Stanley, Peter: Time to tell the truth at the Australian War Memorial

Peter Stanley

Time to tell the truth at the Australian War Memorial‘, Canberra Times, 30 July 2022 (pdf from our subscription)

Op ed from Research Professor at UNSW Canberra, long-time Principal Historian at the Memorial, and Heritage Guardian. The article also appears at page 27 of the hard copy of the paper for 30 July. Other recent material on this subject.

Professor Stanley says the Memorial’s failure to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars is due to outdated ideas – equivalent to the Department of Health operating on the basis that the body is governed by the ebb and flow of Humours. ‘Decades after the fact of frontier conflict being accepted, the memorial stubbornly maintains that the conflict which stained the continent for a century after 1788 is nothing to do with the place where Australia remembers its war dead.’

He goes through the evolution of historical understanding of frontier conflict, much of it built on contemporary accounts, where settlers talked of ‘fighting a war’. Historians ‘found overwhelming evidence of violent conflict. Soon, Indigenous communities spoke of the profound trauma they had suffered.’

Meanwhile, White Australia had adopted Anzac as a ‘secular religion’ with the Memorial as its temple. Research continued, however, including further detailed examination of the Frontier Wars.

The memorial, meanwhile, declined to accept what every serious historian (not to mention Indigenous Australians) understood. The memorial gradually conceded that frontier conflict occurred, but it now uses its acknowledgment of Indigenous service after 1901 as a smokescreen to conceal its failure to interpret or commemorate frontier conflict.

Stanley questions the Memorial’s hiding behind an interpretation of its Act. If the Act is a problem, then change it! Meanwhile, the Uluru Statement from the Heart shows the way forward.

In the spirit of the Uluru Statement we need to ask, how can we attain “a fair and truthful relationship” with our past and with our fellow Australians unless the national memorial to Australians who died in war acknowledges that truth?

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