In April the thoughts of many history teachers turn to ANZAC Day (April 25th). Marked on the anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand troops being deployed in World War One, ANZAC day is often as much about nation building as it is about commemoration. Australia’s efforts in Gallipoli were the first time the newly independent country entered a war as a sovereign country, rather than a colony of Great Britain.
As a first-generation Australian – my parents and older siblings emigrated from the UK in the early 80s – I haven’t always felt included in ANZAC Day. Not only was it something that my parents hadn’t grown up with but, for some teachers and commentators in the years I grew up, ANZAC Day was a chance to espouse Australia’s superiority over other countries, allies and enemies alike. For someone of British heritage it meant being told, repeatedly, that the English were stupid and stuck-up, and caused the death of thousands of brave Australian troops through their arrogance and idiocy. It was conflicting for an Australian girl born and raised, of English parents and with beloved family in England. I can only imagine what it was like for students with German ancestry.
As an adult and history teacher I have tried to counter the education I received about the ANZAC legend by, I hope, being more even handed and being mindful that we are lucky to live in a diverse, multicultural, society. As a first-generation Australian I share my country’s pride (and, at times, shame) in the men and women who have fought, and continue to fight, for this country. But I also appreciate my heritage and the efforts of my grandparents and great-grandparents, not to mention my own dad who served in the British military for many years, during times of war.
I think that when we teach our students about World War One and the ANZACs, it affords us a great opportunity to explore with students how history is both a series of events, as well as created by those who record and remember it. As students and teachers of history it’s important we honour the past, and unpack the myths that grow from it.
If you’re teaching a unit on World War One, or World War Two, this term you might find these resources useful.