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. Razz and I were living in Tassie when the Port Arthur Massacre happened. The whole state went into shock. There were no smiles on faces for weeks. We’ve managed to avoid any reference to it since.

  2. And I would like to know too.

  3. The Tele is re-hashing the scare campaigns that resulted in the Abbott government. Good luck with that!

    Anyone can look out the window and see that summer in the Eastern states has been more than 6 months long. 25 degree days are now the rule.

    The Great Barrier Reef is in a mass bleaching event as the oceans heat up.

    Drought sweeps the land.

    Coal is tanking as a commodity. Fossil fuel generation is on track to losing its primacy. Mining companies are paying only what they feel like paying, with the rest going offshore.

    Negatively gearing houses (that are now worth less than was paid for them), for 1-year old babies’ nest eggs, is trumpeted by a Prime Minister who holds Cayman Islands bank accounts and an amateur Treasurer as a wise, moral, wholesome – and savvy – thing to do.

    A gulag set up to be used for a year, is now three years down the track, and is about to be closed. This is characterized as “PNG’s problem”. The inmates are to be sent to the already overcrowded Nauru hellhole, rife with ill-health, unemployment, political corruption, over-crowding and rape.

    Tax policies change weekly.

    Slogans are used in the crudest way, by the man who said he didn’t want to use any slogans.

    The economy is tanking, the dollar falling again, and we are experiencing negative inflation.

    Partially subsidized industries employing tens of thousands have closed down, replaced by others that employ a few thousand, are 100% subsidized, and cost the government 20 times as much per worker.

    That take off of The Scream on the front page of the Tele seems about right, but for all the wrong reasons.

  4. Maybe I just don’t know what “gazumped” means.

    The federal government has gazumped a Labor policy announcement by moving to appoint a new disability discrimination commissioner.

    Federal cabinet has agreed to appoint a full-time commissioner to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, reversing a 2014 decision to abolish the role, which was absorbed into the age discrimination commissioner’s job.

    It is understood the appointment will be announced next week.

    The government has been facing pressure from advocates who argued disability-related complaints formed the Australian Human Rights Commission’s biggest caseload.

    On Thursday Labor announced it would reinstate a full-time commissioner in government, but that would involve scrapping the position held by former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson.

    “Pleased that the govt has again followed Labor’s lead and announced a f/t disability commissioner, straight after our announcement today,” the shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, tweeted on Thursday.

    • Just today’s latest example of Labor setting the agenda and the government scrabbling around to catch up.

      I can’t help wondering which superannuated Liberal hanger-on the government has in mind for this position. Please, please don’t let it be Bronwyn of the Kerosene Baths.

    • is the appointment to be made next week or after the election?
      do you believe them?

  5. More crock from the Sprout

    Despite comments from PNG representatives – which I’ll bring more on shortly – Dutton is maintaining that Australia is not bound at all by the PNG supreme court ruling, and that the 850 men are not Australia’s responsibility.

    The supreme court ruling doesn’t require the centre to be closed immediately. An “open centre-style arrangement… may deal with some of the concerns the judges had” and allow a centre to continue operating.

    Australia will work with PNG on the options “available to them”, says Dutton, but the starting and finishing point is No Settlement In Australia.

    There is a “difficulty” with Iranian detainees as their country own’t take forced returns. “The PNG government will have to sort that out, and it’s an issue for them.”

    This was supposed to happen last night; not this morning

    23-year-old Omid, who suffered severe burns after setting himself alight yesterday, has reportedly left Nauru in an air ambulance, bound for a Brisbane hospital.

    • The men on Manus Island don’t want an ‘open centre-style arrangement’. They have been fighting against being moved to such an ‘arrangement’ for some time now. The plan was to move those men who were declared genuine refugees to another open camp. Those men refused to go because they feared for their safety in a place that allowed easy access to not-very-friendly locals. Some have been forcibly moved. Others have been threatened with beinng forcibly sent overseas.

      There was a rush on to clear the detention camps by moving the inmates to open camps ahead of the PNG Supreme Court decision. It has not gone well.

      Written a month ago- before that court decision was announced. Puts paid to the MSM spin aboput the government being taken by surprise, too.

  6. Fair dinkum, another 2 months of this and I’ll go spare:

    The battlelines have been drawn on climate change ahead of an imminent election campaign, with the government reprising elements of Tony Abbott’s long-running scare campaign against Labor’s plans for a price on carbon.

    Sections of the media have also indicated they are willing to once again campaign ferociously against any carbon pricing mechanism. In a dramatic front page dominated by a ghostly skeleton, News Corp’s Daily Telegraph said voters had woken “in fright” at the “horror show” of Labor’s revamped policy.

    Read more:

    We were told the ABCC was the most important battleline in Australian politics. Then it was bracket creep. Then the GST. Then it was negative gearing. Then super. Then Bill Shorten’s suits.

    Forgive me if I got the chronological order wrong, but I hope youse get my drift.

    Now it’s Climate Change, another Great Big New Tax On Something-or-other.

    The only thing were were told was unimportant was that the Prime Minister has millions stashed away in the Cayman Islands. Move along now you Class Envy Warriors. Nothing to see here.

    Nothing to see?

    Yeah. That’s what the Caymans are for, dummies.

  7. Not only but also …

    Scientists are turning their attention to the Western Australian coast, with evidence emerging of the same coral bleaching that has affected 93 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef. A team of research scientists has just completed a monitoring trip in the Kimberley, with reports that 60 to 90 per cent of sites at Scott and Seringapatam Reefs are affected.

    Not yet, bozo

    Coral bleaching off Western Australia’s northern coast has been described as a “great concern” by Environment Minister Albert Jacob, but he says there is relief the Ningaloo Reef and Abrolhos islands do not appear to have been affected.

  8. BB

    I hope Aguirre was right in an earlier comment, that we’ve been here and done that, no more. I guess time will tell.

  9. And in another no-news story

    Disunity within Labor over offshore processing?

    James Massola reveals in Fairfax newspapers that three Labor MPs – lower house member Melissa Parke, and senators Lisa Singh and Sue Lines – have called for the men on Manus Island to be brought to Australia, in the wake of the PNG Supreme Court’s judgement that their detention is illegal.

    Complete with snide remark.

  10. It’s about time someone said this. Why the MSM have not bothered challenging Scrott on his blatherings about negative gearing being so popular with those who have taxable income under $80,000 is just one of those mysteries.

    If he talked about people with gross incomes of less than $80,000 he might have a shred of credibility, but the MSM just keep repeating the garbage.

  11. I saw you guys mentioning Waleed Aly on the previous page. Funny, I was thinking much the same thing when I saw something of his tweeted last night. It was from The Project and it went something like, “If you’re downloading this segment and have to wait even a second for it to buffer, you know who to blame.”

    That missed the point entirely, and feeds into the misconception that was put about by the Liberals at the time, that we only want an NBN so that we can download videos more quickly, ie for entertainment. It’s not about watching a segment from The Project a few seconds earlier, it never was. And that quote from Aly makes us all sound lazy, impatient and selfish.

    But that’s always been his problem. He speaks to the soft-headed and the politically naive. He did the same thing when he was on ABC Radio too, simplified and dumbed down issues to the point where everything was just a question of convenience and ‘feel-good politics’ for his audience. He’s a good fit for The Project, and I think he’s probably doing some good there, considering you rarely get a view left of the heart of the Liberal Party anywhere on commercial TV. That still makes him a lightweight though. An unusually intense lightweight, but that’s about as far as it goes.

  12. What the frack is this about?

    Latest email from Labor –

    Did you see this video from Waleed Aly on The Project last night about Labor’s housing affordability policy and Malcolm Turnbull?

    If we didn’t know it already, after his performances this week, it’s official — Malcolm Turnbull is out of touch and the Liberals don’t have a clue.

    [Aly’s video inserted here, inclding the derogatory remarks about Shorten and the canned laughter]

    Mr Turnbull is really struggling to articulate just why Labor’s housing affordability policy irks him so much. Labor’s policy has been backed by experts and modelling and is designed to help first home buyers looking to start a life and a family — people currently being priced out of the housing market.

    Not everyone will have seen this video, but you can help make sure the message about Turnbull is seen by swinging voters today.

    Will you contribute just $55 to help us run five ads on Facebook to reach swinging voters making up their minds about Malcolm Turnbull right now?

    The Liberals are doing everything they can to run a false, scare campaign against Labor’s plan to finally improve housing affordability for Australians being priced out of the housing market.

    And you can bet they’ll throw everything they have at this — they will outspend us three to one this election with donations from their big corporate backers.

    Mr Turnbull’s out of touch. We can’t afford another Liberal Prime Minister who doesn’t understand what life is like for everyday Australians.

    Thanks for your support,

    George Wright
    National Campaign Director

    Surely Labor can find a better way of getting their message out.

    • I don’t mind the emails – I just question the thinking behind using this particular video as an advertisement.

  13. Waffles “Decisions-What-Decisions?” has a problem or two

    So where are we this afternoon? Not much further than this morning, with the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea at a stalemate over who is responsible for the 850-odd detainees on Manus Island. There are cross party and internal splits, but as yet no clear plan about what anyone is going to do.

    Here are the key points to mull over before I end the blog for today.

    The Manus Island detention centre will close at some point soon, after the Supreme Court of PNG deemed the incarceration of asylum seekers illegal.

    PNG has said Australia is to find alternative arrangements for the detainees, and that it was never part of the agreement that they would hold people for so long.

    Peter Dutton maintains PNG is responsible for the detainees, and they will not settle permanently in Australia.

    PNG high commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani, says discussions will start next week on working out a plan to close the centre. “It’s an issue Australia has to deal with, that’s our position,” he said.

    Both Nauru and Christmas Island could be used to house the men, Dutton has indicated, but he said the first step was to allow PNG to work through the court judgement.

    The offshore system faces another legal challenge next week, with a supreme court case hearing an application for the men held on Manus Island to be compensated for their three years of illegal detention.

    Broadspectrum, the company which runs the centre, has placed its shares in a trading halt.
    Labor has called on the Australian government to find a way to keep the centre operating in PNG, and Dutton told 2GB “open centre-style arrangement… may deal with some of the concerns the judges had”.

    Opposition leader Bill Shorten said his party supported offshore processing, but it was never meant to be indefinite. He labeled the Coalition’s handling of the situation a “trainwreck”.
    In contradiction to comments made by Malcolm Turnbull, Dutton revealed this morning the government has been aware the centre would close for months.

    Turnbull did not detail the government’s plan, but reiterated no one would be settled here and said “a strong Australia is a secure Australia”.

    Three Labor MPs, Melissa Parke, Lisa Singh and Sue Lines, have broken ranks and called for the men to be brought to Australia. “We have caused them enough suffering already. This is a sick game and it needs to end,” Parke told Fairfax.

    On Nauru the 23-year-old man who set himself alight yesterday morning was today flown to Brisbane for medical treatment. He is in a critical condition, and Doctors for Refugees has criticised the length of time it took to evacuate.

    Detainees report an increase in acts of self harm on Nauru, and despair on Manus as people follow Australian news on the fallout of the PNG court decision.

    The Refugee Council of Australia has called for “cooler heads” to prevail in Australia’s asylum policies, and argues the PNG Supreme Court has given the government an opportunity to re-think its offshore detention policy.

  14. Last week under the thread ‘Safe Rates Fiasco’ I mentioned how Peter Hendy had exposed the true motivation for scrapping the RSRT when he championed the plight of a so called ‘Mum and Dad’ small business who operated a fleet of 60 trucks. That business was Bobbins Transport.

    I think this article by David Donovan from Independent Australia adds considerable weight to my opinion that the disgraceful and dishonest campaign to scrap the RSRT was never about helping struggling small businesses but was always about protecting the profits of large freight companies at the expense of the safety of other road users.,8930

  15. No wonder they were so eager to rush to a second vote! Their latest newsletter denying that they “misled” staff has now brought this article to the attention of all staff, many of whom might have missed it (aka the “Streisand Effect”.)

    Defence Department bosses misled workers ahead of key workplace agreement vote

    The reason for trying to shift conditions out of the agreement into unenforceable policy is now abundantly clear:

    Public service sackings should be ‘respectful, blame free’: workforce review

  16. Manus Island detainees’ compensation claims to be heard in court
    Lawyers seek ‘reasonable compensation’ for detainees and say asylum seekers denied their constitutional rights must be released back to Australia

    Australia’s offshore detention regime on PNG faces another legal challenge next week, with the possibility the supreme court in Port Moresby could order that the men held on Manus Island be compensated for their three years of illegal detention.

    A second challenge to the constitutionality of the offshore detention arrangements on Manus has been brought by lawyer Ben Lomai, on behalf of more than 300 of the detained men.

    The case is before the supreme court Monday

  17. Begging letter from the Liberals. They must be missing that $4,300,000 the NSW Electoral Commission is keeping safe for them.


    At the last election, Australians made it very clear that they rejected Labor’s carbon tax.

    In office, Labor had imposed the world’s biggest carbon tax (despite promising not to) and put up electricity prices for every Australian family.

    Yesterday Bill Shorten announced that he wanted to re-introduce this tax on electricity.

    But he didn’t have the honesty to tell Australian families how much it will cost them.

    Labor’s own modelling, however, shows that to reach a target similar to Labor’s, wholesale electricity prices would need to be 78% higher in 2030.

    This would drive up costs for Australian families, pensioners and businesses.

    Tony, we need your help to stop Bill Shorten from hitting Australians with yet another electricity tax.

    Can you donate $15, $35 or $50 to our campaign to stop Bill Shorten’s carbon tax?

    This election is critical and we need your help to ensure we stop Bill Shorten becoming Prime Minister.


    Tony Nutt

    “78%” higher than WHAT in 2030? Today’s prices? Why would that be surprising?

    “78%” higher than the cost of the loss to Australia through drought, coral bleaching or inundation by rising sea levels?

    Maybe he means “78%” higher than the cost of treating the tropical diseases that would spread south as the climate warms?

    Or perhaps “78%” higher than Direct Action, which is working just so brilliantly already?

    If the Australian voters fall for yet another Carbon Tax scare campaign as thin as this one, I’ll give up observing politics and take up gardening. There’ll be all those weeds that used to grow only in Cooktown (but which now grow in Sydney) that I’ll need to keep under control.

    • I thought modelling showed that Labor’s plan to close down coal-fired power stations would increase the WHOLESALE price of electricity by 2%. Given that we pay $1 per day in grid charges I can’t see how Labor’s policy will increase prices by 78% unless they dont control price gouging

  18. Turnbull says he is a ‘primary producer’ because he owns a farm. Around here it’s a popular tax lurk to buy a small property, bung in a few avocado trees and call yourself a ‘primary producer’. It’s a great lurk, you get lots of lovely tax deductions and concessions without actually having to produce much.

    Can you seriously imagine Waffles getting those manicured fingernails dirty by working on a tractor or harvesting spuds? The only thing he produces is hot air.

    I bet Waffles’ accountants take full advantage of every possible primary producer tax lurk.

    Malcolm Turnbull: Rhodes scholar, merchant banker, republican. And now we know, a shooter

    Malcolm Turnbull: Rhodes scholar, merchant banker, lawyer, technology enthusiast, republican. You thought you knew everything about the Prime Minister, but what about Malcolm the shooter?
    Mr Turnbull was in Tasmania on Thursday to mark the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre and revealed another side of himself when drawn on the debate over gun laws.
    “I’m a primary producer and have a firearms licence and I know exactly what you’re talking about,” he told Hobart radio station 7HO FM host Mick Newell, who told Mr Turnbull he was a recreational shooter and supported strict gun laws.
    “Responsible gun use and gun ownership is a critical element. It is a critical part of our safety,” Mr Turnbull added

    It’s possible today’s anniversary in Tasmania was organised simply so Waffles could swan around in front of the cameras. I wouldn’t put it past him to pull a stunt like that.

  19. jaycee@jaycee ‏@trulyjaycee now

    Desperate people do desperate things. What WE in our safety consider foolhardy, reckless, erratic, may just be the panic of a hopeless soul.

  20. They’re great, aren’t they? They harp on about carbon pricing, promise us $550 a year if we vote for them, the $550/year never materialises, everyone notices, and then they warn us about carbon pricing all over again as if they think we’re so stupid we’ll just believe we did get the money.

    At a time when global warming is so obvious everyone has cottoned onto it.


    • “At a time when global warming is so obvious everyone has cottoned onto it.”
      It was why I was thinking please please please please let it be when indications of a possible Godzilla El Nino hove in to view. Locally, great electoral timing. Internationally, great for the Paris agreements. Bonus thank fluck as the 1998 monster El Nino’s distortion of trend/averages that the Bolts of the world used to prove climate change would be washed out of the numbers.

  21. Indicators to the left of me . torpedoes to the right of me . But here am I…..

  22. Hypocrisy

    The Federal Government has promised a “full complement” of commissioners for the Australian Human Rights Commission, as it criticises Labor for wanting to abolish one position if it wins the election.

    Labor has promised to reinstate a full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner if elected and axe the Human Rights Commissioner, a job formerly held by Tim Wilson.

    Mr Wilson stood down to be a Liberal candidate in the upcoming Federal election and his replacement will be announced next week.

    Attorney-General George Brandis said the ALP’s policy would “significantly set back” the cause of human rights in Australia.

    “It shows how little Labor cares about our fundamental political freedoms, including freedom of speech, opinion, religion, association and freedom of the press, that it is once again proposing to abandon this role,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.

    Labor’s plan would reverse a decision made by the former Abbott Government in 2014, which saw the Disability Discrimination Commissioner merge with the Age Discrimination Commissioner, resulting in Graeme Innes’ term not being renewed.

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