McKay, Jim & Karen Brooks: Toys for the boys: white men’s business at the War Memorial

Jim McKay & Karen Brooks

Toys for the boys: white men’s business at the War Memorial‘, Broad Agenda, 18 August 2020

Masculinity: Most cultural institutions in the national capital are facing austerity measures so crippling they can barely conduct their core business. The National Gallery of Australia has slashed its annual acquisitions from 3000 pieces a year to 100 and the National Archive does not have the money to digitise 117,000 feet of magnetic tape, including rare indigenous languages. But over at the Australian War Memorial it would seem there is no shortage of money for big dreams, bold fanfare and a very “Aussie” masculinist view of history.

The authors refer to a ‘memory orgy’ on wars, including the big spend on the ‘Anzac centenary’ and the Sir John Monash Centre, and now the splurge at the War Memorial. They quote supporters and opponents of the Memorial project and then place it in a broader context:

National memorials and museums are inherently contested terrain, because they are established by government edicts that reinforce mainly conservative values. This “politics of war, memory and commemoration” is evident in museums of white settler nations that have been criticised for privileging white patriarchal values.

The authors then look at the role of prime ministers Howard and Abbott in skewing how we view our history. The article concludes: ‘This highly selective nationalist narrative [at the Memorial] gratifies its advocates’ politics (and egos) rather than adding significant social value – not only at the expense of diversity, but of other worthy national institutions’.

Jim McKay previously wrote this on battlefield tourism. Broad Agenda is a newish blog based in the University of Canberra. Its chief editor, Virginia Hausegger, was one of the signatories to Heritage Guardians’ submission to the Public Works Committee inquiry into the Memorial project (submission No. 15). Eighty-two people signed the submission opposing the project.

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