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Anzac Day is More Puff Than Substance


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The plucky bravery of the Anzacs is one of our great national stories – it plays into our idea of who we are. But why is one of the touchstones of our identity based on a historic defeat? Some are sick of the mantras of Anzac and mateship, while others believe worship of soldiers is inappropriate in an era when we’re still at war in Afghanistan. Are we becoming warmongers – or recognising the sacrifice of our defence personnel?

Our diverse panel – including historians, war reporters and former Army personnel – will argue some of the thorny issues. For instance, are the contributions of female, indigenous and migrant Australians sufficiently recognised in Anzac celebrations? Many Australians never wanted to be involved in these wars – they were conscripted to fight. Others protested. And many returned soldiers were rejected or ignored by communities keen to put the past behind them. Countless returned defence personnel suffer post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. Others receive insufficient support from the government on whose behalf they fought, far from home.

Is the pomp and celebration, the myth-making and hype, an appropriate way to honour the sacrifices of those who continue to suffer? 

On the other hand, is the offhand rejection of the high profile and grandeur of Anzac Day by some Australians a result of the fact that they’re so removed, in experience and by years, from the events of past wars? Are they driven by informed opposition, or ignorance? Other young Australians, similarly distant from the wars of the past, have delivered a shot of adrenaline to the ‘Anzac industry’ with backpacker pilgrimages to Gallipoli, the Kokoda Trail and other battle sites, and surging attendances at the Anzac Day Dawn Service. How are they defining Anzac for themselves – as a national touchstone, or a way of paying respect to the sacrifices of past generations? Or is it about finding something to believe in?

Finally, do first-hand experiences – whether it’s fighting wars or reporting on them – alter your perspective?

There’s ample ammunition on both sides of the argument, as our panelists debate whether Anzac Day is More Puff than Substance.

For the proposition:

· Professor Marilyn Lake – historian and author of What’s Wrong with Anzac
· Graham Wilson – formerly of the Australian Army and Department of Defence, now a historian and writer
· Jeff Sparrow – writer and editor of Overland

Against the proposition:

· Dr Brendan Nelson – director of the Australian War Memorial and former ambassador and politician
· John Martinkus – conflict zone journalist and cinematographer
· Brigadier Nicholas Jans – Australian Army veteran, Army Reservist and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Defence Leadership & Ethics at ADFA

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Intelligence Squared Debates

The Wheeler Centre and St James Ethics Centre combine again in 2013 to bring you a brand new series of Intelligence Squared debates.

Established in 2002, IQ2 has spread across the globe, bringing the traditional form of Cambridge and Oxford Unions-style debating – with two sides proposing and opposing a sharply formed motion – to Melbourne Town Hall.


John Martinkus

John Martinkus has covered conflicts since 1995 in East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Aceh, Sri Lanka and Burma for print and from 2004to 2008 forSBS Dateline. He has published three non fiction accounts of the conflicts in East Timor, Aceh and Iraq and a Quarterly Essay on West Papua. Since 2009 he has... Read more

Nick Jans

Royal Military College graduate Nick Jans, PhD, served in the Australian Regular Army for 25 years. He retains his association with the Army as an Army Reservist with the rank of Brigadier, and as a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Defence Leadership & Ethics, Australian Defence College. As res... Read more

Marilyn Lake

Marilyn Lake is a leading Australian historian with a national and international profile. She has been researching the impact of war on Australian society for 30 years, the subject of both her MA and PhD thesis. The latter won the Harbison-Higinbotham Prize awarded by the University of Melbourne for... Read more

Simon Longstaff

Dr Simon Longstaff is Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre and chairs the Intelligence Squared debates in Sydney and Melbourne. Simon Longstaff spent five years studying and working as a member of Magdalene College, Cambridge, before returning to Australia in mid-1991. Having won scholarshi... Read more

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a writer, editor, broadcaster, and Walkley award-winning journalist. He is a columnist for The Guardian Australia, a former Breakfaster at Melbourne’s 3RRR, and a past editor of Overland literary journal. His most recent books are Provocations: New and Selected Writing; Crimes a... Read more

Brendan Nelson

Dr Brendan Nelson became director of the Australian War Memorial in December 2012. Prior to this, he was the Australian ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO (2009–12). Apart from overseeing a major transformation in Australia’s relationships with the European Union and ... Read more

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson served 26 years in the Australian Army, followed by 14 years in the Department of Defence. Retired since 2011, he is now a full time historian, researcher and writer. He is the author of Bully Beef and Balderdash: Some Myths of the AIF Examined and Debunked and Dust, Donkeys and Delusi... Read more


Melbourne Town Hall

90-120 Swanston Street Melbourne Victoria 3000

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