A prominent member of the council which rules the Australian War Memorial has voiced his opposition to a radical change in the way the Frontier Wars are represented there.
National president of the RSL Greg Melick, a member of the AWM council, told The Canberra Times the memorial wasn't the place to mark Indigenous resistance to British colonial forces in what are known as the Frontier Wars.
Its displays should be confined to those who fought "in Australian uniforms", said Mr Melick, speaking on behalf of the RSL.
The conflict between British forces and Indigenous resistance was "part of Australia's past, an unfortunate part, but there are more appropriate places to deal with it", said Mr Melick, a former Australian Defence Force major general.
There is a debate within the council about how the conflicts between the incomers and the resisters to white settlement should be depicted at the national shrine of remembrance.
At the core of the argument is:
The debate is understood to be intense, particularly since the arrival of Kim Beazley, the new chair of the council at the top of the AWM.
Mr Melick's tone is very different from Mr Beazley, a former Labor defence minister and leader.
Mr Beazley has previously told The Canberra Times there should be a "substantial" recognition of the conflicts between Aboriginal fighters and colonising forces.
He said Indigenous people should be given "the dignity of resistance", depicted in a substantial display in the museum part of the Memorial.
The memorial was about the history of Australians at war, he said. "And of course, when European settlement came to Australia, wars resulted," he said.
Mr Beazley said the Frontier Wars involved "guerrilla-type activity around the country" by people who were resisting an invasion.
"I think the Aboriginals in this country have been denied, not necessarily deliberately, but nevertheless denied the dignity of resistance," he said.
Greater recognition of the Frontier Wars in the war memorial would help address that and be "an important part of truth-telling for the country as a whole".
The argument under way behind the scenes at the memorial appears to centre on the word "substantial". It is a word open to interpretation.
Mr Melick accepted the enlarged museum at the memorial might have more space for a section on the colonial conflicts - but he baulked at the idea both sides should be honoured.
He thought the memorial should confine itself to commemorating those who fought in "Australian uniforms" rather than those - like Indigenous fighters - who fought against those in Australian uniforms.
"The war memorial is there for people in an Australian uniform," he said. Indigenous soldiers were depicted there when they fought in an Australian uniform, as they did in later conflicts.
Since Mr Beazley arrived, the tone has certainly changed but some remain sceptical policy has also changed.
"The problem is that the memorial hasn't been consistent. It looks like the Australian wars could end up being just a showcase in a colonial gallery," said historian Peter Stanley, of the University of NSW in Canberra.
Between 20,000 and 80,000 mostly Indigenous people were killed in the wars between Indigenous people and the forces of the colonists, whether as soldiers, police or vigilantes.
In contrast, Australia sent soldiers to Sudan in 1885. Only nine of them died from disease, and not from battle, so to put a display on the Frontier Wars alongside one on Sudan would be far from proportionate, said Prof Stanley, a former principal historian at the memorial.
Mr Melick called the conflicts "an important part of Australia's past that should be remembered" but added the war memorial was "not the place" for their commemoration.
Instead of the war memorial, he suggested the National Museum of Australia or the yet-to-be-built Ngurra Indigenous cultural precinct near Parliament House in Canberra.
Those who do not want much coverage of the Frontier Wars sometimes say the conflicts are beyond the war memorial's remit, which is to mark overseas wars or those fought by uniformed personnel.
Those who want a greater recognition of the Frontier Wars, on the other hand, cite the Australian War Memorial Act 1980.
Part II, section 5, states: that it should commemorate those who have died "on or as a result of active service; or ii. as a result of any war or warlike operations in which Australians have been on active service".
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