THE COST OF REMEMBRANCE
This year’s Remembrance Day is one of added significance as it ends the centenary commemorations of the First World War. As an Australian taxpayer I am thankful that the Great War, the conflict proclaimed as the war to end all wars, ran no more than the bloody four that it did. In the past four years Australia has spent a whopping $552 million dollars remembering that century old conflict. $472 million of this was tax payer funded. Consider that expenditure against the claims that more money cannot be found for health, education and social services. Consider that expenditure against the fact that the cost of Australia’s remembrance, a nation that lost 62,000 men, is more than double that of New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Germany combined whose war deaths totalled 5.633 million! By any measure Australia’s commemorative expenditure was outrageously excessive. The question left is, why? The answer to that lies in the current fixation with the Anzac myth. Sadly, 11 November has been rolled into the chauvinistic narrative of Australian greatness that begins with the ‘glorious’ landing at Gallipoli and concludes with the ludicrous overblown claim that Australian victories under General Monash ‘won the war’ – a claim that I am sure would have been challenged by the combined millions of American, Belgian, British Empire and French troops who fought on other fronts. The extolling of this contested and tenuous foundation myth has been a conservative cause celebre since John Howard’s ascension to the prime-ministership in 1996. It has been aided and abetted by the increased militarism of Australia since the war on terror began with the attack on the twin towers in New York in 2001, so much so that our remembrance is now too often wrapped in the cloak of crass nationalism. It is entirely appropriate that the nation’s war dead be remembered. No greater sacrifice can be asked of any citizen than to give their life in the service of their country. However, it would be remiss of us to not, at the same time, reflect on the reasons given and decisions made that commit the country to war. If we are to honour the sacrifice of mostly young men made in war, then we should be prepared to challenge the necessity of those deaths with the honourable purpose of limiting the possibility of further loss in future wars. Rather than accept and mouth automatic and somewhat pithy utterances such as “We remember them for giving us the freedoms we enjoy today” take time to analyse that statement. It’s fundamentally untrue. Even if we accept the necessity of Australian troops fighting in Europe in two world wars to defend democratic ideals, our freedoms were won within our own borders not without. It was on the back of trade unionism, the suffragette movement and progressive government that we enjoy our so-called freedoms of today (notwithstanding the grave injustices perpetrated against indigenous Australians). There is little historical evidence to suggest those freedoms have been or ever will be threatened by Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghans or Syrians. Our reasons for being implicated in wars in those countries had and have little to do with protecting our personal freedoms. Moreover, if one considers the extent of public vilification and hounding unleashed against former SBS journalist Scott McIntyre and former ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied, for daring to critique the newly entrenched exalted Anzac orthodoxy then there is every reason to believe that our personal freedoms are more likely to be eroded from within rather than from distant foreign fields. While we remember the tragedy of the deaths of so many of the nation’s men in the First World War – a greater tragedy because the war never averted future wars as intended – we should also not forget who those men were and the values they held. As one Australian army historian remarked to me at the time of the Gallipoli centenary, if the unknown soldier was awoken, he’d take one look around and go back to sleep as the vibrant multicultural Australia of today is not the white Australia he vowed to defend. Equally, I suspect those diggers who survived would have considered the exorbitant expenditure on centenary commemoration money ill spent on remembering a war many of them spent the rest of their lives trying to forget.
Solved? The mystery of the ANZAC skull
The recent and somewhat macabre story in the Guardian by Paul Daley (25 September) about the skull of a First World War Australian soldier on display at the Mütter Museum in America is a shocking one.
Two questions are proffered as a lead in to Daley’s article. Who is he, and why is he there?
Putting aside the unethical act of removing a dead soldier’s head from his body for public display, the answer to why the skull is in the museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia is elusive.
The First World War was a period in which medical curiosity was still somewhat informed by Victorian values and in the name of advancing the general cause of science the surgeon responsible for the removal of the head, may have decided the case of this fallen Anzac was in the public interest. The college already had a significant skull collection.
The ‘who is he?’ may not be as mysterious as is first supposed. The provenance of the skull provides specific information from which a search can be undertaken. It is stated that the soldier was wounded on the 28 September 1917 at Polygon Wood in Belgium and that he died five days later. If accurate, that would place the date of death as 3 October 1917…
Vale TONY COHEN 4 June 1957 – 2 August 2017
Legendary Australian sound engineer and producer Tony Cohen passed away peacefully in his sleep last week at the Dandenong and District Hospital. He was sixty years of age.
Tony has left behind a remarkable legacy of Australian sound through the bands he worked with over a career spanning five decades. His list of credits reads as a pantheon of the Australian music scene. While he dealt with mainstream acts he found his niche in the independent music scene that exploded in the late 1970s.
Tony began his career after a two-week work experience stint at Armstrong’s studios in South Melbourne. At the end of the fortnight he simply continued to work instead of returning to school.
At Armstrong’s Tony fell under the tutelage of Molly Meldrum and with Molly achieved early gold record success as a nineteen year old engineer with the band Supernaut’s I Like It Both Ways and a year later with the Ferrets Dreams Of A Love album. Tony became friends with The Ferrets and toured as their sound engineer which was an unprecedented thing at the time.
Life on the road saw Tony drift away from Armstrong’s and he became ensconced at Richmond Recorders where he became something of a mad professor within the four walls of that musical asylum. It was at Richmond between 1978-1983 that he met and worked with bands such as The Boys Next Door, The Models, The Go-Betweens, The Laughing Clowns, The Dots, Hunters & Collectors, The Reels and The Dynamic Hepnotics, bands and artists that would illuminate Australia’s musical landscape.
It was Tony’s generosity in giving time to not only those bands but numerous others that passed through the doors of Richmond Recorders alongside his willingness to experiment that made him such a vital figure in the Melbourne music scene particularly.
Tony moved to Sydney for a short time in 1983 and as the eighties progressed the bands that came into his orbit continued to grow. The Sacred Cowboys. The Johnnys and The Beasts of Bourbons were three from which enduring productive artistic associations were formed with the likes of Spencer P. Jones, Kim Salmon, Charlie Owen and Tex Perkins.
By the mid-eighties Tony had begun to develop a firm working relationship with The Birthday Party and then Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. In 1986 he moved to London and then later to Berlin. He toured Europe and the United States during this time with The Bad Seeds as well as working on half a dozen of their albums.
Drugs which had been a constant in Tony’s life took a serious hold and in 1988 he returned to Australia in ill health and retreated to his parents’ home in Kongwak. Here he spent a few years in relative seclusion until 1991 when he reconnected with Tex Perkins and began working with the Cruel Sea. This was the beginning of a new purple patch in Tony’s career.
The period between 1991-1996 was a frenetic time and a slew of great artists came Tony’s way, Grant McLennan, Robert Forster, Paul Kelly, Maurice Frawley and Dave Graney among them. Simply put his genius was a sought after commodity. It was during this time that he won three Aria awards, for best producer (twice) and best engineer. His work on The Cruel Sea’s The Honeymoon Is Over album is perhaps the most enduring of his works and was certainly the one of which he was most proud.
From 2002 Tony lapsed into a state of semi-retirement. His health had become a major concern and simply did not allow him to spend the protracted hours at a mixing desk that was needed and that he had been able to do in days gone by.
I was fortunate to get to know Tony quite well over the past few years and his black humour and generosity were always on show. The world amused him and his hearty laugh rings in my head as clear as a bell. He was no angel and previous drug induced behaviours sometimes hurt those close to him. He was remorseful of that yet he owned his addictions and knew that advanced age was not something that would be his to enjoy. He expressed no regrets about his lifestyle saying that it had allowed him to travel to places he would otherwise have not seen and to work with an array of extraordinary artists.
Tex Perkins once called Tony an ‘evil genius’. It was a mischievous evil not a malevolent one as Tony was as gentle a soul as one could find. By Tony’s own admission he was not a technical maestro. His genius was intuitive and he will be missed by all who worked with him, by all who were influenced by him and by all who were lucky enough to call him a friend.
In a recent tribute Nick Cave referred to Tony as a ‘national treasure’ and I can think of no better appellation given the extensive list of credits next to his name. He undoubtedly shaped Australian musical sounds for two decades and when at his peak had no peer. One hopes that the music industry will make appropriate acknowledgement.
Tony is survived by his wife Astrid Munday, his mother Margaret and his brother Martin.
Bomber Saga dictates Russians must be banned.
For chagrined Essendon (Australian Rules) supporters who for the past four years have watched the AFL, ASADA, WADA and a posse of media sheriffs attack their football club there can only be one outcome in the current Russian doping scandal. Russia must be banned!
ALP’s disastrous election.
As Australians entered the working week after the election weekend some 10 marginal seats were too close to call. Labor was ahead in most with postal votes to come. Throughout the ABC’s election telecast Scott Morrison stuck steadfastly to his expectation that the COALition would maintain most of those seats as the postal votes flowed in. And guess what? Scomo, not being one who kicks many goals for anything he is charged with, was right on the money in this instance.
Dale is a freelance historian currently working at Deakin University’s Burwood Campus in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. He was awarded his doctorate at Victoria University in 1998 and his PhD Thesis was subsequently published as Dinkum Diggers: An Australian Battalion at War by Melbourne University Press in 2001.
He has written two other books, No Quarter: Unlawful Killing and Surrender in the Australian War Experience, 1915-18 published by Ginninderra Press (2005) and The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel: Tommies, Diggers and Doughboys on the Hindenburg Line, 1918 published by Frontline Books (2011). Both are now available online through Amazon Kindle.