AWM and Gallipoli Souvenirs Inc
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AWM and Gallipoli Souvenirs Inc

Brendan Nelson has let me down. One of the very few advantages of appointing someone so obviously unsuitable as director of the Australian War Memorial was the expectation that the memorial would lead Australia in the production, exhibition and sale of cheap, tacky and deeply inappropriate Gallipoli memorabilia.

Perhaps of a type that might even help underwrite the cost and ghastliness of the vast, cheap, tacky and highly inappropriate ''celebrations'' of Anzac Day being planned for the glorification of politicians and pseudo-patriotism on April 25 two years hence.

Men of the 6th Field Battery on water-carrying fatigues stop for a rest and a smoke. From Anzac & Empire.

Men of the 6th Field Battery on water-carrying fatigues stop for a rest and a smoke. From Anzac & Empire.

Alas Dr Nelson has been beaten to the draw by the Bradford Exchange, which is now selling just the sort of things I had in mind. From it one can buy the ''Legend of Gallipoli watch'' - on the back of which is inscribed the words ''Australia was born on the shores of Gallipoli'', which is news to me.

Only 1915 (Geddit?) copies of this $399.50 gizmo will be produced. Buying one will, apparently, ''pay tribute to our Gallipoli heroes and the birth of our national identity …

A commemorative Gallipoli watch from The Bradford Exchange.

A commemorative Gallipoli watch from The Bradford Exchange.

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''The face is adorned with the heart-stirring image of John Simpson Kirkpatrick helping a wounded digger to safety, and the Rising Sun standing a [sic] majestically above them.''

The best that the War Memorial can do at the moment is a ''composite replica badge … struck to commemorate those who served at Gallipoli from April to December 1915'', for a mere $7.50.

Or one can buy a ''Gallipoli Lone Pine cotton pouch'' full of shavings from a fallen branch of the Lone Pine tree, or a wooden notepad holder, or pen, or trinket box , or even a two-up set carved from this fallen branch. The branch that fell was of some size, but I am beginning to think that Lone Pine tree relics are going to end up somewhat like relics of the True Cross - with enough wood to build an ark.

These tawdry AWM ''souvenirs'' of a great battlefield are not good enough. Not enough to give a person a warm ''Gallipoli experience'', let alone to imbue them with that spirit of patriotism, selfless sacrifice, endurance, concern for one another, courage in the face of adversity, and unquestioning obedience to orders that the centenary is apparently all about.

Commemorative Gallipoli ring from The Bradford Exchange.

Commemorative Gallipoli ring from The Bradford Exchange.

Hell, with stuff like that, people might think about the futility of war, the poor calibre of our political (and, often, military) leadership and the way that our national character was created in spite of, not because of, great effusions of blood - from Gallipoli to Afghanistan - to no military, strategic or political purpose.

A man with Brendan Nelson's taste in music should be able to manage paintings on velvet, or statues showing triumphant Diggers planting the Australian flag on the Achi Baba, made-in-China Bibles of the sort that might miraculously have stopped a .303 bullet, plastic replica shrapnel fragments, bandages of the type used to stanch bleeding, and hay of the sort fed to General Bridges' horse.

Commemorative Gallipoli knife from The Bradford Exchange.

Commemorative Gallipoli knife from The Bradford Exchange.

He should be licensing McDonald's for Anzac hamburgers and hot dogs, and Bradford Exchange for an array of brass figurines of future Australian political leaders - Menzies, say, or Curtin - as they were when Gallipoli was happening. We could have white feathers of the sort sent by anonymous ladies and brave domestic newspaper editors to people lacking the fortitude to be actually present at the great event.

All should, of course, carry a certificate of authenticity, accompanied by a signed photograph of Brendan Nelson, who told The Australian recently that his job at the memorial ''is an extension of my former role as minister for defence.'' Just the sort of reason, I should think, why his presence is divisive and inappropriate, and, I expect, intended to be by an antsy AWM board seriously irritated by the Gillard government.

A man with Brendan Nelson's taste in music should be able to manage paintings on velvet, or statues showing triumphant Diggers planting the Australian flag on the Achi Baba.

Still, if we must have Brendan, I hope the AWM can compete with the Bradford Exchange. Competition is, after all, the Liberal way. The AWM needs to have something that can compare, in awfulness, price, and exploitation of the moment with the ''Heroes of Gallipoli'' 24 ct gold-plated ring, for $199.95 (plus $19.99 p&h), the advertisement for which again urges us to ''pay tribute to our Gallipoli heroes''.

''The medallion centrepiece depicts two diggers charging up Anzac Cove, handcast of rich brass-plate [wasn't it 24 ct gold plate?]. The underside features the names, places and dates of the events which marked the birth of our national identity. Plated in silver and 24 ct gold [!], the ring is flanked by a military motif incorporating the Southern Cross. Engraved on the inner band with 'Australia was born on the shores of Gallipoli'.''

The exchange does not seem to have yet developed any jewellery to ''pay tribute'' to the senseless slaughter of the Western Front, or the campaigns in Palestine, but invites us all to also consider a The Kokoda Remembered men's watch, limited to 1942 issues, to ''remember the sacrifice which saved Australia with this handsome timepiece''.

One should not, perhaps, mock the products of the good folk of the Bradford Exchange, since they presumably wouldn't be making this stuff if there were not people around to buy it.

One notes that the exchange is not using the word Anzac. A law says that ''no person shall, without the authority of the minister, proof whereof shall lie upon the person accused, assume or use the word 'Anzac' or any word resembling the word 'Anzac' in connexion with any trade, business, calling or profession or in connexion with any entertainment or any lottery or art union or as the name or part of the name of any private residence, boat, vehicle or charitable or other institution, or any building in connexion therewith.''

The name is, in short, reserved for the commercial profit of the RSL, which (in exchange for a big donation from the NRL) licensed the word for the use of a football match, and the makers of VB and Bundaberg Rum.

Never let it be said that such a sacred word could be allowed to cheapened or shamed by being associated with a pocket knife, or a tea towel.

Jack Waterford is the former Editor-at-large at The Canberra Times and writes a regular column

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