The Hidden and Excess of Anzac Day

When living in a multiracial settler colony, any celebration of war is, to say the least, problematic. Yet, each and every year, every member of the Australian family – responsible parents and to be emancipated children – is compelled to commemorate those who perished in the name of the nation. The soldiers landing at ‘Anzac Cove’ have become the epitome of a heroism deemed strictly Australian, the hallmark of a white male national identity said to enshrine everything of value to the country: courage, endurance, initiative, discipline, and mateship.

Like any other foundational myth, the Anzac legend is a story too that needs repetition to hold true against the cracks created by memory and counter-narrative that it endeavours to conceal, silence and condemn. Patrolling the borders of patriotism, everything that challenges that one story the white nation needs to hear is labelled un-Australian, especially when voiced by Indigenous and non-white national subjects.

In this context of national history and identity policing, The Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Studies Association invited four established and emerging scholars, community practitioners and activists to reflect upon Anzac Day from the standpoint of their scholarship, their teaching experience and their embodied experience of exceeding the strict contours of what it means to be ‘Australian’. Not surprisingly, juxtaposing each other, these reflections effectively map and amplify what, borrowing from the wording of our contributors, is hidden and/or signified as ‘excess.’

Grounding her contribution to the ARC funded project Children Born of War: Australian and the War in the Pacific 1941-1945, Victoria Grieves questions the normalisation of war and reveals the wounds that it inflicts on the soldiers as well as women and children that stood behind them. As she argues, in the rush to glorify war, it is often forgotten that its impact goes far beyond the now vanished battlefield. It increasingly involves civilians and reverberates across time in the form of inter-generational trauma. In doing so, her piece reminds us that the memories of war and its crimes do not vanish overnight, neither the lived legacy of patriarchal racial discrimination which left the children born of African American-service men behind in Australia with their unwed mothers: Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander women who were precluded from migrating to the United States.

Expanding on the wilfully forgotten history of relations between Indigenous women and non-white men, Elaine Laforteza uses her own experience of teaching Cultural Studies to unpack the implicit signification of being Asian in Australia. As she explains, possessing a hyphenated identity always connotes an ‘excess’ which, besides nativising whiteness, disavowes non-white Australians’ connections with Indigenous people as well as their responsibility in colonisation.

The embodiment of excess is central in Yassir Morsi’s reflection on his relation to nationalism as both colonised and coloniser. Excavating his experience, past encounters return to him: a white man staring at him while respecting a minute long of silence for the fallen soldiers; and the image of Mel Gibson standing against the Pyramids of Egypt. In revisiting these memories, Morsi poignantly tells us what the story of Anzac Day tries to silence ‘by holding down the hand of the other.’

An encounter with a white man also marks the reflections of our last contributor. Centering her multiple and equally un-Australian identity, Eugenia Flynn’s post guides us through all the forms of identity and belonging that Anzac Day denies by means of positioning the ‘conquered native,’ the subservient Asian migrant and the grateful Muslim woman as the object of white men’s tolerance. Against white tolerance, Flynn proffers the institutional recognition of the Frontier Wars as a solution. The acknowledgment that Indigenous sovereignty was ‘fiercely defended and never ceded’ burst the myth of the ‘conquered and assimilated native’, thus disrupting the discourse of white tolerance informing all other race relations in the country.

We would like to thank all the contributors for giving an embodied voice to the many silences punctuating national myths around war and birth but also unfolding the intricate mass of socio-historical events informing the way we think of ourselves in relation to each other and place we live in.

Lest we forget that this always was and always will be Aboriginal land.


See also

Women and Children in War Zones and Children Born of War

Dr Maria Elena Indelicato is a Lecturer in Media Studies at the Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University, China. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, Australia. In her recently published monograph Australia’s New Migrants, she examines the intersections of race and emotions in Australian public discourses regarding ‘Asian’ international students while approaching the latter as subjects of the Australian border. Her work has been also published in feminist, race and cultural studies journals such as Outskirts: Feminisms along the Edge, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, Chinese Cinemas, and Inter-Asia Cultural Studies.

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