Feb 20, 2014

Lest we forget to pay: how Anzac Day became a commercial enterprise

Organisations are flogging memorabilia and governments are spending millions on the Anzac century. Army veteran and Lowy military fellow James Brown asks: why can't we remember without spending up?

The breathless Irish voice on the end of the phone had been singing for four minutes straight on the majestic scale of the Anzac centenary. “It will be the biggest thing you’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s going to start with a gorgeous re­-creation of the Gallipoli convoy departure in Albany, Western Australia, on 1 November 1914, to bookend the whole centenary of celebrations. Everybody’s involved,” she gushed from her call centre. “Legacy, the City of Albany, the West Australian Government, the RSL, the Australian Light Horse Association — it’s going to be magnificent. You don’t want to miss out.”

Untroubled by the silence from my end of the phone, she homed in with her sales pitch: “So we’re producing the commemorative publication for the whole centenary, Gallipoli 100, distributed to 84,000 people and with introductory letters from the likes of the Prime Minister. Would you like to book a message of support and show the Defence forces what you do?” She outlined the options: the best spots up front had already been taken by the National Australia Bank and a “gorgeous” advertisement from the Australian Submarine Corporation, but $14,950 would buy me a full page. For a 50% premium she could reserve a special spot right after the Ode of Remembrance.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

25 thoughts on “Lest we forget to pay: how Anzac Day became a commercial enterprise

  1. Dez Paul

    Thanks, James, for bringing this detail, even if inglorious and vomit inducing.

    I do hope that, in amongst all the nostalgic jingoism and chicanery, people do actually remember what the sacrifice meant and the context it occurred in. And, hopefully, that would be enough to make the original ANZACs proud.

    Keating would be rightly disgusted, and, I suspect, many Kiwis and Turkish also.

  2. wayne robinson

    I’m going on the 2015 cruise to Gallipoli, the one with Bert Newman as one of the entertainers.

    It’s a good excuse for going on a cruise and visiting places I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. A good excuse for getting away and relaxing.

    The passengers on the ship won’t be going onshore for the Anzac Day service. It will be observed from the ship (and a good thing too – it will be much more comfortable than being squashed into a small area)

  3. MJPC

    Jingoism is never attractive, or inexpensive it would appear.
    I wonder how many of the comemorative items (offered at great cost, not only in $ but also in good taste) are actually made in Australia?

  4. Sean

    I’ve been there myself and you wouldn’t get me within a bull’s roar of the place around Anzac Day. Idiocy.

  5. graybul

    Have we moved from reverence to obscenity? Am reminded of Christ clearing the Temple . . . . .

  6. Phillip Gray

    Thanks James,
    My Great,Great Uncle left the new land farm at Kwolyin in the WA wheatbelt to go timber cutting in the south west. He joined the 10 Light Horse and sailed away without saying goodbye to his parents. He landed on Gallipoli on May 24 and was killed by a sniper in Monash Valley on May 25. He’s buried in Shrapnel Valley. I arranged a small plaque to be placed at the base of a tree in the Honour Avenues along the Kings Park drives. This is a place of quiet reflection, and is certainly how, in my opinion, these slaughtered invaders would want to be remembered. Certainly not as a laser light disco show to sounds of the BeeGees singing “Stayin’ Alive”.
    I remember reading a comment from a Gallipoli Digger as he vainly tried to keep the swarms of stinking, bloated-corpse fed blowflies out of his mouth during a meal break – “Of all the bastards of places in the world, this is the biggest bastard of them all!”
    To breathless Nicky, her cohorts and the rest who have their snouts in the trough – just sit and think about it.

  7. Sean Doyle

    ANZAC Day has clearly been getting a bit out of hand for several years now, but the preparations and especially the commercialisation for 2015 sound obscene (speaking as someone who doesn’t have any actual links to ANZAC day besides Australian citizenship. I can only imagine how ex soldiers/widows/relatives et al feel).

    Personally I’m feeling a bit of relief that I’ll likely be overseas (and nowhere near Turkey) for these ANZAC days. For too many in society it’s just become a jingoistic party day that provides fallen soldiers and Australian society little benefit. My main hope is that it causes a reaction that helps push out the story of Australian society around the time of WWI to the public so we have a much fuller story of Australia’s past than just the military version we have now.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    OMG How utterly tasteful an exercise it will be! I’m surprised there are no plans to construct giant Ferris wheels painted red white and blue and belching out sound waves of God Save the Queen, erected in every public park throughout the land.

    Blurt Newton-doncha lurve ‘im? will do a stellar performance to stun unsuspecting tourists into mass ennui and torpor. Beer companies will rush to join the massacre probably to sell brightly painted kiddies kups with a little drop of beer in them. Get ’em young, get ’em early and drop ’em when they’re old and reliant on the booze.

    Naturally, betting companies will have special kiddies’ Anzac gambling coupons for the midyear, midweek, mid-anniversary Anzac-lotto draw. And every state and territory will frog-march the hordes of the nations Governor’s-General not forgetting their understudies, all the grovellings and assorted hangers-on to come to a halt while giving the royal salute for ten hours at a time.

    I’ll bet the English queen and her very large family have all been invited to make the many occasions sufficiently ‘royal’ and our lovely ‘Liberal?’ government doubtless has already purchased the latest jetliner-cheap at half a billion dollars- to fly Prince Charles and his wife Camilla out here. She will absolutely lurve it, I’m sure. Special English knighthoods will be revamped and the rural brigade will have to let their animals starve because the money to save them won’t be there.

    I love a poleaxed country,
    A land of sweeping plains
    Where no one questions royalty
    Or ever does complain.

    We have our quaint customs and
    We are ANZACS through and through.
    Yet we only fought for England,
    But we’re Aussies, this is true.

  9. Michael Hess

    Perhaps the fact that – as the PM puts it – we live in a ‘British nation’ – means that the reality of ANZAC – a botched campaign to protect the interests of the British Empire will not be entirely ignored?

  10. zut alors

    “silent contemplation” doesn’t generate dollars, if it did Gallipoli would be one of the most sedate accessible spots on the planet.

    We regularly hear cases of fragile former soldiers (or their war widows) who are treated less than generously by our government after serving in the Middle East. Meantime mega-dollars are thrown at this circus of self-indulgence. Oh yes, let’s not forget we also make a media show when various prime ministers attend funerals of dead combatants, they’re a handy occasion for generating patriotism – no penny pinching then, it’s the full military service with the PM jetting in for the PR exercise courtesy of the RAAF/taxpayers.

    One positive thought to hang on to: these days youths aren’t so gullible to flock en masse like willing lemmings to enlist for the two major wars in which my father & grandfathers fought. Cannon fodder isn’t so plentiful in Australia in the 21st century.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details