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Media Release

April 21 2006

A changing past: the contemporary Anzac tradition

Despite the controversy in the media surrounding the resurgence of Anzac Day’s popularity amongst young Australians, UniSA’s Dr Paul Skrebels says that we should be more appreciative of this rise in national interest.

“It is true that there are risks, like Gallipoli becoming just another mandatory tourist attraction, but the fact that Anzac Day has emerged as a strong remembrance day is indeed a significant development in the Australian psyche,” says Dr Skrebels.

Dr Skrebels recalls a time when Australia was swinging away from war remembrance.

“In the 1960s, Anzac Day suffered from a certain amount of ‘bad press’,” he says. It was regarded by young people as an excuse for returned servicemen to drink too much and reminisce about the war in a way that some people perceived as glorification.”

The tradition also highlighted the generation gap because Skrebels says Anzac Day was regarded as belonging to their parents’ generation and typically young people are intolerant of their parents’ culture.

“There was also a huge post war influx of migrants really peaking in the 1960s, bringing many people into the country for whom Anzac Day meant very little,” Dr Skrebels said.

When the allied peace, Feminist and anti-Vietnam War movements took off in the 1970s, Anzac Day was targeted as a day that glorified war. It was in these years that commemoration was at its lowest ebb, with some marches targeted by protesters and strong oppositional debate between the RSL and peace activists.

“So the huge turnaround today, where young people want to represent their deceased elders in marches and young tourists visit Gallipoli and key sites in Europe in record numbers, is quite interesting.”

He attributes this rise in interest partly to a concerted nationalistic drive by Australia’s last few governments.

“They wanted to get Anzac Day up as a way of solidifying Australian identity – and it has certainly worked,” he says.

But that isn’t to say that this heightened sense of patriotism doesn’t need to be dealt with carefully, according to Dr Skrebels.

“Becoming nationalistic reinforces an “us” and “them” mentality. We have to be careful not to let the ugly Australian emerge.”

Skrebels suggests that a secondary reason for this rise in popularity is the simple passing of time.

“Enough time has accumulated so that a special aura has grown around events – allowing Anzac Day to be remembered with a sense of nostalgia.

“Recognition and remembrance of the past is always a good thing, but sometimes history becomes so shrouded in myth that no one dares contradict the accepted version of that myth,” he says.

On the controversial issue of whether relatives should be able to march in the place of deceased servicemen, Skrebels says that inclusiveness is a better way to maintain the Anzac memory.

“Anzac day has a limited lifespan if confined to only to those who took part in past wars and anything that recognises our national history should be nurtured.

“Anyway, I hope there will come a time when the only people left to march are the descendants of those who once fought.”

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