Tag Archives: Dr Gary Foley

Perspectives on the Anzac Dawn Service: Remembering the Frontier wars

This year marked the 99th year of ANZAC remembrance. While many of us have found the “ANZACKERY[1]” of talk around this time of the year to be almost unbearable and have been inclined to hide away for the duration, it is inspiring to see that others are doing their bit to change the ANZAC conversation.

One of the most important challenges has come from Henry Reynolds and others, who are challenging us to connect the over-the top sepia toned ANZAC remembering to the lack of remembering, recalling respecting or even admitting to the wars that took place, not in a far off peninsular for king and mother country but on Australian soil. These wars were: bloody, and genocidal, they left deep and permanent scars that are still with us today; and they remain unrecognised in our formal war remembering infrastructure and rituals.

Dr Gary Foley challenges us to make this connection

In the process of the politicisation of Anzac Day and events almost a century ago on the Gallipoli peninsula, I feel that many Australians are further entrenching an attitude of denial about key aspects of their own history. They are seeking to divert attention away from earlier wars that had more to do with defining the Australian national character than Gallipoli did. By that I mean the colonial “wars” that many in Australia still have great difficulty in even accepting as wars.

Nelson claims that colonial conflict does not constitute what he and the War Memorial consider a “war”.  But, ironically Nelson and the War Memorial are much better disposed to the acknowledgement of Aboriginal involvement in the wars conducted by the Australian nation, even when some of those battles such as the Gallipoli campaign were more about fighting on behalf of Britain rather than Australia. This attitude reflects a broader national discomfort with the idea that Aboriginal warriors in the colonial era were fighting a “war”against an invading force

However, as prominent historian Henry Reynolds asserts, “If there was no war, then thousands of Aborigines were murdered in a century-long, continent-wide crime wave tolerated by government. There seems to be no other option. It must be one or the other.

This year a small band of people marched at the end of the rally to remember the Frontier wars. One of the participants in this event, Jasmine Pilbrow, has provided a moving account of her experience on her blog site. An extract from this account follows:

I’ve been to my fair share of protests and vigils. I’ve been out of my comfort zone and been confronted by injustice, oppression, occupation and discrimination. But this past ANZAC day in Canberra was one of the most emotionally confronting experiences I have had…

I was attending the march to be a part of, and support the Indigenous Australians in their fight for recognition of the Frontier Wars…

Here is an extract from Reynolds’ book:

“And while Australian servicemen and –women died for their country, with few exceptions they didn’t die on the continent itself. And that makes all the difference in the world. They were often the invader but never the invaded. They had no experience of the profound and terrible trauma of conquest. They never saw their homes overrun and wrenched from them by force. Never saw their sacred places occupied and desecrated. They didn’t have to come to terms with imposed conditions that made the old way of life unsustainable. They never knew the despair that arose when the conquerors displayed outright contempt for their language, culture and traditions. And while Australian soldiers saw many mates killed in battle, their families were, in almost every case, living in safety far from the conflict. Aboriginal survivors, on the other hand, had seen their children, partners and parents shot down or watched while they died from traumatic, untreated gunshot wounds. Before they conceded defeat they had lived for years under a reign of terror….

We meet at 10am, ready to join the end of the ANZAC day March procession….

We were carrying signs which read “Lest we forget the Frontier Wars”, placards with the dates of massacres throughout Australia and the Indigenous flag. We were mourning the deaths of those who fought in the Frontier Wars. We were not there to protest or oppose ANZAC day; we were there to pay our respects to all those who fought. As we marched the servicemen and women in front of us (including a massive U.S. flag) all marched into the War Memorial where the service was to commence. I did not see one Indigenous flag go through. Once we reached the entrance we were blocked by a row of policemen. This was as far as we could go. This was the extent to which we were allowed to remember the dead….

Standing there, face to face with the police, we simply stood. With our signs in hand and the beautiful signing of the words ‘lest we forget’ by some ladies in the group, we remembered the Frontier Wars.

We stood there unable to move forward. While we stood Tony Abbott’s face was broadcasted on big screens as he addressed the crowd.

At the time I felt defeated. I was shattered. We couldn’t do anything. We weren’t there to protest. We weren’t there to chant or disrupt ANZAC day. We were there to remember.

How could that be denied to us?

How come Indigenous people were not allowed in but the United States flag went right through?

We then turned around and walked back….

That afternoon we had a group discussion about the march. I had been feeling pretty down and shattered with our country. …When we discussed the day many people raised different things. What I took away and learnt from that discussion was the complete opposite to how I originally felt. We didn’t fail. We were not defeated. This action was one of the most successful actions I’ve been a part of. When we marched along the parade we were shown support. As the crowd watched everyone in front of us go through, they then saw the police move in and stop us. The lack of respect and second class treatment that Indigenous Australians received was highlighted so strongly in those moments. The people in the crowd witnessed this injustice. This action caused people to think and really question what was happening.

It is my hope that this has started a new campaign and that in our 100th ANZAC year this small start becomes amplified.

[1] David Stephens, from Honest History at the ANU uses this term, first coined in 1967, to refer to ‘inflated rhetoric that has burnished the story of the Dardanelles campaign into a national myth” http://www.independentaustralia.net/article-display/anzac-day-anzackery,6416