‘Is this “our story”? Another look at the Australian War Memorial’s refurbished World War I galleries’, Honest History, 3 March 2015
Update 20 November 2015: a review from Christina Spittel of UNSW Canberra in the National Museum’s reCollections online magazine expresses many similar views to those below. Interesting to see the organ of one cultural institution publishing a trenchant analysis of another institution’s work.
The article updates the earlier review of the refurbished galleries. (Also relevant is the review of Anzac Treasures, the book of the galleries.) The galleries were officially opened on 22 February after a ‘soft launch’ early in December. This further look finds the highlights and deficiencies of the galleries little changed since the soft launch.
There is still the clanging lack of context (before the war, after the war, other combatants), the sanitising of suffering, the lack of questioning, the implicit acceptance of war that James Rose drew attention to in our earlier piece, the risk of imprinting an attitude to war on impressionable children.
While the keynote address from Council member and author, Les Carlyon, presents a broader view the Memorial still has a long way to go before it can be seen to make a real contribution to a peaceful Australian future.
It would be great if the Memorial could wind back the hyperbole, the artefact polishing and the ancestor worship and engage in a real debate about the place of war in Australian society. Starting now. A century of doing basically the same rearward-looking commemorative things is surely long enough. Our children deserve a new approach. And if the Memorial reckons that its critics “simply don’t get it” it should explain why it believes this is the case.