A kite was flown a little time ago that Tony Abbott, former politician, former prime minister, former Rhodes Scholar, current iron man and polly-pedaller, would be given a spot on the Australian War Memorial Council. And so it has come to pass, according to a report in Nine newspapers, with genuine quotes from Minister Chester, who avers that Mr Abbott will bring ‘dedication, passion and knowledge’ to the Council.
The author of this note remains of the view that Mr Abbott is eminently unsuited to the position – and that positions on the Memorial Council should not be handed out to old mates short of a gig. Views on a different sort of Memorial Council can be found here and linked therefrom. In one of those pieces, the present author said:
Australians enlisted for our major wars in great numbers. Some of them became officers. A handful of them became senior officers. Decades on, too much of the control of our national war memorial has devolved to the senior officer cadre and a supporting cast of the Australian version of “the great and the good”. The people should be allowed to take back this role. The remembrance of war – and, more importantly, the prospect of peace – are too important to be left to those who have made a profession out of military activity or a hobby out of military history. These matters affect all of us and our future, not just those who try to keep the Anzac flame burning in pretty much the same way as it has for the last century.
The War Memorial Council as presently composed is an anachronism. It stands in the way of significant change in the way we commemorate war and hope for a peaceful future. A Council which was more representative of the range of Australian experience of war – and of Australians – would help the Memorial tell a more rounded story, a story not just of daring and death in uniform but of the widespread and lasting effects of war on individuals, families (especially women and children) and communities. The story not just of what Australians have done in war but of what war has done to Australia and Australians – and what it should never do again.
The War Memorial is not a possession of the RSL or of ex-service people – or even of ex-politicians – but of all Australians. An imaginative appointment this time around could have started a move in a new direction. Minister Chester – and the government – have let us all down.
1 October 2019 updated