Seven official volumes on Australian military operations to be commissioned by the government should not ignore the important events leading up to the conflicts, a top historian has warned.
The Australian War Memorial received $13 million in Tuesday's budget to write an official history on Australia's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its peacekeeping operations in East Timor.
Once an official historian was selected, they would spend seven years producing a six-volume history on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and one-volume on East Timor.
But Honest History president Peter Stanley said these histories couldn't start when Australians landed in these countries and would have to look at the prehistory and reasons why Australia became involved in these "contentious" conflicts.
Mr Stanley said, for example the history on East Timor couldn't "just begin on the beach in Dili [in 1999]" and would have to look back at successive Australian governments "fraught" relations with East Timor over the decades.
"That will be a serious test of the legitimacy of this project and our maturity as a nation," Mr Stanley said, who added the volume on East Timor was a chance for the Australian government to "come clean".
AWM director Brendan Nelson said although it would be a matter for the historian he sees no reasons why the events leading up to these conflicts wouldn't be covered.
"It's extremely important that history always be recorded. That we, apart from anything else, learn from our history and what we have done and how we have done it," Mr Nelson said.
Both Mr Stanley and Mr Nelson said despite it being an 'official history', the selected historian would be fully independent.
"They're commissioned by governments but official histories are not censored or directed by governments and they're official because the historians who write them are granted free access to all official documents," Mr Stanley said.
Mr Nelson said the AWM would soon begin the process of canvassing Australia for the official historian in a "transparent and open process".
"It's important not because it's going to give employment to a dozen historians for the next seven years. It's important because it will give us works of lasting national value," Mr Stanley said.