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. If anybody’s wondering, my keyboard and my typing are still in excellent order. With reference to a certain politician, however, I’m channelling Thurber’s

  2. I am sure the ALP has a running order of policy announcements, with contingencies to meet anything Turnbull can come up with. Remember, boring lacklustre ‘he hasn’t got it’ Shorten has run union campaigns and negotiations dealing with some of the biggest bastards in the country. I reckon he has the measure of Turnbull.

    Just remember who took down Abbott.

  3. Scott McIntyre, the former SBS sports reporter who lost his job last year after Malcolm Turnbull complained about his “despicable” Anzac Day tweets, has doubled down on the controversy.

    On Monday afternoon McIntyre began tweeting images and blocks of text describing Australian soldiers involved in instances of rape, murder, riots and pillaging.

    “Brave Anzacs rioting, pillaging and murdering in Egypt, 1915. Via war memorial website,” he captioned one.

    • Just because –
      Tim Minchin, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Prince Charles and a host of Hamlets from Shakespeare Live! on Saturday 23rd April 2016

  4. Definitely on scrotscum’s watch. August 2014. He didn’t become MiniSS until very late that year.

  5. Chickens coming home to roost for our not so pleasant Morriscum. Next week 4 corners is on negative gearing. Be interesting how ABC plays ball with that topic.

    • The Lyle Shelton displays far fewer ‘Christian’ traits than my Jewish Hindu and Muslim neighbours

    • and twitter is busy with it as well.

      Can a certain Pubster or two take credit? I think so!

  6. Jaycee. What brand of windmill did your GF manufacture? We used to have 23 of them on the farm back in the day, down to just 3 now and using motorised pumps instead.
    My earliest memories as a kid are of the clanging every morning as the mill over at the shearing shed caught the morning breeze about 6am.

    • Toy ones, Kambah…to scale…:

      ” Richard, with barely an education and no record of letters or documentation, left no will or anything of value, and lived his remaining days after Grace’s death in a state of unbelieving dismay, so far and so many years from the original convent a small caravan in the bush to eventually die in a aged-care institution in an advanced state of sometimes violent dementia…but he did leave one thing :

      He left a toy. A tinker’s toy. A windmill ..or wind-pump as some would call it…designed, scaled and made by himself, soldered together, cut and shaped out of old tin cans and wire. It pumps water when placed into the wind, through two troughs into a sleeve-valve of his own design. You will find these singular toys throughout Australia and even a few Europe, England and America…he must have made hundreds of them.”

  7. Just because –
    Tim Minchin, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Prince Charles and a host of Hamlets from Shakespeare Live! on Saturday 23rd April 2016

  8. When old men decided to barter young men for pride and profit, the transaction was called war.

    Len Deighton

  9. Chernobyl legacy:

    On the scale of martyrs villages Chernobyl Kopatchi ranked last, that of neglect. Before April 26, 1986, it was a collective farm village of 1000 inhabitants located four kilometers from the center with its “Palace of Culture” and its library, conforming to Soviet standards. Thirty years later, there remains little or nothing of Kopatchi. In the old kindergarten, cluttered with rubble, a doll and a teddy bear, vials and gauze ribbon, a slipper and a plastic duck on the teacher’s desk, metal beds of carcasses and ABC roots of Russian grammar, “We’ll take off, plane, plane! It is ready to fly. We fly over the forest and soon we will return to our mom. “No one ever returned to Kopatchi.

  10. Good morning Dawn Patrollers. The guns are blazing against the government’s stance on negative gearing.

    Peter Martin and the Grattan Institute lift the lid off the beneficiaries of negative gearing and CGT concessions. And there are no surprises.
    And Peter Martin reports on a Deloitte study that shows the, despite a resurgence in iron ore prices, the budget will be a further $21b into the red.
    More from Martin where he says Turnbull have gone out on a limb over negative gearing.
    John Daley says government spin can’t hide the fiscal damage done by negative gearing.
    Heath Aston writes that Turnbull has torn up his own tax reform debate script.
    Michael Pascoe really gives it to Turnbull and Morrison for their “school boy debating” on negative gearing.
    And the SMH editorial follows up with a further blast.–and-voters-lose-20160422-gocigh.html
    Paul Bongiorno on why Turnbull must tackle Abbott’s legacy.
    Another big company boss gets the treatment at a Senate committee. They have done good work. Sam Dastyari and Wakka Williams have teamed up well.
    Five budget myths that refuse to die.

  11. Section 2 . . .

    It’s getting rather catty between Coles and Woolworths.
    Now, for the sake of what the ABC describes as “balance” can we have an all-atheist Q and A night?
    Why debt is not a dirty word.
    Why is Australia’s wages growth so sluggish?
    Alan Austin writes that the Turnbull government is the most destructively divided government in our history.,8922
    More on the disgraceful treatment of Gillian Triggs.
    I don’t have much time for luxury car dealers but they may well have a point here. Google.
    Looks like Daniel Andrews is doing the job nicely.
    Is this back to the thirties for Austria?
    This is what the submarine deal means to SA. I just hope the Germans get the job today! Google.
    The government is on the wrong side of the World Bank and the IMF when it comes to carbon pricing.
    Misery guts Reith on IR reform.

  12. Section 3 . . . with Cartoon Corner

    How the supermarkets have enlisted us to reduce their wages costs.
    How we can take more steps to counter white collar crime.
    Ron Tandberg on negative gearing.

    John Spooner also has a crack at negative gearing.

    As does Jon Kudelka.
    Cathy Wilcox with political promises in Indi.

    Anzac Day with David Pope.

    Mark Knight channels Game of Thrones to highlight Richmond’s woes.
    David Rowe with an amazingly geared selection cycle.

  13. The highest-paid Australians are set to receive two income tax cuts in next week’s federal budget, setting the scene for a intense battle with Labor, which believes scarce revenue should be skewed towards boosting services and helping people on lower incomes.

    As well as honouring a promise to next year abolish the so-called temporary deficit levy, a 2 percentage point tax increase imposed on earnings over $180,000, the government will raise the $80,001 income tax threshold margin above which each dollar earned is currently taxed at 37¢.

    The threshold increase, which is likely to be modest, is designed to counter the effect of bracket creep, in which workers move into higher tax brackets as wages grow.

    To help fund the bracket creep tax cut, the Australian Public Service could be hit with another efficiency dividend, sources said.

    The two tax moves mean that somebody earning over $180,000 will gain from the abolition of the deficit levy. Every dollar they earn between $80,001 and whatever the new threshold is will be taxed at 32.5 per cent, which is the current tax rate on earnings between $37,001 and $80,000.

  14. Just a little note on those Woolworths ‘volunteer salaried managers’ cooking chooks and baking bread yesterday –

    That back room prep work is usually done by paid staff, often by high school kids and uni students who like to work on public holidays because it gets them extra in penalty rates. They bake the bread and biscuits, they cook the chooks and wash up the equipment, they do all the behind the scenes work customers never see. I know a few young people who have done this – one was employed only to bake and package the bread rolls and biscuits at Coles, which meant she had to be at work very early in the day. Another had the wonderful task of cooking chooks and washing up the cooking trays – everyone hated that job. Managers never do that sort of thing.

    So did Woolies roster on the usual staff numbers yesterday, after 1 pm, or did they deny many staff a chance to work because ‘volunteer’ managers had already done those tasks? It would be interesting to know if Woolies came up with an interesting way to make a few extra dollars by cutting staff numbers.

    • “Together with the savings identified in the 2012-13 MYEFO”

      = “using outdated data …”

  15. BK I am ever so grateful for your Dawn Patrol
    Do you really read the turgid rubbish of Reith, Harcher and Kenny? I rely on your summaries – thanks

  16. Lucy Turnbull is on the board of the Grattan Institute.

    It’s likely her husband saw the Grattan Institute’s report on negative gearing before it was released to the public, giving him plenty of time to prepare his statement.

    Things might be a bit frosty in the Turnbull mansion now – that report not only endorsed Labor’s plans, it recommended even more be done with taxes on capital gains.

    The report can be accessed here –

  17. What an apt description of Scrott’s performance as treasurer.

    Scott Morrison forced to chase his car down slope

    Scott Morrison was yesterday spotted chasing his own car down a slope in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire after the Treasurer neglected to engage the handbrake.

    The man in charge of Australia’s economic levers today conceded to embarrassing blunder, which occurred shortly after he rolled up to address an Anzac Day dawn service at Miranda.

    Mr Morrison had begun walking away from the car when the cries of frantic constituents prompted him to chase after the runaway vehicle as it began to roll. Nobody was harmed.

    “It was early in the morning and I appreciate the help of my good Shire mates,” Mr Morrison told 2GB’s Ray Hadley, who had been tipped off by a listener.

    “It was not one of my finest driving moments, but there you go.”

    Hadley, 61, described the incident as a “senior’s moment” and warned Mr Morrison, 47, that such lapses would become more frequent with age.

    Mr Morrison replied that his wife, Jenny Morrison, could drive, adding: “She’s a much better driver than me anyway.”

    The Treasurer attended a second Anzac Day service in Caringbah before driving to Canberra last night

  18. Guess who wrote this –

    The Turnbull Government’s policy suite isn’t thoroughly Liberal – it’s incoherent.

    Messiness in policy formation can always be overlooked. Government is a human enterprise not a divine one. And few voters are engaged enough in political news to identify complication and contradiction before policies are formally announced. But messiness in policy direction is harder to ignore.

    This is one reason why Bill Shorten looks more electable by the day. To Labor’s credit, they have announced a suite of policies that fit together nicely and tell a coherent story about the world. It’s not a very pleasant story – banks are ripping off their customers, multinational corporations are ripping off the budget, rich taxpayers with large super balances are ripping off poor taxpayers – but it does give a picture of what Labor stands for and what a Shorten government will mean.

    Voters still lack this information about Turnbull. After the entirely-forgettable innovation statement, the Government has been on a constant backfoot – chasing the legacy of decisions made by Tony Abbott’s team, such as the tax reform process, as much as trying to keep up with a stream of Labor announcements.

    Some of this dynamic has been forced upon the Government. Leadership changes are disorderly. But not all of Turnbull’s problems have been forced by circumstance.

    Turnbull needs to grab the agenda, and grab it in a way that is thoroughly – discernibly – Liberal, rather than an emulation of Labor. After all, if voters want the Labor package, why would they vote for the

    Were you right?'s-policies-aren't-liberal,-they're-incoherent/7355740

    • I really didn’t see that coming, Leone. Well done for running it as a quiz. Who’d have thought an IPA twat could make sense?

  19. Shorten is claiming another victory.

    On Tuesday morning the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said Labor was committed to building, maintaining and sustaining all 12 submarines in Australia.

    “It was the resolute opposition of the Labor party which has forced the Liberal party back to the table to stand up for Australian jobs and Australian-built submarines,” he said

  20. Dan from over the street:

    Turnbull has just announced that mums and dads will be able to negatively gear a submarine for their 1 year old child?

  21. I apologise for this comment in advance.

    I’ve just heard a scoop that the new subs will come complete with a complimentary cheese platter and surrender flag.

  22. OK, hang on a minute. There’s fine print. A lot of fine print.

    Those submarines have not even been designed yet. Yes, that’s right. Our government just awarded a contract for stuff that hasn’t even hit the drawing board yet. That sounds very familiar – like those Joint Strike Fighter non-event aircraft.

    And it’s just a commitment, subject to the suitability of whatever is designed.

    I hope no-one in SA is expecting to find work building subs any time soon. It’s going to be years before anything happens, and should this farce of a government get itself re-elected it will probably never happen. We have all heard Liberal election promises too many times to believe anything that lot promise.

    Winning submarine bidder must meet Australia’s ‘range and endurance’ requirements's-endurance/7347034

  23. So – we want the French Barracudas, but they are nuclear and we don’t want nuclear so everything has to be redesigned for diesel. The subs we want have to be ultra-long range, and the French ones are designed for pottering around European waters, so that needs reworking. Then we don’t want the French weapons systems, we want Yank ones, so that will mean different computer systems to run the weapons. This is all starting to sound like Collins Mark II.

    A question – if whatever the rest of the world is using is not suited to our specific needs then why the frack can’t we design and build our own?

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