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War memorial battle over frontier conflict re -

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Reporter: Matt Peacock

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is one of the country's most
popular tourist destinations, featuring displace of Australian forces engaged overseas on combat or
peacekeeping operations going back at least to the Boer War.

But late last year, the history professor Ken Inglis renewed a call for the War Memorial to
recognise one conflict not commemorated - the fighting between Aboriginal people and the country's
early colonial settlers. The official memorial response is that such fighting falls outside its
charter, a claim that's disputed by some respected military historians and Aboriginal people.

Matt Peacock reports.

MATT PEACOCK: Australians come here in their thousands. Some to pay tribute, others to learn.

MICHAEL MCKERNAN, FMR DEPUTY DIRECTOR, AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL: It's a very special place for
Australians because it tells of grief and it tells of sadness, it tells of achievement, it tells of
bravery, and sacrifice.

MATT PEACOCK: The popular War Memorial in Canberra commemorates Australian military engagements
spanning more than a century. The Boer Wars, world wars, Vietnam - just to name some. But one armed
conflict is missing - fighting between the country's original inhabitants and its British settlers.

JOHN CONNOR, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE ACADEMY: The Australian War Memorial is a magnificent
institution and it tells, you know, the great history of the Australians in conflict, but it has
this gap, and that is - that gap is the frontier.

BILL CREWS, PRESIDENT, RETURNED SERVICES LEAGUE: The Australian War Memorial commemorates the
sacrifice of Australians on behalf of Australians. It's not to be engaged in what were skirmishes
at the time of early colonial development.

GORDON BRISCOE, HISTORY, ANU: We are absolutely talking war here, and the end of the denial by the
War Memorial would seek some peace by Aboriginal people.

MATT PEACOCK: Most historians agree many confrontations were war-like in nature, like the fighting
just outside Sydney when, in the early days of the colony, Governor Macquarie sent troops to secure
a disputed section of the Hawkesbury.

JOHN CONNOR: The people there thought it was a war. You have military officers who'd served in
other parts of British Empire saying this was a war, that war had broken out on the frontier. You
had the British Army being sent to the Hawkesbury. You had garrisons of British soldiers being kept
there.

MATT PEACOCK: In his definitive Atlas of Australian Wars, the former Chief of Army and military
historian Lieutenant General John Coates describes the frontier conflicts as a "brutal, bloody and
sustained confrontation that took place on every significant piece of land across the continent."

GENERAL JOHN COATES: Really, you've got two groups of Australians who, in a sense, were involved in
a low scale Civil War. I mean, we'd arrived in their country, and tried to brush them aside, and
they didn't want to be brushed.

KEN INGLIS, HISTORIAN: That, from a trained historian who's also a Lieutenant General seems to me
to put it almost beyond doubt and to make what I think is the case for that warfare being
recognised by the Australian War Memorial.

MATT PEACOCK: History Professor Ken Inglis called for that at the launch of his book, Sacred
Places, 10 years ago, a proposition the former prime minister John Howard quickly quashed.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER (archive footage, 1998): If you want to be legalistic about it, the
state of war didn't exist. Now, I think the Australian War Memorial is to honour Aboriginal
Australians and other Australians who died defending Australia.

GEOFFREY BLAINEY, HISTORIAN: I think warfare is a legitimate term to use. It's not about the whole
relationship, but about certain periods.

MATT PEACOCK: Professor Geoffrey Blainey as far back as 1979 was asked for ideas about a War
Memorial then open to the suggestion that the frontier conflicts might be included.

GEOFFREY BLAINEY: I thought that possibly at their suggestion, although I was quite happy with the
idea that there should be a section on irregular warfare, whether the Eureka Stockade, conflicts
between Aborigines and Europeans, the Vietnam War - which wasn't in the Australian War Memorial at
that time.

MATT PEACOCK: Historian Dr Michael McKernan, then the deputy director of the Memorial, recalls that
a change to its Act the following year made such recognition possible.

MICHAEL MCKERNAN: The Act was changed in 1980 to give coverage to all wars and war-like operations
in which Australians have been involved. Really, I think, to give legitimacy to the Boer War, which
of course is colonial troops in the first instance.

MATT PEACOCK: The amended Act read that Australia's military history was the history of "wars and
war-like operations in which Australians have been on active service," and the Defence Force, which
included, "... any military force of the ground raised in Australia."

MICHAEL MCKERNAN: That change in Act gave the opportunity for the much wider coverage, and that's
when it began to be discussed about frontier conflict and the War Memorial.

BILL CREWS, PRESIDENT, RETURNED SERVICES LEAGUE: It would be our view that it is not appropriate to
commemorate nationally and certainly not in the Australian War Memorial, despite the fact you may
call it a war.

MATT PEACOCK: For the Memorial council member and president of the Returned Services League, Major
General Bill Crews, frontier conflict just isn't on the agenda.

BILL CREWS: It hasn't been discussed in my time on the council in the last three years, but it was
discussed almost 10 years ago and the Council decided it was inappropriate.

MATT PEACOCK: In 1999 the current director of the War Memorial, Major General Steve Gower, asked
its military history section to investigate the idea. Although the director has refused to appear
on this program, in a recent edition of the Memorial's Wartime magazine, he says the advice he
received was, "... only police forces or British military unites were involved in the 'wars', whereas
the Memorial's charter calls upon it to commemorate Australia's military forces." The director
concluded, "... there the matter rests." But does it?

Dr Peter Stanley, now with the National Museum of Australia, was the War Memorial's principal
historian for three decades.

PETER STANLEY, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIA: But the report demonstrates that there were other than
British troops involved in this conflict with Aborigines on the frontier of settlement. It was a
war fought by stockmen and settlers, and by convict overseers, but also by military Mounted Police
who were recruited in Australia.

MATT PEACOCK: Does the director have a point, though? I mean, these were not Australian troops
raised in Australia.

PETER STANLEY: I think he has a legal point, that is, that the troops were mainly not composed of
Australians recruited in Australia. But the people they were fighting were Australians, they were
Australian Aborigines, so this clearly is a war that belongs to Australia's history and we ought to
recognise as such.

MATT PEACOCK: In fact, the advice the director received in 1999, which we have a copy of here, left
the question open. He concluded there was little doubt that the frontier conflicts were a war or
war-like operations, and although the British Army units used against Aborigines were not raised in
Australia, the quasi-military police forces involved were. It concluded that if the war memorial
wanted to interpret its Act in that way, it was legally free to do so.

BILL CREWS: Well, you've also got to look at the charter of the Memorial and basis on which it was
established, and none of those lends themselves to the inclusion of these engagements back in the
early colonial days. It's really as simple as that.

MATT PEACOCK: Charles Beans' original concept for the Memorial says the director in a statement was
unquestionably concerned with external conflicts.

But the Memorial's refusal to commemorate early Aboriginal heroes, according to Professor Gordon
Briscoe, is cultural racism.

GORDON BRISCOE: We want this recognised, redefined as a war of resistance against the British which
was continued into the Australian period.

MATT PEACOCK: Within the War Memorial's walls an Aboriginal warrior appears as a stone carving
alongside wombats and other native fauna. Examples of more recent Aboriginal service overseas are
integrated into its general displays.

Interpretations of history, like the times, do change.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER: As Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.

MATT PEACOCK: One year on from the Prime Minister's historic apology to the Aboriginal Stolen
Generations, say some historians, it might also be time to recognise an undeniable reality.

PETER STANLEY: We quite rightly recognise the great and good things that Australians have done in
war, but we also ought to have the maturity to face up to the fact that Australians in the
nineteenth century, some Australians, were involved in a nasty, protracted guerrilla war against
the inhabitants of this continent.

GORDON BRISCOE: I dream about the day that we can look at some young child walking into the war
memorial and seeing a representation that brings back the long fight of their people for their
land.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt Peacock reporting from Canberra.