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August 2, 2021

Need to deflate Anzac myth while we still can

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Dr David Stephens, of Honest History. Photo: The Conversation
Dr David Stephens, of Honest History. Photo: The Conversation

The Anzac myth is distorting the way we view ourselves and risking the future of our children, according to a visiting activist.

Dr David Stephens of Canberra is secretary of Honest History, a coalition of historians and others supporting the balanced and honest presentation and use of Australian history during the centenary of World War I.

‘As we approach the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, we should be looking forward rather than spending more than $300 million commemorating battles of a century ago,’ Dr Stephens says.

‘There is nothing at all wrong with Anzac Day as a dignified remembrance of relatives and friends who died in war. But the next four years threatens to become one long, exaggerated, boastful patriotic celebration. The men who died at Gallipoli, and in France and Palestine, if they could see us, would look at each other and say, “Strewth, cobber, what are these people doing?”

‘The way we commemorate our war deaths is parochial and insensitive because it takes little notice of the impact of war on the rest of the human race. Our 100,000 war deaths in the twentieth century is a tiny proportion of the 231 million deaths in all wars and conflicts during that time.

Participants in Remembering and Healing's 2012 Anzac Day commemoration. Photo RAH website.
Participants in Remembering and Healing’s 2012 Anzac Day commemoration. Photo RAH website.

‘Secondly, we pay so much attention to our military history that young people will start to think there is nothing else worth noticing in our history. They will think that military involvement is a normal part of what it means to be Australian. They are the ones who will have to fight in the future if we convince ourselves that fighting wars is an inherent part of our culture.

‘There are signs, too, such as in the Cronulla riots in 2005, that loyalty to the Anzac myth is becoming a test of Australian-ness that some elements of the community are prepared to enforce. Honest History uses the term Anzackery to describe the bombastic form of military commemoration. There are signs that we are going further to a state-sponsored ideology – Anzacism.’

Dr Stephens said the motto of Honest History was ‘not only Anzac but also’, signifying that while war history was an important part of Australian history, there were many other parts of that history that needed to be studied and celebrated.

The Honest History website has extensive resources on Australia’s social, political, economic, cultural and intellectual history, as well as material analysing the Anzac myth.

‘Apart from speaking out over the next four years, Honest History wants to provide a resource that is useful for students, teachers, journalists and members of the public,’ Dr Stephens said.

Not your usual Anzac service: Remembering and Healing's 2010 service. Photo RAH website.
Not your usual Anzac service: Remembering and Healing’s 2010 service. Photo RAH website.

Dr Stephens will be in Lismore to speak at a public lecture at Southern Cross University and Anzac services organised by Remembering and Healing. Honest History has a mailing list containing hundreds of names throughout Australia and overseas as well as a number of distinguished supporters, including historians and journalists. Its president is Professor Peter Stanley, who was a joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in 2011.

This is the sixth year Remembering and Healing has organised two public commemorations with a difference for Anzac Day in Lismore. These services focus on remembering the suffering war brings to all involved. And at the same time they express the wish and commitment for peace in the future.

Eve of Anzac Day, Thursday 24 April, 5.30pm at Lismore Uniting Church, corner Keen St and Woodlark streets.

Anzac Day, Friday 25 April, 11am (half an hour after the official program has finished) at Lismore Peace Park, corner Keen Street and Ballina Road (wet weather venue: Trinity St Mary’s site, 1 Dawson Street).

These two all-inclusive, multifaith and multicultural commemorations for Anzac Day in Lismore are an initiative to make Anzac Day relevant and meaningful to all of modern multicultural Australia and to reflect a peace-oriented society.


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