Prof. Bruce Scates

The ABC’s RN Sunday Extra program, broadcast on 19 April 2015, contains a segment entitled ‘#Brandzacday’ that examines the way Australians are commemorating Anzac Day and the Gallipoli Centenary.

Key issues discussed included (a) the commercialisation of Anzac Day and (b) how the Anzac legend clouds an understanding of the realities of war and Australia’s response to the great imperial rivalries underpinning the ‘war to end all wars’.

A third key issue discussed, and one at odds with (a) and (b) above, is the digitisation of repatriation records which offers a profoundly anti-war narrative that reveals the extraordinary human costs and suffering of the conflict.

Joining presenter Jonathan Green to discuss these issues were Marilyn Lake, Bruce Scates and Jo Hawkins.

Here are some excerpts:

On the commercialisation of Anzac Day, Jo Hawkins asks : “Is this helping us understand this terrible conflict or … are we turning our heads away by participating in these commercial activities?”  Jo Hawkins argues that the Anzac commemoration risks “becoming a commodified leisure pursuit”.

On the Gallipoli Centenary and history, Marilyn Lake asks: “What (has) Anzac to do with history? These days we don’t hear much about (the war’s) history, yet there is such rich history around the landings in the Ottoman Empire. If we only learnt more about the encounter of the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire …”. Marilyn Lake says that one of the things that she regrets is the loss of education. She says “Interestingly, the Anzac legend makes claims about … history but what is its historical significance now? … I think that needs to be at the heart of (the Anzac commemorations)”.

Bruce Scates argues that the digitisation of Australian WW1 repatriation records represents one of the positive aspects of the Anzac Centenary. He says that “perhaps one of the best things that has come out of this centenary is the commitment by government to fund the digitisation of those repatriation records.” The narrative that these digitised records reveal is different from the one promoted by government agencies and the Anzac legend. “They tell us the story of the men and women when they came back (from war) and the terrible trauma that they confronted and … the efforts of the family and the community to care for those men and women. Now this is not a narrative that lends itself to some cosy romantic, glamorising of war – quite the opposite. It is a very confronting record and I think by digitising these records … we are  … putting out a profoundly anti-war narrative that shows the human costs of conflict.”

The full discussion of the issues canvassed in Sunday Extra’s ‘#Brandzacday’ can be accessed here.

Photo: Prof Bruce Scates recommended the digitisation of repatriation records to the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board and leads the One Hundred Stories initiative.

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