Australian historians unravel the Anzac myth

by Toby Manhire / 25 April, 2012
Beyond the bluster over Jock Anderson's remarks, a real debate about the Anzac idea is alive in Australia.
The storm surrounding Jock Anderson’s characterisation of Australian soldiers – he said some World War One troops were “bludgers, poachers and theives” – has drowned out an interesting debate happening in Australia, much of which appears to support the thrust of Anderson’s remarks.

A trio of books has recently emerged threatening the Australian idea of the Anzac character.

Geoff Strong surveyed the new works in a report for the Melbourne Age newspaper last week. He writes: “Many historians now believe the myths surrounding this most hallowed day have diverted us from the truth.”

The first book Strong looks at is the same one that NBR journalist Anderson cited on Radio New Zealand, former army officer and historian Graham Wilson’s Bully Beef and Balderdash.

While Wilson has told Newstalk ZB that Anderson’s remarks were “mind boggling”, and suggest he has not read any more than the blurb on his book, his own comments in the Age go some way (on the surface at least; I haven’t read his book, either) to supporting the Anderson line.

He tells Strong in the Age:

We were not a disciplined fighting force like the British, or even the New Zealanders, and had an appalling discipline record ...


In reality, most were urban and probably factory workers who didn't know one end of a rifle from the other. In terms of fighting skill, the Turks we fought at Gallipoli were much better soldiers and it wasn't until 1917 that the Australians became an effective fighting force.


Then there’s historian and academic Marilyn Lake. The co-author of What's Wrong with Anzac? argues, in Strong’s summary, that “it was untrue that Australia's national identity was formed in Gallipoli in 1915” and that “the Anzac myth had been used to legitimise military actions, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

She tells Strong:

From when we were formed as a nation in 1901, we had already achieved headlines and attention on the world stage by our advanced social democracy, including minimum wages and women's equality. Visitors came from around the world to see how these social experiments worked.


Finally, Strong turns to a collection edited (and contributed to) by University of NSW historian Craig Stockings, Anzac's Dirty Dozen. In it the writers attempt to demolish a dozen myths surrounding Australian military history.

Stockings tells the Age that “one of the persistent myths was that Australia became embroiled in other people's wars by factors outside its control, but this was the reverse of the truth”.

Says Stockings:

Every war … has seen us take a deliberate decision to go to war in support of a powerful ally. It is a kind of premium on an insurance policy hoping that if we do this they will come to our aid if we were to find ourselves under threat.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

First look: Poké Poké
Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban
71842 2017-04-28 09:07:08Z Nutrition

Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban…

by RNZ

Should schools be selling chocolate to raise funds? The Health Minister says it's ok, but nutrition experts disagree.

Read more
Film review: Denial
71718 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Denial

by Peter Calder

The dramatisation of a Holocaust denier’s libel suit is both engrossing and moving.

Read more
Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps
71634 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Television

Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps

by Jeremy Rose

A quarter of Denmark's population regularly watch Danish TV dramas, while the highest-rating Kiwi drama attracted an audience of just over 250,000.

Read more
A film fest, a stage classic and other highlights on Auckland's agenda
71779 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z What's on

A film fest, a stage classic and other highlights …

by India Hendrikse

What’s on in Auckland: Crystal Castles, a design and architecture film festival and lots of other excellent events to put in your diary

Read more
How do New Zealanders rank as philanthropists?
71583 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Business

How do New Zealanders rank as philanthropists?

by Sally Blundell

Kiwis take little persuasion to give to a good cause, but the demands are ever-growing. How much money gets to where it’s really needed?

Read more
The fitness industry is on the eve of digital disruption
71733 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Technology

The fitness industry is on the eve of digital disr…

by Peter Griffin

As technology changes the way we do business, the effects are extending from the office to most parts of our lives – including how we keep in shape.

Read more
Seeking out San Francisco's tasty gems