Bruce Scates

Australian National University

Professor Bruce Scates FASSA is based in the School of History at the Australian National University.

He is the author of several books on war and memory, including Return to Gallipoli: Walking the Battlefields of the Great War and A Place to Remember: a History of the Shrine of Remembrance and is the lead author of Anzac Journeys: Returning to the Battlefields of World War II and The Last Battle: A History of Soldier Settlement in Australia, 1916-1939.

His imagined history of Gallipoli, On Dangerous Ground, retraces the search for the ‘Missing’ and considers the politics of remembrance. Professor Scates is the lead chief investigator on an Australian Research Council project charting the history of Anzac Day in Australia.

He also served as the Chair of the Military and Cultural History panel advising the Anzac Centenary Board and led the 100 stories project at Monash University.

His educational initiatives include a MOOC (Mass Open Online Courseware) examining the fraught memory of war and a documentary film series exploring the history of Australia through objects.

Anzac Amnesia

Politics, Forgetting and the First World War

Few countries have embraced the Centenary of the First World War with as much enthusiasm as Australia. The Anzac Centenary Advisory Board was one of the largest bureaucracies created anywhere in the world to mark the centenary of 1914-1918 and certainly the best funded. In the course of the Centenary, Australia has spent more on commemorative projects that any other nation per head of population. These take a myriad different forms: museums, educational programs, commemorative ‘events’ and digitisation projects.

This paper will focus on two quite separate commemorative/educational initiatives. The first is the digitisation of repatriation files, opening up a vast and complex archive to a global audience. This was the only unanimous recommendation of a panel of expert historians embedded in ACAB’s commemorative program. I will argue that repatriation files may well signal a sea change in the way the 1914-1918 is remembered in Australia, extending popular understandings of war into the post war period and highlighting the enduring social cost of human conflict.

The second part of this paper will consider the re-making of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. In 2015 the Australian government committed over one hundred million dollars to build the Sir John Monash Interpertive Centre, the single largest piece of expenditure to mark the Centenary of the Great War.

Completed in 2018, the museum complex rivals other state-sponsored interpretive sites, the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Peronne, and ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ in Ypres. But unlike those cultural institutions – with their stridently transnational and multivocal perspectives – the Sir John Monash Interpretive Centre (SJMIC) adopts a narrowly Australian focus (stressing the role Australia played in ‘winning the war’) and relies on ‘a deep and immersive multimedia experience’ (as opposed to research or artefact-centred exhibition space) to present the past.

As the name suggests, the Centre also serves a hagiographic purpose, consciously valorising the memory of Australia’s most successful military commander of the Great War. This paper will consider the many failings of this costly project, exploring the deep and (ultimately) irresolvable differences between the agenda of historians, with their commitment to the critical analysis of the past, and the politically and emotionally charged investments of commemorative stakeholders.

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