What is meant by properly recognising and commemorating the Frontier Wars at the Memorial?
The War Memorial is a memorial, a museum, and an archive.
Proper recognition must include designating a separate Australian Frontier Wars Gallery to display artefacts and artworks. This gallery must not be shared with ‘pre-1914’ conflicts and must be considerably larger than the negligible space allocated to the Frontier Wars in the pre-redevelopment Memorial – space which, if current plans persist, is unlikely to grow significantly in future.
Beyond an Australian Frontier Wars Gallery, commemoration options could include adding the words ‘Australian Frontier Wars’ to the names of war theatres on the walls above the Pool of Reflection, adding panels to the Roll of Honour to commemorate First Nations warriors and their families, and perhaps having a Tomb of the Unknown First Nations Warrior.
The Memorial’s research facilities should be augmented to ensure appropriate on-site access to resources on the Frontier Wars.
What mechanisms would ensure the Frontier Wars are properly recognised and commemorated at the Memorial?
To avoid doubt and to give clear guidance to the Memorial Council, management and staff, the Australian War Memorial Act 1980 must be amended to require the Memorial to recognise and commemorate the Australian Frontier Wars just as it does Australian military service overseas.
The Memorial’s internally appointed Indigenous Advisory Group must be augmented by Expert Groups of historians and First Nations people, appointed by the Memorial Council but backed by a charter letter from the Minister to the Council, setting out the Minister’s expectations.
While the Memorial will not put its Frontier Wars curatorial team together until 2024 or 2025, it is important to put these mechanisms in place soon to set parameters for the curatorial work.
These are important changes in the Memorial’s direction, too important to be left to its curators, its hand-picked Indigenous advisers, or even its Council. The Memorial belongs to all Australians, and its future should be a matter of concern to all of us.
Will having a Frontier Wars Gallery at the Memorial be sufficient to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars?
No. There needs also to be commemoration, as described above. There is a risk that the Memorial will gather a selection of its artefacts and artworks depicting and presenting frontier conflict, deposit this material in a space designated ‘Frontier Wars Gallery’, or even in a corner of a ‘Pre-1914 Gallery’, and do nothing more.
Properly recognising and commemorating the Frontier Wars grounds Australian sovereignty in the land we live in and in an honest understanding of our more than 60 000 years of history. It overcomes the ‘Great Australian Silence’; filling that silence is a gift to future generations.