Time we recognised our history, say academics.
Daily Telegraph 5/10/2013
A BATTLE has broken out between the Australian War Memorial and a group of academics and historians over moves to recognise the nation’s early frontier wars between Aboriginal people and white settlers.
Dr John Connor believes the frontier wars were fundamental to Australia’s identity.The memorial is digging in against the bid saying that while honest recognition of the deadly conflict was very important it should not take place inside a memorial dedicated to commemorating the sacrifice of Australians at war.
“The Australian War Memorial’s job is to tell the story of Australia’s involvement in war and Australia was not a nation until 1901,’’ memorial director Brendan Nelson said.
He said the story of the conflict which left an estimated 20,000 Aboriginal people and 2000 white militiamen and settlers dead should be told in factual terms, and the proper place to tell it was the National Museum of Australia and state museums.
On the opposing side, former War Memorial deputy director Michael McKernan said it was ridiculous for the memorial to acknowledge wars in the Sudan and the Boer War but to ignore the nation’s first war.
“The Memorial Act specifies ‘all wars and warlike operations in which Australians have served’,’’ Dr McKernan said. “There were soldiers in uniform fighting and dying.’’
He said it was also difficult to argue the frontier conflicts were not “wars” given the loss of life that occurred under warlike operations.
Dr John Connor, academic at the University of NSWCanberra (ADFA) and author of the book Before The Anzac Dawn, said the frontier wars were fundamental to how Australia became the country it is.
“To not have even a memorial to these wars is amazing given the length of time and the numbers of dead involved,’’ he said.
He said it was past time for
Australians to face up to the dark side of their history.
However, Dr Nelson maintained the origins of the War Memorial could be found at Gallipoli in 1915 and Pozieres on the Western Front in 1916.
The memorial does currently acknowledge the frontier conflicts with a single panel in its colonial gallery and between 2001 and 2008, the National Museum in Canberra told the story in the Contested Frontiers display in the Gallery of First Australians.
This display featured stories of violent encounters between Indigenous Australians and settlers, including the 1894-1897 Bunuba uprising in Western Australia and the 1824 Wiradjuri war in NSW.
The frontier wars ran for 133 years from 1795, when settlers moved west of Sydney and were confronted by the warrior and guerilla fighter Pemulwuy. Opponents say at least some recognition should be given within the National War Museum.
The conflict extended from Tasmania to the Kimberley and culminated with the Coniston massacre in the Northern Territory in 1928.