Stephens, David: The War Memorial is again running away from the Frontier Wars

David Stephens*

The War Memorial is again running away from the Frontier Wars‘, Pearls and Irritations, 5 December 2022 updated

Note: the P&I post linked here is an updated version of our earlier post.


The Australian War Memorial has passed from then Council Chair Brendan Nelson’s 29 September announcement of a ‘much broader, much deeper’ treatment of Australian frontier violence to today’s buzzwords of ‘proportionate’ and ‘modest’. The people who welcomed what looked like a change in direction at the Memorial have the right to feel dudded.

The article summarises the evidence from Senate Estimates at 8 November which revealed the small proportion of the future Memorial that would be devoted to the Frontier Wars as well as the colocation of the Frontier Wars with other wars of the Victorian era. The article also suggests why the Memorial is in retreat:

Why is all this happening? The available evidence suggests there was a battle on the War Memorial Council back in August, with the resisters led by member Major General Greg Melick (Ret’d) who is also national president of the RSL … Since then, there has been outrage from Andrew Bolt, Barnaby Joyce, Senator Canavan, and thousands of veterans and others who signed a petition organised by Quadrant author, Lieutenant Colonel Peter O’Brien (Ret’d).

That’s enough to put the wind up any War Memorial and push “much broader, much deeper” back to “proportionate” and “modest”. On the other hand, Lest We Forget, the Memorial claims to be about stories of courage and endeavour.

The article is a shorter version of this one on the Honest History site, though the HH one has more links to evidence.

And Kim Beazley weighs in – but on which side?

New War Memorial Chair Kim Beazley has been interviewed for The Australian (Ben Packham) and insists that commemorating the Frontier Wars is consistent with a broad interpretation of Charles Bean’s vision for the Memorial.

“So in the galleries of pre-Federation or pre-Australia conflict, yes, there will be recognition,” Mr Beazley said.

He said the commemoration of the Frontier Wars would not lessen the space dedicated to honouring those who fought and died under the Australian flag.

“I think the overwhelming proportion of what is done in the memorial, is the recognition of the initial purpose – to be a place of honour for those who served the nation,” Mr Beazley said.

While we read Beazley’s remarks as an attempt to pacify the critics of the Memorial doing more on the Frontier Wars, the comments on Packham’s article were overwhelming critical of ‘wokeness’ at the Memorial, against ‘the rewriting of history’, and protective of ‘our’ Memorial. So, Beazley is copping it from both sides.

He also recognised the difficulties for the Memorial flowing from the Brereton investigations. Any changes would have to await the conclusion of the investigations.

David Stephens

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and has been convener of the Heritage Guardians group, opposed to the War Memorial extensions.

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