Let's be Honest, did we need Gallipoli?
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Let's be Honest, did we need Gallipoli?

T

his column is a cliche-free zone but if we did ever stoop to using the expression ''thought-provoking'' we would use it to describe the new edition (the fourth) of the Honest History e-newsletter.

The founders of Honest History (so new that its website is still just a building site) have been especially galvanised by the approach of the centenary years of the Great War of 1914-18. President, the historian Professor Peter Stanley, explains in this newsletter that Honest History is ''a recently formed loose coalition of diverse views, including historians and others, all concerned that the Anzac centenary is getting out of hand (even before it's begun). We worry that over the period 2014-19 Australians will be exposed to bellicose claptrap - to history that is essentially dishonest.''

Here, from a contribution to the newsletter by Stanley (from a speech he has just given) is a taste of what Honest History is about.

He wonders why Gallipoli seems to obsess us and muses: ''Some might contend that [Gallipoli] is important because the Australian nation was 'born' on Gallipoli.

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''I frankly don't think that is true. I cannot see how that actually occurred; it's too mystical an explanation. If it was believed by the generation that fought the war, then I think we need to regard it as an artefact of that period, along with the idea of a White Australia or the idea that Australia was part of the British Empire. That Australia, the Australia of 1915, believed all three ideas. Our Australia has shrugged off two of them, but one of those beliefs persists.''

Which reminds us that arguably the best exhibition in town is the National Museum of Australia's Glorious Days: Australia 1913, a wonderful snapshot of who and what we were in 1913. Some of us, as you can see in this illustration from the exhibition, enjoyed good nutrition and dressed stylishly and used new-fangled cameras with flair and aplomb.

On the eve of the Great War, as the exhibition shows poignantly, we were already (and without Gallipoli having happened yet) really, truly a nation, and an energetic, quirky, inventive and full-of-promise one at that. We'd even chosen a site for a federal capital and had been smart enough to choose a design for it created by a brace of American geniuses.

You can inquire about Honest History and its newsletter at admin@honesthistory.net.au.

Glorious Days: Australia 1913 continues at the National Museum of Australia until October 13.