Debating our ‘national obsession’ – Anzac forum

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MANNING Clark House in Forrest is a great centre for alternative intellectual debate in Canberra as its coming Anzac forum, “Reflections on the Centenary of World War One,” will doubtless confirm.

Manning Clark House in Forrest
Manning Clark House in Forrest

The purpose of the forum, the organisers says, is to explore the question of how we should be commemorating the First World War. Historian Frank Bongiorno has pointed out in recent public addresses that Australia’s Anzac centenary budget is twice that of Britain’s and that Australia’s tax-payer funds will be supplemented by money from private enterprise, including weapons manufacturers.

As well, Bongiorno refers to James Brown’s prediction of a “discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four-year festival for the dead” in his new book “Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession.”

While the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing will be the focus of Anzac related activities in Canberra, but the next few years will also recall the battles on the Western Front and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. There is already a sense of impending overload as community and public organisations around the country buy into the commemorations.

Manning Clark House is promising “an interesting evening with lively debate,” as speakers ‘Honest History’s’ David Stephens, the ANU’s Joan Beaumont, and UNSW’s Christina Spittel argue their cases.

Australia’s Anzac commemorations, they note, give rise to a number of questions – namely, for whose benefit are these activities being planned? For the families of servicemen and a grateful public? Or for the public relations of governments? Is the expenditure appropriate to the occasion? And, if so, are we sourcing that money in the right way? How will our recollection of this war contribute to our understanding of history? How will it contribute to our understanding of the present? And how will we ensure that the interests of media, government and business do not overshadow the dignity of this centenary by privileging some memories over others?

Anzac forum, at Manning Clark House, 11 Tasmania Circle Forrest, 5.30-9.30pm, Tuesday April 22. Entry $10/$15. Bookings to phone 62951808 or email

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