McKenna, Mark: Australia’s haunted house

Mark McKenna

Australia’s haunted house‘, The Monthly, February 2021, pp. 8-11 (possible paywall but here’s a pdf from a subscription/purchased copy)

Update 8 February 2021: McKenna on 7 am Podcast with Ruby Johns for Schwartz Media.


The Brereton Report on the Afghanistan deployment, McKenna says, has wounded Prime Minister Morrison’s efforts to make the Australian War Memorial the nation’s ‘most sacred place’, as Morrison describes it.

Despite Morrison’s fervour for Australia’s cultural diversity and Indigenous heritage, his view of Australian history and nationhood – like Tony Abbott’s and Howard’s before him – is shaped largely by the emotional impact of stories of Australians at war …

But in the months prior to Morrison’s superficial change to the national anthem, two announcements – the government’s decision to approve the AWM’s $500 million redevelopment, and its response to the release of the Brereton Report into allegations of serious misconduct by Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016 – pointed to a far more profound shift in Australia’s national identity.

Looks at the Afghanistan fallout, recent attempts at the Memorial (in the fallout from Brereton) to break from a tradition of sanitising our wars, the Memorial’s grandiose building plans, our ‘warrior culture’, and spurious claims about architectural features in Canberra.

In its determination to create the AWM as Australia’s “most sacred place”, the place “where we can hear the soul of our country like no other”, as Morrison affirmed at the Last Post ceremony held at the memorial in February 2019, the government has narrowed Australia’s view of its history and its future horizons.

The history of the Memorial’s big build – and the campaign against it. The Afghanistan connection.

Mark McKenna is a professor of history at the University of Sydney. For other work by him, use the Honest History Search engine. He also has a chapter in The Honest History Book.

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