Stephens, David: We go to Rio: questioning received war history

Stephens, David

‘We go to Rio: questioning received war history’, Teaching History (History Teachers’ Association of New South Wales), 50, 3, September 2016, pp. 4-6

Pdf accessible here made available by courtesy of HTANSW, which holds copyright.

Anzac may be a secular religion for some of us but it is not the established church; those who are agnostic or atheist about Anzac owe its adherents respect but they should not be required to join them at the altar.

It seems appropriate in an Olympic year to use athletic analogies: the first hurdle; boxing intelligently; staying the course. This article applies these analogies to a uniquely Australian event – questioning the Anzac-based received version of our war history.

The article discusses the need to overcome reluctance about questioning the received, Anzac-centred view of Australian history while recognising that war has been important to Australia – not so much because of what we have done in war but because of what war has done to us. The article stresses Honest History’s mantra of ‘not only Anzac but lots of other strands of our history’.

The article refers to Honest History’s Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial, which argues that, while the Memorial is the best in the world at what it does, it is not good at getting beyond sentimental stories of brave men in khaki. The Alternative Guide has been downloaded nearly 1600 times since Anzac Day. David Stephens will be giving a presentation on the Alternative Guide at the History Teachers’ Association of Australia conference in Sydney on 29 September.

The article concludes by suggesting some practical steps to reduce the influence of Anzac-centred tropes in the teaching and understanding of Australian history: improve the Alternative Guide; end the privileging of the Anzac-centred approach, for example, by abolishing the PACER subsidy’s ‘compulsory War Memorial visit’ condition for schools coming to Canberra; encourage the Australian War Memorial to debate alternative versions of Australian history rather than simply preach its preferred version.

There is a previous article by David Stephens in Teaching History (‘Five arguments for downsizing Anzac‘, March 2015). The recent inclusion in the Australian National Dictionary of a definition of ‘Anzackery’ is also relevant.

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