Stephens, David: Movement at the Memorial: recent remarks from Chair Kim Beazley hold promise of change – but more needed

David Stephens*

‘Movement at the Memorial: remarks from Chair Kim Beazley hold promise of change – but more needed’, Honest History, 10 April 2023 updated (pdfs from our Canberra Times subscription: page 1 article, page 2 article, editorial)

Update 15 April 2023: 68 per cent of the Canberra Times readers panel support the inclusion of a Frontier Wars section at the War Memorial, according to the report on page 51 of today’s paper. The panel is 620 readers of the paper. The question and the result is in this picture taken from our subscription copy of the paper:


[Our original post follows below]

There has been movement over Easter in Perth and Canberra. Perth-based Australian War Memorial Council Chair Kim Beazley has been talking to Canberra Times reporter, Steve Evans, who in turn sought comments from Professor Peter Stanley and Indigenous man, Frank Lampard.

There are two articles, covering most of pages 1 and 2 of today’s (10 April) paper (apart from the Harvey Norman adverts): ‘Frontier Wars: Aboriginal guerillas deserve Australian War Memorial recognition, Kim Beazley says‘; ‘Two Aboriginal sculptures spark debate at Australian War Memorial‘; plus an editorial, ‘Australian War Memorial has made a big call on the nation’s Frontier Wars‘. (Pdfs from our subscription are attached to this post.)

Key points from Kim Beazley:

Aboriginal resistance to British invasion should get its own ‘substantial’ section at the Memorial.

‘My view is that we need to have a focus on Aboriginal guerilla campaigns. This should be in a special section of the galleries in the museum section of the memorial.’

‘Aboriginal people need to be given the dignity of resistance, and not just assumed that they were the passive recipients of injustice.’

Professor Stanley said, ‘The memorial has got to come clean on this. It’s got to follow the facts of history and what the community expects.’

‘It was a war’, said Frank Lampard, a member of the Memorial’s Indigenous Advisory Group. ‘It’s a truth-telling story so it’s got to be a part of the Australian story.’

The main article and the editorial address points we have been pushing in recent posts, here, here and here. (Media release.) Among other things, we highlighted the disparity between Kim Beazley’s statements and those of Memorial management. (Peter Stanley was a co-author of our second and third article, along with David Stephens and Vietnam veteran, Noel Turnbull.)

Under current plans, the Memorial proposes to devote just 408 square metres – a mere 23 square metres more than in the pre-redevelopment Memorial – to the Frontier Wars plus four colonial expeditionary forces from 1860 to 1901 (New Zealand Wars, Sudan, Boxer Rebellion, Boer War). And that’s all in the same ‘pre-1914 gallery’.

Kim Beazley needs to make clear whether his mention of a ‘special section’ is an advance on this position. The Canberra Times editorial says this:

Mr Beazley wants a “substantial” representation – but how substantial is substantial? It is a slippery word whose interpretation would give lawyers endless fun and income …

There needs to be a full section at the War Memorial, ideally a gallery, devoted to the war between Australians. It would be good if the leadership at the War Memorial made that clear …

We have made a great stride forward. It is now time to be clearer on what the next steps should be.

The gargoyles (in the second article) have a longer history, most recently raised by Senator Thorpe in Estimates last year. There are views on both sides as to whether the faces of the Indigenous man and woman should remain in place, given that their original status was as ‘fauna’, like the animals also portrayed on the walls.

We agree with Peter Stanley in the article (and Professor Frank Bongiorno of the Australian Historical Association) that the gargoyles should remain, with an appropriate explanatory panel saying we do things differently now. Whether we do things differently now on the larger issue of the Frontier Wars rather depends on Kim Beazley, the Memorial Council, Memorial management, public pressure – and perhaps a word or two from government.

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of Heritage Guardians.

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