The modern world was shaped by the wars of the twentieth century. The centenary of Gallipoli provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the many wartime legacies – human, political, economic, military – that forged independent nations from former colonies and dominions. The carnage of the world wars, and those that followed, gave extra meaning to the phrase 'lest we forget'. Beyond the commemorations, consequences still reverberate.
Griffith Review’s editor Julianne Schultz leads a conversation with contributors Frank Bongiorno, Tim Bonyhady, Meredith McKinney and Peter Stanley on the lingering social impact of conflict – the Enduring Legacies – the subject of Griffith Review edition 48.
Lecture: Griffith Review – Enduring Legacies
Location: National Library of Australia
Speakers: Guy Hansen, Julianne Schultz, Peter Stanley, Frank Bongiorno, Meredith McKinney, Tim Bonyhady
Guy Hansen: Good evening, everybody. My name is Guy Hansen and I’m director of exhibitions at the National Library of Australia and it’s with great pleasure that I welcome you to this event tonight. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I thank the elders, past and present, for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call home. I’m delighted to see so many faces in the audience here to discuss the Griffith Review, edition 48, Enduring Legacies. It’s a great pleasure to be collaborating with the Griffith Review tonight and throughout 2015, to bring issues and conversations in the journal to Canberra. The Griffith Review was established in 2003 and since then has been setting the agenda for current affairs discussion through its themed editions. The Griffith Review provides outstanding public intellectual discussion and I think is a vital platform for long-form writing, and I think that’s captured very much in the book we’re discussing tonight, Enduring Legacies, ‘cause it really is a book with these fantastic essays. It … the theme of course is the legacy of the 20th Century, and the wars that Australia has been involved in, and I think it’s a lovely tie-in with our exhibition which is on at the moment, Keepsakes, Australians in the Great War, where you can see some fantastic material about Australia’s experience with the First World War. So I’d like to welcome tonight’s chair, Doctor Julianne Schultz, to the National Library. Julianne is the founding editor of the Griffith Review and a professor at the Griffith Centre for Cultural Research, she was made a member of The Order of Australia in 2009 for her services to the community as a journalist, writer, editor and academic and Julianne will chair tonight’s proceedings. Join me in welcoming our host. (Applause).
Julianne Schultz: Thank you very much, it’s a great pleasure and privilege to be back here at The National Library, we generally do a couple of events here each year and they’re always highlights on our calendar, so it’s great to be back here for this particular edition. Knowing that the centenary of Gallipoli was coming up this year we felt that it was a topic that we couldn’t afford to miss, but we were very determined to try and find a way of addressing it which was different to what we anticipated would be the mainstream conversation that was happening around this anniversary. So I was very pleased to be able to work with Peter Cochrane on pulling together this distinguished group of authors who’ve all written for this edition. Peter is a very fine historian and his knowledge of this field and of the people who had something new and original to say meant that when we went into the commissioning process 18 months or so ago, I had every confidence that we would be aiming high and probably getting there. And I think that’s what we’ve managed to do, I mean, I think that the range of writers that are … who have participated in this collection are really presenting new material on a subject that I think many of us may have thought had been done to death, so to speak. So (chuckles) bad pun. So what we decided to do was to approach the anniversary by looking at the legacies, not just of what happened in Gallipoli or the subsequent battles of the First World War, but to really try and unpick some of the legacies of the wars of the 20th Century, because of course, this year is the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, but it’s the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific, it’s the … whatever anniversary it is of the end of the Vietnam War, I mean, it’s one of those five number years, which works for a whole lot of different areas and as we started to think about that we realised that the making of nation argument plays out in all sorts of different ways and they’re some of the legacies that are explored in this edition. I think at this point it’s probably fair to say that there’s a bit of Gallipoli fatigue around and certainly the commercial media was somewhat disappointed by the lack of interest in the programs that they were broadcasting, but on the other hand, a quarter of Canberra’s population turned up for the dawn service on Anzac Day and I forget the millions, I think it was 3.6 million or something watched the ABC’s commemoration, so there was still an interest and a hunger for it. I’m sort of hoping that now that that’s done, that there is a platform for a different sort of conversation that bounces off that and that’s a bit of what we’re going to do tonight. So to help us on that way this evening, let me introduce our four panellists, each of whom have written wonderfully for this edition. I’m sure they’re all quite well-known to you, but I’ll go through the formality of introducing too. Professor Peter Stanley at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, has had a very distinguished career writing about military history and so on, in this city for a long time, he was formally the principal historian at the War Memorial and for a time at the Australian … the Museum of Australia as well. He’s the author of 20 … it says here 27 books, but he tells me the 28th is about to be published, so he’s prolific, but an increasingly important voice in this … well, a very important voice in this domain. So please welcome Peter.
Peter Stanley: Thank you. Thank you.
Julianne Schultz: Frank Bongiorno lectures in history at the Australian National University and has been making his presence very much felt with the … a series of important books in recent years. This essay that he’s written in this edition is part of an Australian Research Council funded project examining war and memory, Anzac Day at home and abroad, a centenary … history of Australia’s national day. Please welcome Frank. (Applause) Meredith McKinney lived in Kyoto for 20 years and she’s been a visiting fellow at the Japan Centre at the Australian National University, where she translates classical and contemporary Japanese literature and is on the short list for an award for the New South Wales Premier’s Award for her translation work, coming up at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in a few weeks, and Meredith has written a truly original piece, which is just a fantastic addition to this edition, which she’ll talk about in a minute, but please welcome Meredith. (Applause) And last but not least, Professor Tim Bonyhady, Director of the Australia Centre for Environmental Law at ANU, he was one of the curators of the National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibition, Vienna Art and Design, his books include … one which he’ll talk about tonight, but one which we won’t talk about tonight, The Colonial Earth, which won both the New South Wales’ and Queensland’s Premier’s History Prize. So please welcome Tim. (Applause) So what I’d like to do is to ask each of our speakers to talk a little bit about their pieces, but I want to put it in the context of the final words of the volume, which are the final words in Tim’s essay, just so we sort of frame this discussion, and Tim will talk about his piece, but he … the thing I want to read to you is, a family’s story, however striking is not enough, context is vital. Anniversaries can be more than occasions for remembrance, they may transform our understanding of what is being commemorated, that has never happened to me in Australia, but in Vienna it did, when I least expected it, 75 years after the fact. So let’s talk about … a little bit about how that remembering, forgetting, commemorating and what gets lost in that process. So we’ll come to you at the end and we’ll start with Peter.
Peter Stanley: Okay. Thanks, Julianne, and good evening everybody. The other week Mervyn Bendle described me as a foe of Anzac. Now, I don’t think I am a foe of Anzac, but I do believe in asking straight questions about Anzac and what it means for us. The essay in the Griffith Review, I’m very pleased to be a part of, but the contention I offer is that there’s been a great deal of attention, adulation even, paid to Victoria Cross winners, especially in the last decade or so, much more than previously, so there’s new statues being unveiled, new books published, naming of streets and parks and things. Now I need to say straight up that of course, if you were awarded the Victoria Cross, you were without question brave, but not all brave men received the Victoria Cross, it was a very subjective and political process. For example, just to point out that about half the Australian Victoria Cross winners on the western front were awarded their medals in 1918, so clearly it’s not just a matter of bravery, it’s bravery within a particular context. And the way in which Victoria Crosses are being treated at the moment, I think departs quite substantially from the way in which Charles Bean treated them nearly a century ago. So, for example, there have been four Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians who served in Afghanistan, all brave men, I concede that, of course, but some of them have become celebrities. So, for example, Ben Roberts-Smith, VC, is on television even more than I am (all laughing). So clearly, this is a worry. So what does this mean for us? And I’m arguing that the adulation that the Victoria Cross is receiving at the moment has an implication for the way in which we understand the centenary of the Great War, the war which we’re commemorating at the moment, because for most people in that war, death was industrial, anonymous, disgusting, it was slaughter. But when you focus on the Victoria Crosses, of course, you focus on the individual, the heroic, the noble, and to point to Julianne’s picking up Tim’s argument, what does this mean? What’s the context? Well this anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on what that treatment of the Victoria Cross means and I think that it’s misrepresenting the Great War, and that’s something I think we ought to think and talk about. Thank you.
Julianne Schultz: Okay, do you want to tell us a bit more about why you think it’s misrepresenting?
Peter Stanley: Well, I thought I had, but the … Robert Macklin, who’s a Canberra author, possibly in the audience, wrote a book about … one of the many recent books about Victoria Cross winners, and he said that focus on the Victoria Cross highlights the egalitarian strain in Australia military history. Now frankly, I think that’s nonsense because it’s the absolute opposite of egalitarian, that focussing on the hundred Australians who’ve won the Victoria Cross, compared to the million or so who served in war, clearly is focusing on a very small, elite, select group and it’s diverting our attention from the mass experience because the mass experience was none of those things, it generally wasn’t heroic, it was unpleasant, it was anonymous, but it’s one that we should focus on and it’s one that Australians used to focus on, so I think we need to be wary that our military history is being unduly skewed.
Julianne Schultz: Alright, okay. Thank you. And I knew that by pushing you for that little bit extra we’d get a very good segue to Frank (laughing).
Peter Stanley: Ah, great. Yeah.
Frank Bongiorno: Thanks, Julianne, well yes I wrote about Anzac and labour called The Legend with Class, and it really … my interest in that topic in some way began with the historians, you know, tho … that group of historians now, really 40, 50 years ago, and I’m thinking of Russel Ward, Geoffrey Serle, very well-known historians of their generation, who really grappled with why a legend that, in the 19th Century had been associated with all that was radical in Australian history, the very things Peter was just talking about actually, egalitarianism, anti-authoritarianism, all these things had been associated, I guess, with the left and yet they come to attach themselves to Anzac and seem then to have been appropriated by the right. And I found this a really fascinating debate, which in some ways, like a lot of historical debates, ran out of steam and seems a little bit quaint now, but it seems to me that it still raises really interesting issues about the ways in which, particularly the first AIF, I think, you know, the Australian army in the First World War, discloses the fact that it was predominantly a working class army, in fact, we have someone here, Peter, who wrote a book a number of years ago, Bad Characters, that I think is about one of the ways in which we can see it as a working class army, as you would expect an army of more than 400,000 people, it had some pretty bad characters in it, it had the respectable as well as the rough, it had those who saw the war as a test of their character, as well as those who saw it as a …
Meredith McKinney: Opportunity.
Frank Bongiorno: … as an outlet for their criminal behaviour, and so that was one way of answering that kind of question that does fascinate me, so in terms of legacies, I guess I’m interested in, what is the legacy of all of that for working class history, for labour movement history, for Labor Party history, and I end the essay by really talking about, essentially Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. I’ve been … last few years, researching the 1980s and it seemed to me that that is the crucial decade, I think, in the modern revival and reinvention of Anzac, and if so, we really needed to look at, I think, the ways in which Bob Hawke and the Labor Party in the ‘80s grappled with it, and then of course, very famously, Keating in the ... that eulogy, I think, which is the … to me, the greatest document really, perhaps that we have in our public culture, of the First World War, his eulogy to the unknown soldier on the 11th of November 1993. I think if this come out a little later I might have ended with Tony Abbott, ‘cause I think that his dawn service speech recently is an absolutely fascinating document because of the way in which it actually elevates the AIF out of history, I mean they are now really a part of the communion of saints and (all laughing) I thought that the last … read the last p … well in fact, let me read it, I brought it in. Yes, they are us, he says, they are us, and when we strive enough for the right things, we can more like them. So much has changed in 100 years, but not the things that really matter, duty, selflessness, moral courage, always these remain the mark of a decent human being, they did their duty, now let us do ours. They gave us an example, now let us be worthy of it, they were as good as they could be in their time, now let us be as good as we can be in ours. Those of us who were raised as Catholics, remember that that is effectively a sketch of the saint and I think that’s a really … to me a very important moment actually, in the modern evolution of war memory in Australia.
Julianne Schultz: It’s interesting, I mean, in that because you … what you write about is that process by which the left went from not having a great regard … feeling that this was a history that was owned by the right, to one that turned, in a flash to one that, under Hawke, essentially became a … the Labor Party became very much to own it as well, which is, I think, an interesting flip to Meredith in terms of the process of talking about Japan and its relationship with nuclear history.
Meredith McKinney: Yes. Yes, that’s absolutely right, Julianne, and it’s something that I wasn’t aware of until I started delving into what produced the essay that I wrote, which was about the relationship between Hiroshima, as in the symbol of the atomic bomb and all that that reverberates with and Fukushima, which is the nuclear disaster that happened in 2011 which is still, speaking of reverberations, reverberating hugely in Japan in all sorts of ways. And why I wrote the essay, really, was … or, well, I was invited to write the essay, I have to say, but I was very pleased to do it because I had a huge question in my mind, which is that when I first went to Japan after Fukushima, a couple of weeks after it had happened, I was expecting there to be a lot of talk, in which Hiroshima and Fukushima, were in some way brought into the conversation together and what I found was, that there was, to me, a very puzzling silence around anything to do with the relationship between the two and while the two are obviously hugely different things, nevertheless the fact that this was a nuclear disaster of unprecedented proportions, that it happened to Japan, twice, seemed to me hugely significant and very puzzling that people were … in fact, it seemed to me, resisting any kind of connection between the two, so I sort of sensed that there was this silence, this strange silence was a kind of cultural … well, you could say it was a cognitive dissonance in a way, there were two things that just weren’t cohering in people’s minds and in fact when I went on the internet and had a little look at the conversation you always find these days on the internet around everything, people were reacting quite angrily to the idea of any connection at all between Hiroshima and Fukushima. So I thought, well, what’s going on? Why not just go back and see what the story actually is, how did nuclear power come to be in Japan? How did it come to arrive at the point that it has arrived at, you know, where it’s just a huge and very problematic presence in Japan. And I discovered something which is a very complex story, but actually has affected us all, not just Japan, I think, which is that directly after the war, in order to contain the horrors that the atomic bomb produced around the world, the kind of shock of the possibility of nuclear war as a real threat now, and the dreadful devastation of the bomb, the US administration decided on a tactic to promote nuclear energy as a peaceful thing and there was a very famous speech in 1953 by President Eisenhower, called Atoms for Peace, that was the name of his speech and in it he was promoting the atom as not something which was inevitably going to drag people towards disaster, but was in fact going to be a saviour for us all by producing a whole new technology which would encourage peace and prosperity far into the future, for ever and ever, amen (chuckling). And when I looked into the question of that, I realised that there was a great deal of cynicism behind that because it was essentially a Cold War tactic, as far as I could see, so my essay really tries to delve into that and to see just how, in what fascinating ways, in fact, that has led to Japan’s present situation. And it’s a long story and I would encourage you to read about Atoms for Peace and perhaps the essay as well, if you’re interested at all, it is very fascinating.
Julianne Schultz: So things get remembered and forgotten and wiped out of collective memory, so, Tim, in terms of your experience of trying to put those pieces back together again, tell us how you got to the essay.
Tim Bonyhady: Can I say that one of … I think one of the great strengths of this issue of the Griffith Review, is its range and Meredith’s piece, about Japan is a really powerful example of that and hopefully my piece about Kristallnacht is okay as well. It came about when Peter Cochrane, who’s sitting over there, rang me and talked about the issue and said could I write a piece about the holocaust and I said I’d think about it and within a couple of hours I’d worked out that there was something I’d been wanting to write for a while, which I thought might fit. Unlike the other pieces, it’s a kind of … a piece of micro-history, I … in 2013, my book, Good Living Street, which has come out here in 2011, was published in Vienna is translation and up to about a fortnight before I left, I thought that I was simply going to spruik the book and running up Mount Ainslie just behind the War Memorial, I suddenly realised that it was the 75th anniversary … I was going in November and it was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht and it was also the 75th anniversary of when my mother and grandmother and great aunt had fled Vienna, which I wrote about in Good Living Street. And the week or whatever I had in Vienna in November 2013 were extraordinary, but one of the most extraordinary things which happened to me, which is what my essay is really about, is that on my final night in Vienna, which was the night of Kristallnacht, I was sitting in this little restaurant which I often go to and I was reading the newspapers and I was particularly reading their reportage and their essays about the 75th anniversary and I read a piece by a man called Frederick Morton, who’s a famous American writer, who was a refugee from Vienna, and he wrote about his father’s arrest in Vienna in 1938. And then he also wrote, which a lot of people who write about Crystal Night do, those men were typically … it was always men who were arrested and they were often sent to Dachau, and he wrote about his father’s return and his father returning bald, my essay’s called, My Grandfather’s Head. And I’d written in Good Living Street a little bit … my book is main … that book is mainly about my mother’s family, I’d written a little bit about my dad’s family, and I had written a little bit about my grandfather’s return from Dachau and how my dad had gone to the station and one day his dad came back. And sitting in this restaurant in Vienna, reading this account of Frederick Morton’s father, I finally kind of … I’ve been thinking about these things since 2003, devoting a lot of my life to them, and I suddenly realised I’d read a lot of accounts of Crystal Night, and one of … and I suddenly realised that one of things which many, many people had written about in their reminiscences and accounts of Crystal Night and then what happened after, was these men coming back with their heads shaven. And that my dad had never talked about this and the reason he hadn’t talked about it was that my grandfather was already bald, he’d gone bald very young, so one of the great kind of markers of the transformation of the men who were imprisoned in Dachau, who were the last big cohort of men who also were released from concentration camp, by the Nazis, was not just that they’d been bruised and battered and had teeth bashed out, but that the standard, clearest mark of what had happened to them was that they returned with their heads shaven and this hadn’t happened to my grandfather because he already had no hair. And, for me, this was … so this was … I’d never expected to be part of any form of commemoration like this, particularly one in Vienna, and for me there was a lesson in terms of the slowness of understanding history, that here, I’d been on this journey grappling with my mother’s and father’s family and these family stories since my mother died in 2003, and yet here I was a decade later sitting in Vienna and I suddenly had this new understanding of what had happened to my grandfather. And as … in that final paragraph, which Julianne read, this was … on a kind of optimistic level, I guess, one would hope that these commemorations do have that effect for us individually and collectively, that in some kind of way they do give … they do seriously enrich and complicate our understanding of the past, rather than simply being opportunities for sloganeering and possibly electioneering and everything else, and glorification, which they seem to me to have become, and yeah, so my piece is about … on a very micro-level, how that happened to me where I least expected it, in this restaurant in Vienna.
Julianne Schultz: So that gives you a bit of a sense of the range of the edition and it pulls together very beautifully and part of the reason that I’ve put Tim’s piece at the end was, it sort of bookends a piece by Gerhard Fischer, who writes about German mi … what happened to Germans in Australia during the First World War, culminating with the deportation of 6,000 people at the end of the war, many of whom were second and third generation born here, but were identified as German and therefore sent off … sent back to a country that many of them didn’t know. And so it was sort of … I’d said to Gerhard when he was writing it, I said, what I’m interested in is how that sort of multiculturalism … multicultural project, which was there even in the 19th Century took, in a way, to come back after the end of the … the later wars of the 20th Century before it becomes manifest here and your piece actually sewed … tied those ends up very beautifully, as far as I was concerned, in my own editor’s head. So what I’m interested in now, is just to ask each of you to … why you think that so many people in this city came on that cold morning, on the 25th of April, out there for that half an hour of silence, while that commemoration was happening and what it says about in terms of a, sort of, making of a nation. Because there’s a lot of other levels which are actually not about war itself, but speak to that question, so I’ll throw a question that Alex Sloan threw to me on ABC radio this afternoon, why did so many people turn up? What was going on? Peter, you were hiding out, so you can go.
Peter Stanley: I was hiding out, actually I spent Anzac Day on Norfolk Island ‘cause it was inaccessible. Can I say … I wasn’t there …
Julianne Schultz: Yeah.
Peter Stanley: … obviously, but I … but people who were there contest the numbers that have been put about. Now obviously lots of people turned up, you can see that, but whether it was 120,000 appears to be a bit dubious.
Julianne Schultz: Right. Okay.
Peter Stanley: Anyway, but having said that. Clearly it’s important for lots of people and it’s probably important for lots of people here, but I think we need to be clear that it’s not important for a lot of Australians. I mean, even if three million people watched it on the TV or turned out to the services, that still leaves 21 million people who did nothing. So let’s not kid ourselves that Anzac is something that all Australians care about or feel a connection to, ‘cause they don’t, and we’re kidding ourselves if we do. And I think one of the problems is, is that the people who make the books and especially make the television, assume that all Australians know and care about Anzac and that’s one reason why I think, as you mentioned, the television ratings bombed and it’s … several series, Gallipoli, the 60 minute special, the ABC, Australian Story, they all did very poorly in the ratings, in some cases they got less than they thought … than expected, in others they got fewer than they usually get. And I think the reason for that is, is that Anzac is sustained by a relatively small proportion of the country, who cares very deeply about it, but it actually doesn’t connect with a larger proportion of the population, and the key is … just going on, is that Frank mentioned the Prime Minister’s remarks, taking them … the Anzacs out of history, and I think that’s what’s happened in every television program that’s been on lately. Australia, the Story of Us, and of course, it’s not us, it’s the story of them, the war that changed us. It didn’t, it changed them a hundred years ago, didn’t change us, and in every television series, the narrators or the presenters will talk about, we did this and we did that, and of course none of us here did anything, so I think that there’s an important group who control the way in which Anzac is represented in the media, who have a deep attachment to it or believe that people have a deep attachment to it, but I think the truth is otherwise.
Julianne Schultz: Tim?
Tim Bonyhady: I went in 1990, it’s the only time I’ve been, for the 75th anniversary. I think I went partly for kind of professional reasons, I was writing my book about Burke and Wills and was very interested in days of commemoration, very influenced by Ken Inglis and his … all his writing. This year I didn’t go, but I did go jogging up Mount Ainslie later in the day, as I do quite frequently, and it struck me that quite a few of the people came from out of town, was my sense as I kind of jogged through, they weren’t Canberrans. I was curious about the people who were going up the path at the back of the war memorial, at one point early on in the run I thought that quite a few of them were, what one would have at one point called new Australians, who didn’t have any … whose families may not have been here in 1915, and I was wondering whether they were doing the walk purely as tourism or whether they’d already been at the dawn service. From my perspective, I know that as I ran down, someone was speaking, it might have … was Tony Abbott speaking around … was his … someone was speaking around lunchtime, I heard this voice booming out and it talked about how the AIF had fought so that we could all be free, I found that deeply alienating and I must say that I have very little connection … I found it a deeply alienating, all these people with their medals and I have a very complicated relationship with Austria for obvious reason, as a child of refugees, but as I saw all these people parading with their medals, I had this momentary thought that my brother, who lives in Melbourne, has my great uncle’s one Austrian war medal, it was a war medal given to virtually everyone who served in the Austro-Hungarian empire, my great uncle to a large extent was protected and avoided a lot of war service. But I had this moment where I would have liked to have had it and be wearing as a kind of symbol of the different heritages of the people …
Julianne Schultz: Yeah.
Tim Bonyhady: … who live in this country. Yes.
Julianne Schultz: Frank?
Frank Bongiorno: I was just thinking as Tim was speaking then that my great uncle might have been shooting at him because he was in Northern Italy, I mean, he was in that campaign. I don’t know if he had … I imagine he had medals although he never … in fact he … I can’t ever re … he lived next door to us, actually and I can’t ever recall him referring to the f … his experience of the First World War, which as an Italian soldier must have been fairly horrific, I imagine. Look, I’m attracted to the argument that I think for some people, and I take Peter’s point that it may be a bit like rel … formal religious subservience in the sense that, for some people it is clearly performing some kind of spiritual, quasi-religious, numinous type role and I think that the Abbot speech hints at how and why it’s doing that or at least how it’s doing that. I think the family … the issue of family connection is very important, there are a lot of … clearly, a lot of people are attracted to Anzac as a kind of, almost a cult really, I think, because it’s a way of expressing a sense of belonging through family, a sense of belonging to Australia through family and that can have very conservative implications, ‘cause it clearly … it elevates, obviously old … it elevates older families who can trace their origins back before that great wave of Second World War migration, in particular, I think. So I think for me those two elements are very important, but you … none of this would be happening without, as Peter says, the media role, I think is immensely important. So’s the education system, I mean, last year I attended my daughter’s … my daughter’s nine, so she … Grade 3 last year, or Year 3, and they have an Anzac assembly, so it was probably a week or so before Anzac Day, on a Friday, and this is so different from my own upbringing in Melbourne of the 1970s, again in a Catholic school, I mean, I don’t recall Anzac being mentioned, I certainly don’t recall any participation in an Anzac Day service of any kind, and indeed, I mean, I did history, as you’d expect, I guess Australian history in Year 11 and 12. We actually did a course that must have gone for several months on Australia and the two world wars, and there was no teaching of the Anzac legend. So we learnt about the home front, in fact almost exclusively about the home front, so I think a lot of the emphasis on the battlefield, on fighting wars is also something which, in the education system, is of relatively recent revival, it certainly wasn’t something I experienced back in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Meredith McKinney: No, you’re right.
Frank Bongiorno: So I think that there’s been a lot of big changes of that kind, yeah.
Julianne Schultz: Meredith, have you got any thoughts about that?
Meredith McKinney: Well actually, interestingly, this was the first Anzac ceremony that I found myself attending since I was in boarding school in the 1960s (chuckling).
Peter Stanley: And why, Meredith?
Meredith McKinney: Well, because … well partly because I was in Japan for 20 years, but the other part is that I, in fact, do go back to Japan every April and I … by sheer happenstance, I miss Anzac Day, so I really had not come to any Anzac Day ceremony, and I live in Braidwood, I don’t live in Canberra, so the one I saw was a little country town ceremony, which was really very fascinating to me. I knew a lot of the people who were at the ceremony of course ‘cause Braidwood is a small tight community and I really wouldn’t have gone except that I had a couple of visitors from overseas who very much wanted to go. So I was not prepared for anything like what I found, what astonished me was that it seemed to have transformed this little community, for the space of the service, which went on for well over an hour, into a religious gathering, essentially, and I really did feel that very strongly. And I puzzled about it, partly because my memory of Anzac Day in the old days really was, as Frank was saying, very different, also I … being a late child of my father, my father was actually in the First World War, and I have very strong memories of his response to Anzac Day, which was to simply close his eyes and shake his head and turn his back, I mean, he would have nothing to do with it, he just couldn’t bear the thought of the whole thing, even back then. But what struck me, really, was that the transition that’s happened since my father’s time, and was very clearly evident in this little ceremony in Braidwood, was that a hundred years has now passed and we are allowed to make it what we will and it has transformed itself into what we want it … well we, whoever we is … what it is required to be now, nobody is around anymore to say no, in a sense, there’s no voice anymore to gainsay what’s being done to it and what struck me in Peter’s essay very strongly was this idea of the valorisation of things, the lifting of language that was fascinating, Peter, to use words like … you know, I mean, the word sacred comes in, sacrifice …
Peter Stanley: The fallen have become popular again.
Meredith McKinney: The fallen, exactly, yes.
Peter Stanley: When was the last time you heard fallen? And yet it’s all over the place nowadays.
Meredith McKinney: Yes, Yes. And the other interesting thing for me is that, at the moment actually, with a student at ANU, I’m reading a 13th Century war tale, this is a classic Japanese war tale, which is … it’s high literature, it’s wonderful literature actually, very powerful. But it’s a very fine example of what happens after a huge and tumultuous and very bloodthirsty war, which was in the 12th Century in Japan, Japan was torn apart by wars. This is essentially a heroic valorisation of the losing side of that war and it just fascinated me the resonances between that tale and the sorts of things that were being said in Braidwood that day, it was strange … strange continuities going on.
Julianne Schultz: Very interesting. And it’s sort of … it’s striking that in a … as you were saying, no-one’s around to say no, but in a sort of secular age, that there … that quest for something which is of another dimension becomes caught up in it as well. I mean, one of the things that’s been striking me a lot, and I’m not good with sentimentality, but you hear these stories, and I don’t mean in any way to suggest that the people who are saying these things don’t feel it deeply and personally, because I’m sure that they do. But one of the things that struck me in a lot of the talk that’s been around is people walking around gravesites, people talking about Great Uncle Henry, who they never knew, but they’re emoting about how he must have felt and what he went through, which isn’t … I mean, I think anything that gets people to empathise with what others might be going through is actually a good thing on balance, but what’s worried me is this sort of sentimentality that’s attached to it, of what we think they felt. When the people …
Peter Stanley: Joan Beaumont said …
Julianne Schultz: … who came back actually didn’t want to talk about it, you know.
Peter Stanley: No.
Julianne Schultz: At all.
Peter Stanley: No, many of them didn’t. Although we don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves, but …
Julianne Schultz: Yeah, quite (chuckling).
Peter Stanley: Joan Beaumont said an interesting thing the other week, she said if a great nephew or great niece who goes to the grave in France and feels upset, if we call that grief, grief for somebody they never knew and had no understanding of, then what word do we use to describe the feeling of a bereaved … a widow or orphans. And it’s … yes, you don’t like to say it’s sentimental, but we need to find a word that means, the feeling, the emotion that people understandably feel, we all feel, when we think about mass death in war, but we’ve got to make that different to the feeling that the people who are directly involved felt. We don’t seem to be able to make that distinction.
Julianne Schultz: Frank, did you want to comment on that sort of representation, I mean, you talked about your uncle, I mean, presumably there wasn’t a lot of discussion.
Frank Bongiorno: There was nothing, I mean I … the only reason I know, I suspect is my mother told me about that one, and I never … I mean, the other thing is, I don’t know if I had all that much curiosity about it either, and I think that’s, again, the education system operating, that’s … that kids now are asking different sorts of questions. I mean, I just rushed here from teaching a class called debating Anzac, we’re … this is a university course …
Peter Stanley: Should have brought them with you.
Frank Bongiorno: Should have brought them in here (all chuckling). In fact, I did ask them, Peter, but it’s very difficult to get undergraduates at dinner time, they kind of … but, I mean, it’s interesting, their experience as 19, 20, 21 year olds, of Anzac, of, indeed, historical consciousness has been very, very different from my own and it’s not that … I mean, they’re certainly not excessively sentimental, I mean, one of their favourite themes has been the commercialisation of Anzac, which indeed was our topic for this week and they’ve been assiduous about finding some incredible examples of the commercial exploitation of Anzac. But then, the really interesting questions with those students arise when we ask, well, why are we offended by, say, Woolworths doing such and such. What was it? Fre … fresh in our memories.
Meredith McKinney: Fresh in our memories.
Frank Bongiorno: And yet, no-one seems to be deeply offended by Essendon and Collingwood involved in this highly sentimentalised ritual of an AFL football game on Anzac Day and it ... they’ve been, I think, really stimulated by thinking about those kinds of questions, which clearly is something they hadn’t been encouraged to think about coming out of school and it’s been incredibly exciting because we, I guess, who teach Australian history, often have this feeling that students are coming out of school quite bored with it, and they are, and one of the reasons they’re bored is because they’re made to feel guilty about some things and very proud about some things, but perhaps not, in a lot of cases, being taught a critical approach. And I think that the invitation to think about some of these sorts of questions around Anzac has been incredibly … I won’t say enlightening, but stimulating for a lot of these students. It’s a new experience, I think, because in a sense, what a critical history does is it takes it back away from this sense of it being sacred territory and makes it human again, and I think that’s an incredibly important manoeuvre.
Peter Stanley: Could we bring in Japan and Germany-Austria into this, because both of those two nations, regions, have complicated relationships with things that Australians don’t seem to feel …
Frank Bongiorno: Yes.
Meredith McKinney: … particular complication with, you know, Anzac is a straight forward cause for celebration and so on, sad celebration, but both Austria and Germany and Japan have both got much more complicated relationships. Do you want to talk about that? Sorry, I don’t mean …
Julianne Schultz: No, I’m pleased you did that, that’s good (chuckles).
Tim Bonyhady: I don’t know if I can … if you’re getting at, they’re … how they’ve gone about commemorating the First World War …
Peter Stanley: Well just thinking about war in their past.
Tim Bonyhady: Yeah. I mean, definitely with what I’ve been … I mean, the Austrian … my focus is very much Austria, that’s been a big enough kind of thing for me to try and understand from a distance, and I mean, I had a really interesting experience earlier in the year, where someone who had read my book and been at the ANU was coming back to the ANU as a visitor, in one of the research schools, and he was talking about what it was like to be a student in Vienna in 1988, which was the first time they had the big commemoration of the Anschluss, and he was talking about it being … not a gadenksia, but a badenksia, they use both terms, but gadenk is more memorialisation and badenk is much more, you need to think about this and he was talking about that there’d been … he talked about … it was interesting, he talked about 1988 as being a transformative year for him, that this was when he got a kind of new apprecia … he’d come from Carinthia, which had been a very Nazi province, that there’d been an exhibition at the university about the … about what the university had lost in 1938, and it was something like … I’ll get the figures wrong, but in the science faculty, they had lost something like 70% of their faculty, because 70% of their faculty were either Jews or from famil … they were families of Jewish origin and he said to me, and it may or may not be true, that he thought the university had never recovered, that this had been such a devastation of their intellectual life. And so that’s … I mean, I … they’re the kind of things which I’ve been … yeah, the commemorations I’ve been interested … been … that one, the one which happened now or … there were big commemorations on the 50th anniversary. In 2005, they commemorated when the four powers, the USSR, USA, Britain and France pulled out and Vienna stopped being a divided city and there were … they’re the kind of … they’re the things which I’ve engaged with rather than directly to do with war.
Julianne Schultz: But, Tim, be interested for you to reflect on what you’ve written about in the essay, and that is about going to Dachau with your mother in 1971, I mean, she was obviously very determined that you were in touch with or … was it in tou … what was the ra … what was she … do you think she was doing through that travel, I mean, which was somewhat unusual.
Tim Bonyhady: Yeah, so in 1971, was the first time that my mother, who had left Vienna two days after Crystal Night, was the first time that she returned to Austria and we landed in Frankfurt and then made our way to Vienna. And it was the first time my brother and I had been there and when we were in Munich we went twice to Dachau and I make the quip, but I think we … we went twice to Dachau in three days and I make the point, which I think is probably true, who else in 1971 went there twice. We went … it was an education, both for my mother and for us, it was a way of her trying to understand … this was the first … we ended up going to several concentration camps, but it was the first one we encountered and it was … yeah, she both personally and I should say also academically, she’d just begun teaching a course in German cultural history and broader kind of history and so this was actually part of what she was teaching her students at the University of New England. But I don’t know if I actually say it in the essay, but one of the things … and I think that the fact that my grandfather had been there was something we didn’t know and she wouldn’t have talked about, the degree of separation as a result of my parents' divorce was such that she … and my mother’s animosity to my grandfather and his animosity to her was such that we did this without personal connection and it was only a couple of weeks later, we went to a small concentration camp called Ebensee, which is near Salzburg, and that was the first time that this was personalised for me and my brother because there was a cousin of my father’s who lived in Melbourne who we knew as children, who had been in Ebensee, and so that was the first time that became personalised.
Julianne Schultz: So Meredith, the bigger question about Japan is interesting, but maybe on this sort of personal thing, I mean, you go to Japan in what … in 1970 …
Meredith McKinney: Ah, yes, I went to live there in 19 … what was it now? 1972, I think.
Julianne Schultz: And so you’d been learning Japanese?
Meredith McKinney: Yes, I did Japanese at university before I went, yeah.
Julianne Schultz: Right. Yeah.
Meredith McKinney: And well, actually the interesting thing is that when I very first went there, Hiroshima was the place that I felt obliged to go to because that was the place … one of the places that one went to, and I’ve never been back since because it was … I mean, it appalled me on so many levels, but one of them was actually … when I think about it now, the fact that it … it’s very hard to put your finger on it, but as somebody who had been … well, as somebody from a country which had been complicit in what happened in Hiroshima, of course the thing that you overwhelmingly go with is a sense of grief and guilt, and we were welcomed, overwhelming, by everybody in Hiroshima, or that … you know, the Japanese that I met were rushing around trying to talk to us and to take us around and to show us and it was almost as though they were proud of what they had to show and I found it really very, very disturbing. But I now understand a lot more about what Hiroshima has become, as a myth, and it really is a case of the myth that unifies in the face of disaster, it’s the suffering myth, it’s the victim myth, it’s also the way forward myth which is, you know, we will fight all possibilities of this happening ever again in any part of the world. So it binds people in all sorts of ways, but interestingly, when I was doing the work, the research for this essay that I wrote, it was precisely that myth that in ironic ways somehow had managed to allow Fukushima or the nuclear build-up that led to Fukushima to happen in Japan, so how myths arise, why myths arise, what a defeated nation does by way of a myth that can nevertheless make the war a coherent story, it’s all bound up with Hiroshima and all bound up with what happens when myths take over from a sense of the more complex realities, I suppose, yeah.
Julianne Schultz: And so do you think that in Japan this year, I mean, because we’ve just had the anniversary of the Coral Sea, this will be a rolling activity, I mean, do you think that there is an appetite for an open conversation or is it … is the sort of nationalistic stuff closing in? In a …
Meredith McKinney: Yeah, well, you know, it is complex, as Peter says, you can cite the numbers of people who are making nationalistic noises and numbers of people who go to these ceremonies and so on and they’re huge, but that’s by no means all of Japan. My sense that … is that, I mean, Fukushima actually divided people very strongly and although the Abe government is very right-wing and very aggressively nationalistic and appears to have a great deal of support, of course, the voter numbers are so small that that means very little and there’s huge disaffection from politics so there’s really nothing that one can say about the right-wing swing in Japan overall. But, yeah, my sense is that there’s a sort of a … I don’t know, there’s a groundswell of questioning things without any sense that there can be an answer, there’s a kind of a pressure coming down, which is the fact that the Japanese economy is so rocky that people are prepared to put aside all their values in order to save Japan from what they perceive is potential economic disaster, and on the one hand there’s a urge towards rethinking a lot of the past, urge towards acknowledging more about what happened in China, for example, which is a huge block in Japanese public history and also rethinking the whole question of future energy sources and all of those things and moving in one direction while the government and the economy and a very strong backwash from all that, I suppose, is pushing in the other direction, there’s a lot of sense of pressure in Japan I’m feeling at the moment.
Julianne Schultz: Very interesting, there’s … this conversation can go in a whole lot of different directions, which one are we going to grab? (Chuckling) I think what I’d quite like to do before we … and I’ll open it up to questions from the audience, I’d quite like to go back to this, making of a nation discussion, because obviously it’s one that has a lot of currency, one that’s very actively disputed, but I think that’s one that’s got some really important bits in it that we need to try and tease out a bit to understand what it is about war and creation of nations. I mean, obviously in a … at some level nations get created out of wars because somebody wins and somebody loses, with putting aside the frontier wars here, the wars that Australia’s engaged in have been ones that have been elsewhere. And so the sort of blood sacrifice that happens is about another place, rather than about this place, and as I say, I’m talking about modern wars rather than frontier wars. It’s sort of an … there’s an archaic thing in it, I mean, one of the things that’s really striking was … it’s the figures and I’m going to get them slightly wrong, but that before the First World War, there were five empires in Europe and there were three independent nati … republics and by 1920 there were two empires and 20 republics and … or nine republics and 20 independent states, you know, and that the things that distinguished those nations were franchise and various forms of rights, which had been established here before that, but that sort of got swept aside in the political rhetoric. Frank, I mean, it’s obviously a … it’s a partisan political thing, isn’t it, I mean, that that war was such a divisive … the First World War was such a divisive time in Australia.
Frank Bongiorno: Yeah, I mean, the making of nation idea’s … it’s an interesting one, I mean, there was obviously a really powerful sense, I mean, really before the end of 1915 actually, that somehow, I mean, there are a number of metaphors used that are not entirely consistent, sometimes it was the birth of a nation, sometimes it’s what … it’s a baptism of fire and then sometimes it’s a coming of age, which I reminded my students was 21. So the … different metaphors were used, but the no … the idea that this was somehow a formative national moment is there from a very early stage. But I think that there’s been a disjuncture because I think Gallipoli in particular has been rediscovered as a kind of founding moment, really sense, about the 1980s, I mean, once Australia ceased to be part of the empire, once Australians ceased to think of themselves as British, which I think, you know, at probably the critical decade there was the ‘60s, then you have this incredibly lively national identity debate, who are we? A lot of navel gazing goes on for a very long time, what should be our national day? What’s our role in the world? Who are we if we’re no longer British? What’s interesting is that Anzac doesn’t immediately offer itself in that context and I think the reason is because it was seen as so marked by the olden days, this … it was imperial, it was white, it was about old blokes, it was about the hymns of empire on Anzac Day, oh God, our help in ages past and all the rest of it. To intellectuals in the ‘60s writing lead articles in say, The Australian, I mean, Anzac Day isn’t offering itself, they look elsewhere, but then something happens that … I mean, people are still trying to untangle, whereby by about … certainly the end of the 1980s, it has been identified in that kind of role and it’s kind of been, I think, refounded as a kind of … a national birth moment, if you like, in that period. And there’s a number of theories at the moment that historians are kind of floating around for why that happens, but I think it’s very interesting …
Julianne Schultz: And I think it’s worth explaining that because it’s a good … then a segue to Peter, so do you want to just do the Mark McKenna theory, you know, yeah …
Frank Bongiorno: Yeah, well Mark McKenna’s is one of the most interesting actually, and Mark’s argument is essentially, it’s about really what he sees is the failure of the bicentenary and in particular January the 26th, Australia Day, to act as a kind of … a binding sort of myth, a binding occasion, a set of ritual ceremonies. Because it’s so contested, obviously, you know, what was one person’s settlement was another person’s invasion, and of course, the bicentenary itself brought out those conflicts very sharply, most dramatically on Australia Day itself in Sydney of course. And so Mark’s idea is that Anzac essentially suggests itself and is promoted by government too, so it’s partly a top-down thing, as a safer alternative, coming out of 1988, and of course the timing is perfect ‘cause it leads into what Tim was talking about earlier with the 1990 75th, which is such a critical moment, you had Bob Hawke and John Hewson taking a delegation over to Turkey, I think there was about 50 old-timers …
Meredith McKinney: Fifty-eight
Frank Bongiorno: … including a handful of original first-dayers. And so, yes, it … Mark’s idea is that it comes out of really the failure of both the bicentenary and Australia day, more generally, to perform that kind of role. I think it’s a very interesting idea, it’s probably not quite enough to explain it, I think we need other factors as well, but I think it’s a very interesting explanation.
Julianne Schultz: So, Peter, in terms of your writing about frontier wars and so on, I mean, it’s an interesting way of joining the bits, isn’t it?
Peter Stanley: Certainly the bicentenary, McKenna explanation makes sense because it means that the conjunction with Bob Hawke’s 1990 Gallipoli speech, so that the dissatisfaction with the bicentenary is a … makes people receptive to Hawke’s rhetoric in 1990. But doesn’t it suggest something about how ill-informed Australians are about their history, because we swallow these things as a nation, I mean, we … none of us here believe that Australia should be a white dominion anymore, none of us believe that Australia has to be a part of the British empire, but lots of us believe that Australia was somehow born as a nation in 1915, when it had been formed as a nation 15 years be … 14 years before, and why can’t we shake off that kind of limited ahistorical thinking and not face facts, the frontier war, as you say, the … wars overseas aren’t the first wars for Australia, clearly there’s a war inside Australia. But even now, lots of Australians are resistant to that idea, to confront that idea, in a way in which people of Japan and Austria are not reluctant to confront the difficulties of their history, so.
Tim Bonyhady: I guess I just find the … this kind of reduction of Australian history just incredibly sad, I mean, if I think of … going back to Peter Cochrane, his book, Colonial Ambition, a truly wonderful book, but the richness of the society which Peter recreates in early New South Wales, the extraordinary richness of their kind of political discussion and the fabulous kind of characters who inhabit that book, I mean there’s something really exciting about, in a way, the quality of some of that society, or if I think about work I did at one point when … just before I wrote about Burke and Wills, when I was interested in that kind of Victorian society of the gold rushes and it ties a bit as you mentioned the kind of … the German Melbourne, and the extraordinary … these people like Ferdinand von Mueller or Eugene von Guerard, that kind of multicultural society, which existed then. And so, I mean, there are … yeah, and there is … it goes … you can go on and on about how this nation has been created and things which one should be celebrating and critiquing, but also celebrating and they just sort of fall out the window.
Peter Stanley: Well, they’re thrown out the window …
Tim Bonyhady: They’re thrown out … yeah, exactly.
Peter Stanley: … [unclear 1:08:07] the Great War.
Tim Bonyhady: Exactly, they get pushed out …
Peter Stanley: Yeah.
Frank Bongiorno: … this thing occupies so much space, that these other things …
Tim Bonyhady: And there’s also a lack of proportion about the world of, say, 1915. I mean, yes, Australia was made in a formal political sense in 1901, but you know, Australia still has many of the trappings of a colony during the First World War, I mean, surely a mark of a colony is not being particularly fussed about high strategy, that is about, the ways in which your soldiers, for instance, are being used in a strategic sense in a Great War. I mean, what a great definition of a colony, and this is what a … but Australia wasn’t a colony by World War II in that sense, but it was in World War I, on my reading. I mean …
Peter Stanley: Yeah no, I agree.
Tim Bonyhady: … you know much more about this than me, but …
Peter Stanley: The wars are shifting points in the evolution of nationhood, but it’s … as Tim says, simplistic, to think that one event on the 25th of April 1915, changes everything.
Frank Bongiorno: Yeah, and these entities that Tim was just talking about in the 19th Century that Peter’s written about, there was a sense that they were nations, they sometimes talk about themselves as nations.
Peter Stanley: There’s a lot of …
Frank Bongiorno: New South Wales and …
Peter Stanley: Yeah.
Frank Bongiorno: … Victoria, there was a sense of confidence about their place in the world that has now been almost lost because of this overlay.
Julianne Schultz: But the other thing which is important in that First World War period is the intensity of the split over conscription, that that was an intensely political fight, which, I mean, it has elements of sectarian and … sectarianism and national identity and so on tied up in it, but it was voted down twice.
Peter Stanley: Well it would be interesting to see whether the two conscription referenda are commemorated with the same sort of enthusiasm.
Julianne Schultz: Well, in fact, Clare Wright was saying, when ABC Radio National was running this thing where they were saying, ring up and tell us your story of your family suffering, she said, I really want them to say, ring up and tell us the story of your family who may have been opposed to the war.
Meredith McKinney: Yeah, exactly.
Julianne Schultz: Tell us the other bits of these stories, so we’ve got something that …
Meredith McKinney: Yeah.
Julianne Schultz: … that’s a bit richer.
Frank Bongiorno: But what a … and what a great story conscription makes in a way, I mean, it’s often been constructed as yeah, this divisive moment, which it was, I mean, it’s a traumatic divisive moment in all sorts of ways, but here’s a society at war that basically allowed its population …
Meredith McKinney: Absolutely.
Frank Bongiorno: … to vote twice on whether young men would be compelled to go to the other side of the world and fight and kill, this is a great story of democracy, and …
Meredith McKinney: Yeah, exactly.
Julianne Schultz: Yeah.
Frank Bongiorno: … and what historians are rediscovering is that the arguments that were put against conscription were arguments about liberty, they were arguments about freedom, they were arguments about individual liberty. This is a great democratic story and I hope that there will be celebration of that story …
Peter Stanley: Don’t hold your breath.
Frank Bongiorno: in the years ahead (all laughing). Not as much as we’ve just said, I suspect, yeah.
Julianne Schultz: Meredith, did you want to contribute anything on that … making that …
Meredith McKinney: Well, I was just thinking of course, from Japan’s point of views …
Julianne Schultz: Yeah.
Meredith McKinney: … the question of how a nation gets made, Japan was attempting to make itself as a modern nation through the war and failed so spectacularly that it really had to rebuild itself entirely after the defeat and one of the things that’s quite hard for people outside Japan to realise is just how desperately people had to erase as much memory as possible of everything that had led to that point in order to start rebuilding themselves psychically, as well as physically, I mean Japan was just devastated by the war physically, but how to make themselves anew, this whole question of how to make their nation was one of the things that was probably in everybody’s mind as the Atoms for Peace message was beginning to come through from America in the early ‘50s, which said, this will be the new seed from which your nation can grow into this wonderful peaceful, prosperous new place where you can forget about the war, the bad atom and take on all the promise of the new atom and it will make your nation for you, this is the promise of the century and the need to make a nation anew was such a raw need at that point that everybody was extremely vulnerable to this new message. So how that worked in with … and I think not just Japan, but actually across Europe and in many places.
Julianne Schultz: Well actually across … look at China, I mean …
Meredith McKinney: Well indeed, yes, and Russia and …
Julianne Schultz: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Meredith McKinney: Yeah.