The Anzac Myth

Today’s Guest Poster is John Menadue, redoubtable private secretary to Gough Whitlam, diplomat, senior Commonwealth public servant, and successful businessman. Mr Menadue (along with many other luminaries) is active at Pearls and Irritations, where the following post, republished here with permission (for which our thanks), first appeared.

Mr Menadue’s observation

But conservatives were frightened of the future. They wanted to drag us back to the heart break of the past. And they succeeded . . .

resonates eerily, but not surprisingly, with another comment from another very recent post to Pearls and Irritations. This, from retired Associate Professor Douglas Newton, is a fine introduction (though cheekily inserted by me) to The Anzac Myth:

Do we have a right to invoke ‘the Anzac Spirit’ in contemporary Australia? If we tolerate widening inequality, monstrous private wealth amid public squalor, intensifying social stratification, and weakening social mobility, dare we speak of ‘Their Spirit’? If we pursue a neo-liberal agenda, that preaches an acquisitive individualism, hollows out the public sector, privileges the private provider, relentlessly privatises our pooled resources, and lauds lower taxes as the one true household god – is ‘the Anzac spirit’ alive?

Gallipoli and the Anzacs

The four-year and well-funded carnival celebrating Anzac and WWI is now rolling. The carnival will depict WWI as the starting point of our nation, as our coming of age!

It was nothing of the sort. It was a sign of our international immaturity and dependence on others. What was glorious about involving ourselves in the hatreds and rivalry of European powers that had wrought such carnage in Europe over centuries? Many of our forebears came to Australia to get away from this. But conservatives, our war historians and colonel blimps chose deliberately to draw us back to the stupidities and hatreds of Europe. Conservatives and militarists want us to cling to a disastrous imperial war. They encourage us to focus on how our soldiers fought in order to avoid the central issue of why we fought.

It seems that the greater the political and military stupidity of wars that we have been involved in, the more we are encouraged to hide behind the valour of our service people at Gallipoli, the Western Front and elsewhere.. The ‘leadership’ of Winston Churchill and General Ian Hamilton were catastrophic both for the British and for us. Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli were commanded by a British General. No hiding behind the sacrifice of troops can avoid the facts. We should not have been there and it was a disaster.

Unfortunately the more we ignore the political and military mistakes of the past, the more likely we are to make similar mistakes in the future. And we keep doing it. If we had a sense of our calamitous involvement in wars in the past like WW1 we would be less likely to make foolish decisions to involve ourselves in wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our history is littered with tragic military adventures, being led by the nose by either the UK or the US. And it goes on through the Boer War, the Sudan War and more recently, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. In all these cases, and just like WWI, we have desperately tried to hide behind the valour of our service people.

The most important and justified war in which we have fought as a nation was WWII, in defence of our own people and land. But WWII is rated by the Australian War Memorial and so many others as of much less significance. WW1 Is the Holy Grail.

On April 25 each year we are told by tongue-tied people that the great sacrifice of WWI was in defence of freedom and the right. But I don’t think that they even believe it themselves. It just does not ring true. Tony Abbott says it was a ‘just war’. But he is yet to explain what was ‘just’ about it. It is claimed that it united this country, but it divided us in a way that we had never been divided before or since with Billy Hughes exploiting the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the country. Only 30% of eligible men chose to enlist. WWI was a great divider. It was not a unifier despite the platitudes of Anzac Day.

Some claim that WWI was to bring peace to Europe. But the war and its aftermath laid the ground for even greater death and destruction in WWII.

In relation to our population, our greatest loss of lives was in the Frontier Wars where over 30,000 indigenous people died in defence of their own land. But we ignore it in favour of the myths of Anzac. Best we forget the Frontier Wars.

Yet it was the Frontier Wars -the forcible occupation of a vast continent- and not the wars of Gallipoli or the Somne that made Australia.

The first time Australians and New Zealanders fought together was against the Maoris in New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s. The ANZAC connection was not forged at Gallipoli but half a century before in the Maori Wars. It’s best that we forget that too. It doesn’t do our self-respect much good to recall that we fought together with New Zealanders in a race war to quell the Maori people.

The early and remarkable achievements of this young country at the turn of the century and early in the 19th Century are blotted out by the blood and blather of WWI, ANZAC and Gallipoli. We talk endlessly about the Gallipoli landings. A more honest description would be the invasion of Turkey.

Federation in 1900 was a remarkable achievement, pulling together our six colonies into a nation. We led the world in universal suffrage, the rights of women, industrial democracy and the minimum wage. The ‘Australian ballot’ or secret ballot was progressively adopted in the Australian states in the latter half of the nineteenth century. We were a world leader. Our ballot was adopted in New Zealand, Canada, UK and US

In 1904 we had not only Australia’s first Labor Government. It was the first in the world. The rights of working people as expressed in the Harvester Judgement of 1907 put Australia as a leader on the world stage. We were an advanced social laboratory. Before WWI there were two decades of remarkable nationhood and advancement for ordinary people.

But conservatives were frightened of the future. They wanted to drag us back to the heart break of the past. And they succeeded with the help of Billy Hughes and other Labor renegades

In the process we broke our own heart – or as Marilyn Lake has expressed in a blog on April 23 this year ‘WWI fractured the nation’s soul’.

It is time we were honest with ourselves and discounted the myths of WWI, ANZAC and Gallipoli.

Instead we should celebrate the two remarkable decades of progress before the catastrophe of WWI. And never forget the Frontier Wars.

AAP: Dean Lewins


633 thoughts on “The Anzac Myth

  1. We consulted “widely”; all “sound men” to a fault.

    Evidence base

    The review conducted extensive analysis of current and best practice and consulted widely with:

    * Secretaries, Agency Heads, Deputy Secretaries and other senior APS leaders
    * senior leaders from state jurisdictions and international public sectors
    * senior leaders and Human Resources (HR) managers from the private sector
    * APS HR managers and practitioners.

    • “However I had to deal with the matter in hand, namely that I had agreed to an independent enquiry. ‘Couldn’t we,’ I suggested thoughtfully, ‘get an independent enquiry to find no evidence?’

      ‘You mean, rig it?’ enquired Sir Humphrey coldly.

      This man’s double standards continue to amaze me.

      ‘Well . . . yes!’

      ‘Minister!’ he said, as if he was deeply shocked. Bloody hypocrite.

      ‘What’s wrong with rigging an independent enquiry if you can rig an internal one, I should like to know?’ Though I already know the answer – you might get caught rigging an independent enquiry.

      ‘No, Minister, in an independent enquiry everything depends on who the Chairman is. He absolutely has to be sound.’

      ‘If he’s sound,’ I remarked, ‘surely there’s a danger he’ll bring it all out into the open?’

      Sir Humphrey was puzzled again. ‘No, not if he’s sound,’ he explained. ‘A sound man will understand what is required. He will perceive the implications. He will have a sensitive and sympathetic insight into the overall problem.’

      He was suggesting that we rig it, in fact. He just likes to wrap it up a bit.

      ‘Ah,’ I said. ‘So “sound” actually means “bent”?’”

  2. Was at the dressage last weekend and I heard one young lady competitor call out to another passing on her horse..:

    “How’d yer go?”
    “Oh..Pretty good , I think!” she called back..
    “Oh..That’s great , good onyer, maate!”… the first lady replied.

    Y’know..there’s something wrong with the way women say that phrase..: “onyer , maate”. sure, they have the timing about right, along with the drawn out ; maaate, bit, even the rising inflection at the end of “mate”…but it’s gotta be that gender falsetto of the natural female voice..that’s the prob…that falsetto…it’s just not right..and’s a male the greeting cry of ; “BAZZAAA…MAATE!”…y’’s a testosterone “wrap-around”’s a male thing I reckon..

    It’d be like a bloke seeing a mate across the other side of the street and calling out : ” Yoo Hoo!..Rodger, dahhling!” in a deep bass baritone…’s just not right…it’s just not right.

  3. oh my, fingers hit the d instead of the n key
    mortified I is, I tells ya , mortified.

    I was told never to use that kind of language in polite company. The names of liebral politicians, that is.

  4. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.

    A bold move from Turnbull – but probably with a lot of strings attached. Not to mention what it would do to debt. I’m not saying it’s bad , just thinking of the continuous shitcanning of debt by the Coalition for the last 8 years.
    Yes Tony, everyone believes you!
    Where is this drugs thing going to end?
    Sydney is becoming very much like New York.
    Doctors have gone to war with chiropractors. There are other “professions” equally deserving too.
    John Boehner didn’t think much of Ted Cruz. He is not alone.
    Trump has gone from funny to really scary to those outside of the US.
    Well look at this. Aussies would be happy to nay more tax if it was for good reason.
    Will this identified $1b risk make it into the budget papers?
    Jess Irvine with the case against an interest rate reduction next Tuesday,

  5. Section 2 . . .

    Greg Jericho on how negative gearing replaced the great Australian dream and distorted the economy. There are some brilliant intreractive graphs to make his point.
    And more on why Turnbull’s housing logic is all wrong.
    More and more revelations on the Comminsure scandal come to light.
    With this sort of stuff going on all the time it’s no wonder the public are pissed off with big business!
    Waleed Aly on the shared responsibility for our asylum seeker mess.
    Richard Ackland with some policy alternatives for asylum seekers.
    Michelle Grattan on how Manus has intruded into the carefully crafted election scripts.
    This SMH editorial describes Manus as political doublethink and cruelty fuelling the refugee debacle.
    “View from the Street” asks if Turnbull should get loud and dumb to win.
    Van Badham says that in bad news for Turnbull this election will be fought on class lines.

  6. Section 3 . . . with Cartoon Corner

    Has the time come to criminalise tax avoidance?,8931
    The Coalition wants to give the public service its biggest shakeup for decades.
    Laura Tingle on Shorten and Turnbull staking out their ground. Google.
    Mark Kenny says Turnbull’s “clean out” of the Senate won’t necessarily change a thing.
    Alan Moir. Beautiful!

    Ron Tandberg with Potatohead.

    Cathy Wilcox rolls out Barnaby’s support unit.

    David Pope hits the spot here.

    Mark Knight with a Port Arthur remembrance.
    Bill Leak with a job for Morrison.
    David Rowe with the distractions created by Arfur.

  7. The Conversion of Father Carravalo.

    Continuing my Italian Story theme..:

    I heard this tale from my sister when I once visited her in Italy back in the seventies. She told me she had not long been in the village when one day whilst sweeping by her back door, an older woman hurried past. My sister said “hello” in politeness, but the lady did not stop, she just quickly said that she was in a hurry to get to her mother’s as she was looking after her children..”I have their clothes” she motioned to a bundle under her arm and on she went. A few moments later an older man came and asked if my sister had seen his wife come past with a bundle of clothes under her arm. My sister related the quick meeting with the lady and told him that she had gone to her mothers’ to pick up the children.

    “Ah”..he said sadly, “Her mother has been dead these many years and so have all the children…I will go and find her”….and on he went.

    I tell the story of the events as my sister told them to me all those years ago..The priest in the story is, of course, a metaphor.

  8. Turnbull’s new ‘Smart Cities’ brainfart – what could possibly go wrong?

    It’s damn scary. I hope this idea is killed off by Monday morning.

    So the government is –
    1 – Ignoring the needs of those of us who are lucky enough to live outside the cities and making those cities bigger. Gee, thanks Mal. (Lucy’s involvement in the Greater Sydney Commission wouldn’t have anything to do with this plan/brainfart/money pit would it? Nah, couldn’t have …….

    2. Borrowing up big to start up projects that will, once up and running, be flogged off at bargain prices to anyone who wants to buy them. China buying our infrastructure while we are left to pay off those 30 year bonds? Great idea there Mal.

    Then there’s the comedy lines – this government is boasting about its investment in the NBN, which has been a financial disaster, thanks to Mal’s Muddling, and the CEFC, which they still want to shut down. I hate to think what they will do with all those extra borrowings.

  9. Found it –

    One of Mrs Turnbull’s goals is to make Sydney “a 30-minute city” where most transactions and trips can be accomplished in just half an hour, rather than having to face long commutes

    Quite the cosy little relationship they have, Lucy, Mal and Baird. You have to wonder how many Liberal donor developers are also involved.

    Malcolm Turnbull, relying on his wife for policy ideas, just like Tony’s PPL and government-funded nanny brainfart came from his wife and daughters.

    • ” “a 30-minute city” where most transactions and trips can be accomplished in just half an hour,”…and does that include trying to operate on a copper-wire internet?



    • Leroy,

      Dammit, I will be teaching until 8:30pm that evening and will be exhausted. Election night, perhaps?

  12. Australian Federal Police (AFP) have ramped up their investigation into the copying of former speaker Peter Slipper’s diary.

    Very, very interesting, and such lovely timing. No wonder Brough decided to retire.

  13. I was delighted to hear that news this morning, and even more delighted when Their ABC actually mentioned that images of several pages of Mr Slipper’s diary were in texts sent by ashby to brough.

  14. Interesting take on Abbott from Eleanor Robertson in The Monthly

    She has hit on to a critical factor in the lack of public trust and acceptance in Abbott: his complete lack of humility. It is odd that this should also be a factor in restricting the ambitions of Turnbull and Rudd.

    I am also of the opinion that humility is a critical factor in making a good leader. Julia Gillard had it in abundance, as did Ben Chifley and Don Dunstan. It is independent of the political spectrum. It was an important ingredient in the acceptance of Dwight Eisenhower, Tom Playford and Dick Hamer from the right, as much as many of my leftist heroes like John Curtin.

  15. Leone,
    I already live in a 30 minute city, 45 at most from my place on the outer edges to the cbd. Most transactions can be done withing 15 minutes or less of my house. I can drive from the Adelaide foothills to the nearest beach in 30 minutes. 🙂

    • I live in a 15 minute town. Everything I need is within a fifteen minute drive. If I drive 30 minutes I’m almost at the next town up or down the highway.

      Just one of the many advantages of not living in the big smoke.

  16. Turnbull – stealing Labor’s ideas again.

    Anthony Albanese was excited about 30 minute cities in 2014. Labor hasn’t said much about it since then, maybe they have come to understand that it’s just not feasible.

    I’m particularly attracted to consideration of the 30 minute City concept promoted by some policy thinkers in this area including the Bus Industry Confederation. I am aware that some argue for the 20 minute City, but better to underpromise and overdeliver.

    This is the simple concept that most of peoples day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.

    The national Government can provide leadership in urban policy in cooperation with other levels of Government, with industry and with the community

  17. It takes about 90 minutes to drive from extreme northern suburbs to the extreme southern suburbs of Adelaide. That is such an imposition I lose touch with friends south of the CBD.

    Google maps
    Gawler to McLaren Vale
    90.6 kms
    1h 34m by car
    2h 21m by public transport. (train and bus)..

  18. The AFP is the most politically “sensitive” body in the history of Australian government. I will be extremely surprised if they do anything to upset the political balance in the run up to an election (or any other time in fact), particularly an election that the incumbents are most likely to win. Most of the upper echelons of the AFP are in place because of their political connections and their “soundness”, they are very aware of what is required of good chaps.

  19. Omid. the man who set himself on fore on Nauru, died this afternoon. His family say doctors in Brisbane might have been able to do more for him if he had not been left in the Nauru hospital for so long. I’ve read that he was left in the filthy, decrepit old part of the hospital, not the newly renovated part we paid millions for.

    The misty-eyed Malcolm Turnbull has said nothing, and has not wept for the cameras.

    In other despicable news –

    Last night the men incarcerated on Manus Island were given phones and allowed access to all parts of the centre. The ABC reported this earlier today, with a report the men were very happy with the new arrangements.

    A short time ago, straight after that ABC report, the gates were locked and the phones were taken away. Apparently happiness is forbidden in Dutton’s concentration camps.

    Manus Island internal gates locked, mobile phones banned despite earlier loosening of restrictions,-phone-ban-lifted-after-court-ruling/7369914

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