Stephens, David: Australian Frontier Wars: credibility gap at the Australian War Memorial

David Stephens*

Australian Frontier Wars: credibility gap at the Australian War Memorial‘, Pearls & Irritations, 17 April 2023

This piece summarises the arguments the author, Peter Stanley and Noel Turnbull recently put in two articles on the Honest History site. Since then, a story and an editorial in the Canberra Times have shown that Memorial Council Chair Kim Beazley’s repetition of words like ‘substantial’ does not guarantee that the War Memorial will properly recognise and commemorate the Australian Frontier Wars.

The Memorial is, for the most part, a deeply conservative institution and it is governed by an unrepresentative Council. It will not deliver a proper outcome on the Frontier Wars unless there is continuing public pressure – to support and encourage Mr Beazley and to send a signal to others at the Memorial.

Honest History today put out a media release with text as below. Earlier material on the Memorial and the Frontier Wars is collected on our home page under the heading ‘Frontier Wars retreat at the War Memorial’. Some key recent items:

Update 4 May 2023: Minister Burney responded to our media release of 7 February (release here) but did not confront the discrepancy between Mr Beazley’s remarks and what is actually happening at the Memorial.

We await a response from the Minister to our letter to her of 20 April, which referred to the later (17 April) media release below, which spelled out in more detail the credibility gap between Mr Beazley and Memorial management.


Australian Frontier Wars: credibility gap at the Australian War Memorial: MEDIA RELEASE

There is a credibility gap between Kim Beazley’s assurances about how the Australian War Memorial will properly recognise and commemorate the Australian Frontier Wars and what is actually being planned at the Memorial. Action is needed now to close the gap.

This is the view of historian, Dr David Stephens, in an article published yesterday in John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations.

Kim Beazley is the Chair of the War Memorial Council. The Memorial is undergoing a $548m redevelopment.

‘Mr Beazley has said frequently that the redeveloped Memorial will include “substantial” recognition and commemoration of the Frontier Wars’, said Dr Stephens. ‘On the other hand, Memorial management says the Frontier Wars will be covered in just 408 square metres. That is just 23 square metres (or six per cent) more than in the Memorial before the redevelopment.’

‘What’s more, the Frontier Wars will share that space with depictions of the Australian contingents to the New Zealand wars in the 1860s, the Sudan in the 1880s, and the Boxer Rebellion and the Boer War at the end of the 19th century. That is exactly how things were done in the “old” Memorial and it demeans the impact of the Frontier Wars on Indigenous Australians.

‘We do not know how many First Australians died in the Frontier Wars, but it could be as many as 100,000 men, women and children, around the same number of Australians who died in all our overseas wars.

The Pearls and Irritations article links to two articles on the Honest History website, authored by Dr Stephens, historian Professor Peter Stanley, and Vietnam veteran, Noel Turnbull. These articles present an Action Plan to ensure that the Memorial properly recognises and commemorates the Frontier Wars.

‘We believe Mr Beazley is keen to see change’, Dr Stephens said, ‘but public pressure will be needed to ensure that change occurs – and to support Mr Beazley’.

17 April 2023

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website.

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