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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Let's remember the frontier wars on Anzac Day

I was surprised when a friend of mine on Facebook put up yesterday a link to a story Paul Daley, an Australian historian, published in the Guardian two years ago on his discomfort at the lack of recognition for the Aboriginal frontier wars in Australia's official war record. To me it has always been a no-brainer, which is why in 2010, when I was working as a freelance journalist writing stories for other publications, I wrote a story for Fairfax's National Times website (now defunct) on the same subject. In both stories there is the sense that we should use the official day for commemorating war in Australia to right a wrong, to fill in a lacuna, to set the record straight.

I have never spoken to Paul Daley and I do not even think I have seen any of his books in a bookshop - although I have not read a book since July, which is a subject for another blogpost at some other time; regular readers of my blog will have some inkling as to why it is so - but after seeing his story and after reading it I count him as something of a soul mate. The idea to recognise Aboriginal Australians in Anzac Day ceremonies is the kind of thing that strikes you at once and then stays with you forever. You do not even have to do any rationalising; all you have to do is say the words "Anzac Day" and "Aboriginal frontier wars" and they immediately congregate in the one phrase.

We should recognise the Aboriginal frontier wars in our Anzac Day ceremonies, as Paul Daley says. If the official Act of Parliament that was used to institute the Australian War Memorial gets in the way because of the way it is worded then all you have to do is change the law. Language, as we know, is highly plastic, and can be made to do many things and take on many forms. To merely say that the Act prevents us from changing our official policy is to merely shirk the issue lazily. It is a matter that we need, as a people, to look after in a way that will enable us to make redress for something that has gone untouched for too long. It is just a part, as Daley says, of the puzzle of Reconciliation, but it is one that can be put in place so easily and to such great effect.

The reason I put the story of the lost medals into my story from 2010 is because often we do forget, although the Anzac Day ceremony asks us never to do so. Remembering the lost lives of fighters in the frontier wars is something that we should do collectively. It should should be something that enters into our collective consciousness. We should have the names of the dead as markers to guide us in our observances and in our conversations about it. It is time to do something. Let's do it.

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