The Spectacle of Remembrance: Cultural Amnesia, Anzac, National Identity and the ‘Forgotten’ Frontier Wars

Stream: Panel 49 - Comparative Politics: Nationalism and the Politics of National Identity 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


The centrepiece of Australia’s WWI centenary commemorations is the Australian War Memorial (AWM), which has received substantial government funding to mark the occasion. In its various roles as museum, shrine, record-keeping and research institution, the AWM has significant responsibility for the shaping, construction and dissemination of official narratives of Australian war experience and remembrance. The AWM claims to tell ‘Our Story’, reaffirming the Anzac legend and the foundational myth that Australia was born as a nation at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. These narratives are closely linked to political and cultural understandings of Australian national identity, and their privileging excludes and silences other histories, notably, the violence of colonisation and the Frontier Wars. The paper examines the omission of the Frontier Wars and the politics of representation in the AWM’s remembrance discourse via Michael Rogin’s rendering of spectacle and cultural amnesia. As a form of therapeutic politics, spectacle has an anaesthetising effect, ameliorating the impact of domestic and foreign policy performances for particular audiences, and in national identity discourse. Spectacular representation therefore has political effects and implications, (re)producing particular understandings of Australian war experience and national identity, at the same time as limiting possibilities for Other stories. Contextualising spectacle, remembrance and collective forgetting at the AWM, the paper will also analyse the artworks at Reconciliation Place, Canberra; the National Museum of Australia’s First Australians Gallery; and the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery’s 2015 exhibition, (in)visible: The First Peoples and War.


Lisa Barritt-Eyles (Presenter), University of Newcastle
Lisa Barritt-Eyles is a PhD candidate in Politics and sessional academic at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her areas of research interest include: US and Australian foreign policy, international relations, politics of identity and representation, war remembrance, Australia’s Frontier Wars. Lisa holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the Australian National University, and a Masters of Arts (Journalism) from the University of Technology, Sydney.