The Department of Veterans’ Afairs has since the mid-1990s operated a large, well-funded and energetic Commemorations program which I have been involved with off-and-on in various ways. I’m wary of aspects of DVA’s influence, and worry that it skews the study of Australian military history in schools towards an unduly uncritical understanding of history (of which the most egregious example is Brendon Nelson’s ‘Simpson’ poster – which articulated several ‘Anzac values’ which children were urged to emulate). But though DVA’s immense resources and reach could be a worry I believe that working with it is the best way to help its people – who include friends and former colleagues – to do justice to the complexity of war history and not simplify celebrate the heroic digger legend.
One of those ways was by writing the text and selecting the images for one of DVA’s series of booklets dealing with Australian campaigns and battles of the Second World War. Following my Tarakan and the work I’d done on Sandakan (including for the exhibitions 1945: War & Peace and the Second World War gallery) it seemed natural for me to do this. This booklet appeared in 2005, and was the last book of the half-dozen I wrote while working at the Australian War Memorial.