On being Australian - Exploring the role of ANZAC museum and heritage experiences in developing a sense of national Identity

25 Oct 2013

In 1946, Charles Bean, Australia’s official WWI historian, wrote of the ANZAC spirit that “Anzac stood and still stands for reckless valour in a good cause, for resourcefulness, enterprise, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat”.

This spirit of the ANZAC and the stories of Australian soldiers at war have long formed part of Australia’s national identity.

As we approach the ANZAC Centenary in 2014-2018, UQ School of Tourism researchers are exploring how ANZAC museum and heritage experiences can impact on an Australian’s sense of national identity.

They will investigate the ways first, second and third generation Australians engage with, reflect on and assimilate or reject national collective memories related to the ANZAC story.

Dr Jan Packer and Professor Roy Ballantyne, in collaboration with Professor David Uzzell from the University of Surrey, will investigate the issue by conducting surveys of visitors at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the Anzac commemorative site at Gallipoli.

The Australian War Memorial is one of Australia’s most popular attractions with over 835,000 visitors in 2011-2012.

According to Dr Jan Packer, a significant portion of these would be domestic visitors looking to engage with stories of their nation’s history.

“Most Australians feel they need to go to the Australian War Memorial at least once in their life, to pay their respects to those who have fallen in our wars. It holds a special place in the hearts of Australians,” she said.

The research will explore the ways in which Australians engage with sites like the Australian War Memorial and identify aspects of interpretive experiences that facilitate identity-building and best meet the needs of today’s multicultural society.

“Stories are quite a powerful way of communicating those kinds of ideas. There are also original artefacts that have come back from wars that people find particularly interesting, for example, the display of one of the landing boats from Gallipoli,” she said.

According to Dr Packer, many people come away from a visit to the Australian War Memorial with a feeling of the “futility of war” as well as a new appreciation of the hard-won freedom that we enjoy in this country.

In the past, visitors may have gone to the Australian War Memorial and to Gallipoli to honour ANZAC veterans that they knew personally.

As the ANZAC Centenary approaches, and with an increase in the diversity of visitors’ cultural backgrounds, education becomes a paramount part of these sites. Dr Packer believes that this research will help identify the best ways to provide this education to today’s audience. 

“Our society now is very different to what it was 100 years ago and so the question is, are these stories still important and relevant to people today, and if so, why and how.

“How can we tell the stories so that they are more meaningful and inclusive for a wide variety of people who want to be Australian”, she said.

The research is expected to be completed in 2015.