After the Voice: Beazley’s opportunity for truth-telling at War Memorial

Oct 23, 2023
Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Post-Referendum attention has turned to the need for Truth-telling about our history. As Chair of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, Kim Beazley has a unique opportunity to grasp Truth-telling about the Australian Frontier Wars as a central theme for the Memorial in future.

Michelle Grattan of The Conversation had a long podcast interview this week with Kim Beazley AC, former Minister, Opposition Leader, Ambassador, Governor – and Chair of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. Much of the interview was about foreign and defence policy but after about Mark 20.00 the chat got onto the Voice and Beazley’s reaction to the Referendum result, about which he said he was “terribly depressed.”

“This is not about government. This is about us, it’s about we as an Australian people and it’s not actually a good ad in the region around us that our response would be ungenerous.

Now the people come out and say, Oh, come off it, that’s just an elite thinking; it’s got nothing to do with the streets. That’s true. I don’t think anybody in the countries around us, or for that matter in the United States will be giving a minute’s thought to the referendum and its result. But every single elite will be. And it’s actually elites that make decisions.”

Those reactions would be evident in the United States, the South Pacific, South-East Asia, Beazley said. Meanwhile, though, his state of Western Australia had a good record on native title – 80 per cent of it is covered by native title with strong legal underpinning, including two treaties. There was a better story there than on the Voice and how it had turned out.

“The result of [the Referendum] is so discourteous,” Beazley went on. First Australians didn’t ask for much, but we turned them down.

“You know, I was depressed by the way race seemed to be a factor in discussion about this whole proposition. This whole proposition had nothing to do with race. It had absolutely everything to do with originality. Who was here? Well, they have been here for 70,000 years …

It’s such a sad outcome and it’s so noticeable in the region around us.”

We should point out, however, that all is not lost for Beazley. There is work to be done at the Memorial if he and his colleagues there are up for it.

Beazley and his predecessor as Council Chair, Dr Brendan Nelson, made a start in this endeavour but recent progress has been uncertain. A characterisation of “one step forward, two steps back and a shuffle sideways” would not be inaccurate. Different tunes have been sung by Beazley, his Council colleague, Major General Greg Melick (Ret’d), national president of the RSL, and Memorial management.

The Memorial’s current plans for the space to be allocated to the Frontier Wars are risible: just 25 square metres more than in the pre-redevelopment Memorial or 2.3 per cent of the Memorial’s total gallery space after redevelopment – and that is to be shared with exhibits about Australian contingents from 1860 to 1900 to minor Imperialist wars in New Zealand, the Sudan, China and South Africa. That is just how the pre-redevelopment Memorial was set up, so we will continue to see portraits of moustachioed soldiers of Queen Victoria, sailing off to strike a blow for the Empire, next to depictions of First Australians warriors fighting to defend their Country on their Country.

Honest History and the members of the Defending Country Memorial Project Inc. are among many Australians who look to the Memorial to get its act together, stop dissembling and dithering, and make significant progress on proper recognition and commemoration of the Frontier Wars at the Memorial.

Defending Country Memorial Project has been formed to encourage the Australian War Memorial to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars. Its members are Noel Turnbull (Secretary), Professor Peter Stanley, Dr David Stephens, Dr Carolyn Holbrook, and Pamela Burton. It is seeking Patrons, including senior First Nations people. The group authored the series ‘Time to be honest about the Australian Frontier Wars‘. See also ‘An Action Plan for Australian Frontier Wars recognition and commemoration‘. And Watch this Space.


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