A different Anzac celebration

As we embrace a different way of celebrating Anzac Day this year – Saturday 25 April – Dr Romain Fathi suggests it could also be time for an alternative approach to Australian war commemoration in France with benefits to include deeper cultural ties and stronger relations between our countries.

A Senior Lecturer in Australian History, Dr Fathi has made a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the opportunities for strengthening Australia’s relations with the Republic of France, which is available on the Parliament of Australia website.

Informed by his research on Australian war commemoration in France, the submission sets out the limits of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs approach to commemorating military history for the purpose of promoting cultural exchange, people-to-people ties and tourism amongst French people.

Instead, he advocates for the development of a new narrative of French-Australian history, encouraged through best practice historical techniques including a process of ‘shared history’ that encompasses a wider perspective beyond France’s northern regions.

The Anzac legend is commemorated in France through Australian Government showcases that include a $10 million Australian Remembrance Trail and the $100 million Sir John Monash Centre in the village of Villers-Bretonneux.

These contributions have been expensive in relation to the proportion of French people involved and Australian tourists engaged.

Dr Romain believes further projects on Australian battle sites in France won’t deepen the people-to-people links between the two nations, and it’s time to consider how broader reach and relationships can be achieved.

“Funding would be better spent on other projects in other areas of France where Australia is lesser known. Telling the same stories to the same group of people has limitations,” he says.

ANZAC Day 2020

In Australia, the necessary ‘offsite’ nature of celebrations this year may prove a valuable experiment in exploring new ways to engage audiences, as we join together in celebration of the contributions and sacrifices made by those who have fought for our country.

With celebrations cancelled or closed to the public here and overseas, we are being asked to commemorate Anzac Day privately, including through reflection or creative approaches in our own homes, or tuning in to one of the dawn services.

The RSL is promoting their #lightupthedawn campaign, encouraging people to ‘come together’ as a community and mark their remembrance by holding candles on their driveways, balconies or at their front windows.

There will be a televised national service from the Australian War Memorial from 5:30am (AEST) and a dawn service at South Australia’s State National Memorial from 6am.

Both events will be broadcast by the ABC, including ABC Radio Adelaide with Peter Goers broadcasting live on 891AM, DAB+ and via the ABC listen app. Find out more, including the broader schedule for the day, on the ABC website.

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