Australia: Commercialism of ANZAC

Has a national obsession hijacked centenary commemorations of the Great War?

Are we now witnessing the birth of Brandzac Day

Field of Poppies

Field of Poppies

“At the War Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park, inscribed words decree: ‘Let silent contemplation be your offering’,” James Brown in his book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, writes,. “Instead, Australians are embarking on a discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four-year festival for the dead.”
Brown estimates $325 million is being forked out by the Australian taxpayer for the string of “festivals”. Add more than $300 million expected in private donations and what we will have, Brown predicts, is an Anzac centenary that risks fetishising war.

We do not need corporations hijacking these memorials for profiteering on those who gave their lives.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  In 1917, the word ANZAC meant someone who fought at Gallipoli and later it came to mean any Australian or New Zealander who fought or served in the First World War.  During the Second World War ANZAC Day  became a day on which the lives of all Australians lost in war time were remembered.  The spirit of ANZAC recognises the qualities of courage, mateship and sacrifice which were demonstrated at the Gallipoli landing.

Anzac Day is one of Australia’s most important national commemorative occasions.  Anzac Day falls on the 25th of April each year and 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

A time of silent reflection

A time of silent reflection

Australians recognise April 25 as an occasion of national commemoration.  Anzac Day dawn services lasting about 15 minutes are held in all Australian cities and towns.  Anzac Day, because it unites all Australians, is truly a national day for Australia.  The Anzac Centenary Program will run from August 2014 to November 2018 and will commemorate significant events for Australia from World War One (WWI).

The term Anzac was first used by the Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, at the time of the First World War. Anzac is an abbreviation for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and April 25, Anzac Day, was the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.  While the Anzac Day Act 1995 (Commonwealth) provides for 25 April to be observed as a public holiday to commemorate Anzac Day, it is important for state legislation to provide for the holiday also.

Since then, Anzac Day has been commemorated at the Memorial every year.  For Australians the ANZAC Centenary will be one of the most significant commemorations to take place in the lives of current generations.  The Dawn Service observed on ANZAC Day has its origins in an operational routine, which is still observed by the Australian Army today.  The Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade were included in the  National Heritage List  on 25 April 2006.

Gallipoli has become an important part of Australian history, yet the battle here was not as costly in lives as future engagements.  Gallipoli where a majority of the men that joined the AIF in August 1914 were sent to Egypt, to prepare for battle against the Ottoman Empire (part of which is now Turkey).  Gallipoli began to be seen by Australians as a rite of passage and the sacrifice made by the men as a national initiation.

The Gallipoli campaign itself, however, led to failure, death and wounding of thousands of soldiers.  The landing at Gallipoli was seen as a story of courage and endurance amongst death and despair, in the face of poor leadership from London, and unsuccessful strategies.  In this sense the Gallipoli campaign was a defining moment for Australia as a new nation, but also a key moment in the evolution of a particular image of Australian masculinity.

More than 8,000 Australian soldiers had been killed. The Gallipoli campaign had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.

It also honours Kemal Ataturk, commander of Turkish forces at Gallipoli and later the first president of modern Turkey, as well as the heroism and sacrifice of both the Anzac and Turkish troops who took part in the campaign.  Because the Turks had also dug themselves into trenches the enemies were sometimes less than 50 feet apart.  Because Britain wished to distract the Turks from attacking Russia, large numbers of Australian and New Zealand fighting men and equipment were landed on the beaches from the sea.  Asked to capture Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, the Australian and New Zealanders attacked at Lone Pine, the Nek, and Chunuk Bair, suffering appalling casualties.

Barlow’s Battalion was in the third wave that hit the beach at ANZAC cove at dawn while Crow’s Battalion arrived late in the afternoon of that fateful day.  The Anzacs literally had to dig themselves into trenches they dug on a beach which became known as Anzac Cove.  The military campaign that followed was disastrous for the Allies yet came to define the national psyches of Australia and New Zealand. Travel to these solemn battlefields on the anniversary of the landing and wander through Anzac Cove to the Nek and Lone Pine.

In national politics, the war gave rise to soldier settlement, the birth of the RSL and the Country party, the split in the Labor party, a new conservative party, intensified sectarianism, the new salience of the British empire to Australian identity; and in the international domain, a new spirit of internationalism, the founding of new international organisations, such as the League of Nations and the ILO and new international peace and disarmament movements.

Within the National Anzac Centre, the key phases and events of the First World War are told through the stories of the ANZACs themselves.  Given the symbolic potency of the Anzac legend, the War Memorial has long held a central place in mainstream Australian national identity.  Although its meaning and history are debated, it remains central to the story of Australian nationhood and the development of national identity.  By contrast, reporting of Australia’s role in the war itself was generally condensed to a small column amongst the paper’s other national and international reports, and was poorly covered by comparison with local news.

Unlike other countries in the Great War, Australia was never under serious threat of invasion, UNSW Canberra military historian, Professor Jeffrey Grey,  says. Even the number of Australians killed – around 60,000 – represents a tragic but small figure, compared with the 600,000 British deaths, more than one million Austro-Hungarian fatalities and almost 1.4 million French lives lost.

In commemoration of the centenary, Australia is not only spending more than twice what Britain is, we’re even outspending the French. “And the French, you might think, have more reason than most to remember the Great War,” Grey says.

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