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Push to remove Douglas Haig's name from park

Date

Noel Towell

Director of the Braddon Forum Peter Conway and Director of Alpha Commercial Property Petros Drakakis at Haig Park.

Director of the Braddon Forum Peter Conway and Director of Alpha Commercial Property Petros Drakakis at Haig Park. Photo: Jay Cronan

A move by residents of Canberra's inner north to rename a local park looks set to re-open the bitter 100-year debate over Australian casualties in World War I.

The Braddon Forum has asked the ACT government to use the centenary of the war to consider dumping the name ''Haig Park'', arguing that the supreme commander of British and imperial forces in the war, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, has Australian blood on his hands.

The argument has raged for 100 years over the performance of Haig and his generals; whether they did the best they could in the circumstances or if British and Australian troops were indeed ''lions led by donkeys'' .

The supreme commander of British and imperial forces in World War I Field Marshall Douglas Haig,

The supreme commander of British and imperial forces in World War I Field Marshall Douglas Haig, Photo: FAIRFAX PHOTO LIBRARY

In Australia the debate has pitted left against right, republican versus monarchist and young against old at various times as the standing of Haig, the architect of the British military’s greatest disaster on the Somme in July 1916, has fallen, risen and fallen again.

But for the Braddon Forum, local planning activists who claim no historical expertise, the name of Haig Park, just metres from the Australian War Memorial, just doesn’t sit right.

In their letter to ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, Braddon Forum members Peter Conway and Petros Drakakis have called for a rethink.

''There have been previous calls for Haig Park to be renamed, given criticism of that commander’s military strategies and relentless pursuit of victory at the huge cost of life,'' the two men wrote.

''The Field Marshal’s nicknames include ‘Master of the Field’, ‘the butcher of The Somme’ and ‘Butcher Haig.' ''

If a change of name, which was considered by the territory’s Place Names Committee in 2003 and again in 2006, is off the agenda, the forum suggests the government could consider some interpretive signage explaining the much-maligned military man’s role in Australia’s history.

But Canberra-based military historian Peter Stanley of the University of NSW was scathing at the idea of the name change.

Professor Stanley conceded that Haig’s reputation has been patchy over the decades, but to change the name of the park would be ''grotesque revisionism''.

''The park was named after Douglas Haig because at the time he was regarded – justifiably – as the general who had led the British empire’s armies to victory on the Western  Front,'' Professor Stanley said.

''Haig’s reputation has been both attacked and defended. The thrust of current military historical thinking is that he did as good a job as could have been done.

''To rename the park would be grotesque and unjustifiable revisionism.''

 Mr Gentleman  said the Place Names Committee had decided the name was part of Canberra’s historic fabric.

''The committee also agreed that it is not good practice to revisit the appropriateness of public place names in the light of further research, controversy or contemporary opinions, and suggested that keeping the name would be a way to encourage reflection and discussion about the First World War,'' Mr Gentleman said.

The Minister said the Braddon Forum was free to approach the committee again if it believed the war’s centenary was an appropriate time to re-examine the name of the park.

9 comments

  • I think it should be renamed "Light Rail Terminal No 9" in honour of the switch gear that will be installed to send the tram on its Ainslie/Campbell/Russell loop.

    Commenter
    Outraged o'P
    Date and time
    August 11, 2014, 7:56AM
    • leave the name, clean up the public toilets at the end of lonsdale street which are a disgrace, showing respect for fallen,maybe better information signage fred

      Commenter
      fred
      Location
      lyons
      Date and time
      August 11, 2014, 8:29AM
      • There needs to be another category in the poll, I want to retain the name but think Haig's record is contestable. But history is history and it needs to be preserved.

        Commenter
        Jeremy
        Date and time
        August 11, 2014, 9:15AM
        • All generals in that mess of a war have blood on their hands, but they were working with what they had at the urging of the civilian politicians who wanted them to have at the enemy all the time.

          Leave it as it is.

          (PS - Field Marshal has only one L, not two. @standards)

          Commenter
          His Lordship
          Date and time
          August 11, 2014, 9:25AM
          • Seems quite an apt name then considering what goes on in that park. Money would be better spent opening it up with better lighting so it can avoid it's other name 'r*pey' park.

            Commenter
            Northerner
            Date and time
            August 11, 2014, 9:32AM
            • Haig was part of a culture, in Britain and the Empire, that all regarded human life as disposable - our own record is no better. He was no worse nor better than his contemporaries and was confronted with a war situation never before seen and for which he and others were unprepared.

              Commenter
              Will
              Date and time
              August 11, 2014, 9:37AM
              • Is that guy John Cleese, or what?

                Give it an Aboriginal name or the name of a notable Australian artist. Sculthorpe. Sutherland.

                It would be tit for tat, after Gillard's nauseating British Empire grovel of 2011, renaming part of Parkes Places after Queen Elizabeth.

                Commenter
                Stephen
                Date and time
                August 11, 2014, 9:42AM
                • The "Braddon Forum"! What the hell is the 'Braddon Forum" and who do they represent? Whats more, how many do they represent. For God's sake leave things alone.. It has been known as Haigh Park since establishment and similarly the history of the war has been known since it took place. What is new that would justify revisiting the name? Nothing! Must be a real slow news day.

                  Commenter
                  Grange
                  Location
                  Canberra
                  Date and time
                  August 11, 2014, 10:32AM
                  • Up to a point this is historical revisionism gone mad. The best generals of 1918 (including Monash) would have done no better than Haig in 1914-17 because they were all learning a new form of war. Not that that is much consolation to those who died. Having said that, an Australian name would probably be more sensible. Times change.

                    Commenter
                    Pride of Erindale
                    Location
                    Tuggeranong
                    Date and time
                    August 11, 2014, 10:33AM
                    Comments are now closed
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