Book Review: What’s Wrong with Anzac

What’s Wrong with Anzac by Marilyn Lake , Henry Reynolds , Joy Damousi  and Mark Mckenna has been on my to-read list since it came out earlier this year. I watched and read with interest all the debate that surrounded its release. I have had a difficult relationship (academically) with Marilyn Lake. For some reason I don’t even remember now, I developed a dislike for her history when I wrote my Honours thesis – but that was probably undergraduate pettiness more than anything. Since then I’ve gotten over myself and really enjoy listening to/reading her work. I’ve also had an evolving difficulty with Anzac day for many, many years. It always made me uncomfortable and usually I put it down to my intense hate for the concept of ‘mateship’ and the white boys’ club it seemed to revere. I came to What’s Wrong with Anzac looking for answers.

And I got them. The book traces the the history of Australia’s involvement in wars – examining the debates that surrounded the sending of our earliest forces to South Africa – and how this set up the country for continued, expected involvement later on. It also looks in detail at how the landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula was seen at the time and across the decades since. The argument is that it has evolved and changed dramatically over that time. There are also chapters on the anti-war movement and the enormous funding provided to the Department of Veteran Affairs for the development of curriculum materials.

Most important of all, I think, are the moments when the violence and the killing done in the country’s name are remembered. That there is an attempt to bring into the discussion the idea that “respect, admiration and decoration [is] accrued to those who could do it [‘vicious hand to hand fighting’] without flinching or even with dark, triumphant elation”.

Lake and Reynolds argue that we must have this discussion – that without being critical about what we ‘celebrate’ as our ‘nation’s founding’ we cannot understand ourselves. They say they are “concerned with the homage paid to the Anzac spirit and associated militarisation of our history, we are concerned about the ways in which history is used to define our national heritage and national values”.

Finally, they ask if it is not time for us to step away from the idea that “nations and men are made in war”.

I would say ‘yes’.


PS. The image is the ‘Avenue of Honour’ arch in Ballarat, taken a few years ago now. Publishers should really provide high-res images of their book covers for folks to use when they are reviewing the book.

PPS. No page numbers because I read it on my Kindle and I haven’t worked out how to reference from it yet…does anyone know??


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