lot to believe in, many of us have deemed Anzac Day holy.

It gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. McIntyre breached the general public accord: not in saying hateful things about people who might suffer as a consequence, but in how we collectively view ourselves and our past.

As much as I think his comments were factually flawed and deliberately designed to inflame, nothing says that I should then send him messages of rage and hate, or that he doesn’t deserve to have a job that is in no way related to those opinions.

Regardless of the content of the tweets by Mcintyre, the intervention via Twitter of Minister Turnbull seems to set a precedent. Will it lead to more or less use of this tool by people in power? Will threats to other sacred cows be met by official tweets and how will people react if they are? Meanwhile, Andrew Bolt provided a handy collection of other journalists’ comments in support of Mcintyre and the Socialist Equality Party linked the episode to an earlier attack on freedom of speech.

Away from the political vortex, Brigid Delaney wrote at length in Guardian Australia about how Australians have wrestled with Anzac Day and commemoration. She talked to people like former soldier James Brown, artist Ben Quilty and War Memorial curator Peter Burness and found some nice quotes from the late Alan Seymour. Adam Brereton covered similar ground. Shorter but still perceptive was James Valentine and even shorter was First Dog on the Moon.

Peter Cochrane’s chapter from the recent Griffith Review volume ‘Enduring legacies‘ was re-run in The Conversation and attracted many comments.

Political agendas require a national story that is simple, fixed and inviolable [Cochrane concludes]. Thus the Anzac centenary is committed to locking in a glorious military past but, like the 1988 Bicentennial, it is raising more questions than the celebrants want. Centennials can backfire. That is the heart of the problem for the history warriors on the conservative side of politics.

That, more than any other factor, explains their bellicose insistence on the rightness of what happened.

Insistence was the currency of Andrew Bolt’s commentary on the Anzac commenters, including Honest History. We gently put an alternative view but saw that it was not ‘liked’ by Mr Bolt’s diaspora. Meanwhile, Indymedia and WGAR News collected a valuable set of resources on our Frontier Wars, wars which Indigenous Australians and their supporters struggled to have recognised in the flurry of Anzac commemoration last week.

Comparisons and lateral considerations were not wanting. In Fairfax, Gina McColl compared the Anzacs with modern jihadis and George Venturini remembered Italian Liberation Day, 25 April 1945, and what he did since. Michael Brull in New Matilda ranged widely and discussed some of the opposition to the Great War and Brad West in the same journal looked at the future prospects of the Gallipoli pilgrimage (while getting the Ataturk story badly wrong).

Martin Buzacott and Mairi Nicholson talked about Frederick Septimus Kelly, Great War musician. Finally, there was this scarifying polemical take by Ele Jenkins on Anzac Day and how we have dealt with it. Jenkins’ comic-like offering seemed to say more than reams of words have in recent times.

David Stephens

27 April 2015



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