Anzackery

There is perhaps no word as powerful in the Australian consciousness as ‘Anzac.’ Conjuring up thoughts of Anzac Day, ideas such as mateship and sacrifice, and perhaps even Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, it is a word that has resonated since the first Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli one hundred years ago.

Australian parliamentarians recognised the power and potential of the word ‘Anzac’ as early as 1916, and by 1921 had legislated that government permission was required in order to use the word ‘Anzac.’ It was hoped that regulations would protect it from inappropriate use.

Some of the very worst of Anzackery has been exposed during the last week, with Woolworths’ ill-fated “fresh in our memories” campaign publicly lambasted by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Michael Ronaldson.

Similarly, Target has been forced to pull three Anzac-branded pieces as part of its Camp Gallipoli range, including a stubby holder. But these very public disendorsements are only pinpricks at the larger leviathan that is the commercial machinery of Anzac.

Camp Gallipoli – which promises to have you camping “out under the same stars as the original Anzacs did 100 years ago” – is an odd combination of music festival, barbeque, movie night and school camp that will be occurring at venues across Australia on April 24th.

A single ‘deluxe Camp Gallipoli Anzac swag’ will set you back $275. And then of course there is the small problem that “swags may not be erected at the events as they will hinder other attendees’ views of the stage.” A cynic might begin to question just how much of a slumber party the campaign at Gallipoli actually was.

It seems everyone is cashing in on the idea of Anzac. Lee Kernaghan, country singer and Australian of the Year in 2008, has recently released both a single and an album – just in time! – entitled Spirit of the Anzacs. While proceeds from the single are going to the charities Soldier On and Legacy, no such commitments have been made about the album, the special edition DVD, the related merchandise or the juggernaut that is Spirit of the Anzacs: the Arena Tour, coming to a city near you later this year.

I could go on – there are commemorative coins to collect, NRL and AFL Anzac-branded jerseys, Victoria Bitter’s ‘Raise A Glass’ campaign and so much more. And while Woolworths and Target fell foul of authorities, these campaigns and many more have received the requisite ministerial approval. It seems that the line between reverently commemorating the Anzacs and commercially benefiting from their service is perhaps so fine that, provided there is some donation to veterans groups, to Minister Ronaldson these ventures all fall into the former category.

But to look past the profiteering associated with these commercial campaigns, a bigger problem with the version of Anzac that is being bandied around by companies emerges. The version of Gallipoli as they would have you believe it is an easily digestible one, where no blood was shed and the Australians and Turks were the best of friends, sharing bully beef and Anzac biscuits. The horrific suffering and hardship associated with war is sanitised.

They do not tell the story of Hugo Throssell, Victoria Cross recipient and son of a West Australian premier, who returned from the First World War a fierce pacifist, only to shoot himself in the head with his service revolver in 1933.

Nor do they tell the story of the uncounted number of indigenous soldiers who enlisted and served overseas, only to be denied the repatriation benefits afforded to their white fellow servicemen when they returned to Australia.

Stories like those of Australian soldiers, notorious for their pilfering in the aftermath of battles, souveniring rings off the fingers of dead Turks at Gallipoli, are never told.

The shiny, glossy version of Gallipoli that we are being sold as part of the Anzac centenary commemorations is only a small part of Australia’s experience of the First World War. We can only accept the commercialized narrative when we acknowledge that it is part of a broader story of the First World War. Every Anzac Day, millions of Australians parrot the words ‘Lest We Forget’. But perhaps, amidst the fog of commercialised Anzackery that has proliferated the country, we have already forgotten.

Alix Biggs was formerly part of the Youth Working Group supporting the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board.