Lest We Forget Tomorrow: Peace Trails for Australia
The 10th International Conference of Museums for Peace
Title: Lest We Forget Tomorrow: Peace Trails for Australia
Author: Peter Herborn, former lecturer, Centre for peace and conflict studies, Sydney university
Abstract: Peace trails can build awareness of progress towards peaceful futures. The challenges of unresolved issues leading to conflict can also be explored through peace trails. Like peace museums they provide powerful learning experiences. Peace trails in Australia are in their infancy but the potential for development is great.
“Lest we forget” followed by a short contemplative silence is a familiar ritual throughout the country. There is little chance that Australians will forget those who died in overseas wars but there is a strong chance that the frontier wars and peaceful conflict resolution will be forgotten. Many Australians have walked over former battlefields overseas but very few have walked peace trails in their own country.
This paper examines three small Australian peace trails that exhibit inclusive remembrance and an orientation to peaceful futures. It proposes linking existing peace trails in Sydney, Cowra and Canberra with a rural route including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and places along the ‘Olympic Way’. The ‘Olympic Way Peace Trail’ is for the traveller to explore peaceful futures. In the long term, it could be a catalyst for communities to discover, plan and build new peace trails.
Lest We Forget Tomorrow: Peace Trails for Australia
In 2008 I visited Le Memorial in Caen in France. I was impressed by the way the museum was architecturally designed to represent the descent into war followed by the ascent back to peace. Le Memorial critically examined both the past wars and the possibility of peace in the future. Somewhere in Le Memorial I noticed the phrase ‘N’oubliens pas demain’ which I translated as ‘Lest We Forget Tomorrow’. I felt that this motto was quite different from the spirit of the Australian War Memorial (AWM), which seems to remain focussed on the past and to envision the future as a repetition of the past. The trail through Le Memorial concluded with a gallery of Nobel Peace Prize laureates and a sculpture garden. The narrative arc here moved from yesterday to tomorrow and from war to peace.
The genesis of this paper was collaborative research with Frank Hutchinson (Hutchinson & Herborn, 2011, Herborn & Hutchinson, 2014) which reviewed peace education literature and applied it to Australian cultural landscapes. Since those papers were published the Anzac Centenary occurred in 2015, with many millions being spent on war memorials and museums. Currently a $500 million expansion and refurbishment of the AWM is being considered. The military perspective on Australian history has been developed at the expense of other broader and more critical viewpoints. Remembrance is important but it is also problematic. Remembrance should be inclusive and should help us to navigate a path to a peaceful future. Peace trails are outdoor museums fostering a culture of peace and exploring the hidden side of history (Boulding, 2000).
The Australian peace trails discussed in this paper are examples of inclusive remembrance that help us envisage a more just and peaceful future. They provide examples of small steps already made, away from imperial and nationalist remembrance. The term ‘Peace trail’ is used in this paper to cover both small trails that can be covered by pedestrians and long trails suitable for cars and buses. This paper proposes a peace trail linking Sydney and Canberra via the Blue Mountains and Olympic Highway. At this stage it is just a proposal and may or may not be original. A provisional name for this trail is ‘The Olympic Way Peace Trail’. It includes three local trails that could be models for the future development of the overall trail.
‘Sacred Places’ and Military Remembrance
In 1996, the eminent historian Ken Inglis published ‘Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape’ (Inglis, 1996). It was a major work and an award-winning book. Australia has thousands of war memorials. More have been constructed or refurbished since the publication of Sacred Places (Inglis, 1996). War memorials are a ubiquitous element in the Australian cultural landscape. There are relatively few war cemeteries in Australia, but over 100,000 Australian soldiers are buried overseas (Hutchinson, G. 2006,3). Many Australians have travelled overseas to visit the grave of a relative in a war cemetery and to participate in a battlefield pilgrimage. There are many military remembrance sites and trails in Australia, however peace trails are rare.
‘Remembrance Driveway’, in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, is an example of a large well-designed military remembrance trail. It is a 300-kilometre road, mostly high-speed motorway connecting Sydney, Australia’s largest city, with Canberra the national capital. It was inaugurated in 1954 during a Royal Visit by Queen Elizabeth. It starts at Macquarie Place in the historic heart of Sydney and finishes at the Australian War Memorial Canberra. Today it bypasses most urban areas and has arboreal parks and 24 rest areas each of which is dedicated to a Victoria Cross (VC) recipient in World War Two or from later wars. Stories of the individual VC recipient are displayed on large prominent plaques in the rest areas. The rest areas are well-designed adjuncts to a high-speed motorway and can be used as meeting points and venues for picnics for motorists and buses. I am not aware of anything in Australia of comparable scale and design quality related to peace. The concept of peace trails in Australia is little understood and currently much less developed.
It is easy to remember ‘ours’ and remain fixed in the past. It is more difficult to remember ‘theirs’ as well, and to be open to change in the future. In ‘Against Remembrance’ (Rieff, 2011) the experienced war-zone journalist, David Rieff, has examined the way remembrance has fuelled wars. Rieff has made an important distinction between history and historical memory. He has noted the tendency of nations to prefer mythology over history. In more recent years a critical view of remembrance has begun to develop in Australia as academic historians have reacted to the construction of an historical memory that conflicts with critical historical scholarship. Important examples of such work include: ‘Zombie Myths of Australian Military History’ (Stockings, 2010), ‘What’s Wrong with Anzac?’ (Lake and Reynolds, 2010), ‘Forgotten War’ (Reynolds, 2013), ‘Anzac’s Long Shadow’ (Brown, 2014) and ‘The Honest History Book’ (Stephens and Broinowski, 2017).
‘The Olympic Way Peace Trail’ is underpinned with themes of reconciliation, international co-operation, global citizenship and a culture of peace. Each of the component sites has acknowledged historical suffering and sought a means of inclusive remembrance which accurately represents past injustice. The provisional name of the proposed peace trail reflects the association of the route with the Olympic torch relay and the contribution of the Olympic and Paralympic movement to international peace. The endpoints could be Olympic Park in Sydney and Reconciliation Place in Canberra. In the short term it could be a guided group tour. In the long-term places along the route would have signage, interpretation and the infrastructure for self-guided tours. The Olympic Way Peace Trail is best done slowly over two or more days, with overnight stays. Away from the light pollution of the big cities, the night sky can yield stunning views of the Southern Cross, the Milky Way and the Dark Emu.
The peace poster gallery at Soka Gakkai International at Olympic Park would be a good place to start the tour and gain an appreciation of the scope of peace issues. Sydney hosted the Olympics in the year 2000. It was a time of optimism and hope for a new century. The Cold War was over and the ‘War on Terror’ had not started. The Olympic torch was lit by the Aboriginal Australian runner Cathy Freeman, who later won gold. Australia had a good Olympics and Paralympics, but more importantly those events created a lot of goodwill around the world. Sydney’s Olympic Park is partly on remediated industrial land and now has beautiful wetlands and bike and walking trails as well as Olympic standard sports venues.
Sydney and the Blue Mountains
The ‘Welcome to Country’[i] is an act of remembrance of the Indigenous custodians of a landscape over millennia. Australian peace trails should start with an acknowledgement of country. ‘Barani Barrabugu’ means Yesterday Today in Gadigal the language of the Indigenous custodians of the land where the City of Sydney is located. Barani Barrabugu comprises a set of sites and cultural institutions in the City of Sydney that are important in the history of the Aboriginal People. It is documented in an interpretive booklet prepared under the auspices of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council by historians employed by the Council of the City of Sydney. The sites and institutions are categorised by their role in the continuing journey of Australia’s First Nations, the categories are Early Contact, Civil Rights, Education, Working Life, Sport and Leisure, Performing Arts and Visual Arts. The institutions include museums, art galleries, theatres, a Harbour cruise and an Indigenous restaurant. There are 58 sites and 12 institutions and 4 trails which are mapped and interpreted in a small booklet useful for tourists, visitors, students and the general public. Walking and public transport are the only options for most of the trails, and a full day is needed for just a selection of the trails and activities.
The City of Sydney contains just a small but important part of the Aboriginal journey in Australia. The Indigenous history of Australia extends back to about 60,000 years. The history of British/European Australia is less than 250 years old. Sydney was the first colonial settlement from where the process of frontier expansion and the violent dispossession of the Indigenous people started. Indigenous people were driven to the margins of colonial settlement but later a reverse process of urbanisation of Aboriginal people also occurred. Sydney’s working-class suburb of Redfern became an important meeting point for Aborigines from all over the country and a place of political and economic engagement with Australian society. Redfern, like much of Sydney’s inner city is being gentrified and invaded by Sydney’s expanding Central Business District (Shaw, 2000). Sydney Cove was the place of first contact and is now a place of deepening engagement with the cultural life of the Australian nation
As we begin our journey to Canberra by the Olympic Way route, we follow the path of the colonial frontier and conflict with the Indigenous people. There are wilderness areas along the way but most of it was an ancient Aboriginal landscape. Our understanding of the extent and complexity of the Pre-European Aboriginal landscape has been slowly advancing and helped greatly by accessible books such as ‘Dark Emu’( Pascoe, 2014). Colonial pastoralists benefited from the grasslands and open woodlands resulting from Aboriginal agriculture. Australia’s colonial environmental history includes mass extinctions of plant and animal species and failures to adapt European agricultural methods to Australian conditions. After the most destructive bushfires in Australian history in the summer of 2019-2020, there is growing interest in Indigenous fire management methods. Reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians is a moral imperative, but it is also enlightened self-interest.
Awareness of the richness and complexity of Indigenous culture and landscape interpretation is growing slowly. Its documentation in the memorial landscape is slowly catching up. The Blue Mountains National Park encompasses a World Heritage Area noted for its spectacular sandstone geology and eucalypt forest wilderness. The world famous ‘Three Sisters’ at Katoomba are part of an Aboriginal legend, about a sight that inspires awe and wonder. Many local people and visitors find inner peace by reconnecting with nature in the Blue Mountains. The landscape that the colonial explorers moved through was not a ‘Terra Nullius’, the convenient myth of the empty country, but a landscape that was occupied and part of the identity of the Indigenous people.
As we descend the western escarpment of the Blue Mountains, we enter Wiradjuri Country, which spreads across the valleys of the Macquarie, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers. We pass through the regional cities of Lithgow and Bathurst places with many heritage sites, museums, art galleries and gardens. Bathurst is an important educational centre and has the northern campus of Charles Sturt University (CSU). Surrounding villages and countryside have many sites of interest to overseas and Australian visitors.
The Olympic Highway links the towns of Cowra and Young to the regional cities of Wagga Wagga and Albury which both have campuses of Charles Sturt University. Cowra has the most highly developed peace trail and calendar of annual events. Young has the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden.
Last year in 2019 the 75th Anniversary of the Cowra Breakout was commemorated. The process of reconciliation started in the immediate aftermath of the Breakout and has gathered depth and strength over 75 years. On the 5th of August 1944, 1104 Japanese prisoners of war staged a breakout in which 231 were killed. Four Australians were killed in what was the most massive escape in British military history, and the only land engagement on the Australian mainland during the Asia-Pacific war (Starr, 2016, 75).
In the immediate aftermath of the breakout, a farmer’s wife, May Weir, served tea and scones to some recaptured Japanese prisoners. Bullard (2006, 118) sees that gesture as the start of the process of reconciliation. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the local Returned Services League looked after the graves of the Japanese prisoners and met with Japanese Embassy officials. The Japanese officials were impressed and in 1964 a cemetery designed by Japanese architect Yura Shigeru was inaugurated. Student exchange programs were started and in 1978 work started on a Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre. It was designed by Ken Nakajima (1914-2000) and was officially opened in 1986. Cowra’s work for international peace was recognised by the award of Australia’s first World Peace Bell in 1992. Cowra-Japan Conversations (ajrp.awm.gov.au/AJRP) is an oral history project that was initiated in the local community. Now preserved in the AWM it is an important contribution to the history of the Breakout. Investment in the Cowra Peace Precinct continues with a replica guard tower in 2007, interpretive signage in 2014 and sculpture in 2019. It is a rarity in Australia, a peace trail which can be used by walkers, cyclists and drivers. There are annual events on peace and Japanese culture which can be enjoyed by visitors and residents.
Although Cowra is a small community of about 13,000 people it is innovative and entrepreneurial. It is a good example of what can be achieved by small regional communities. Many regional communities in Australia of comparable size are losing population, services and employment. Cultural planning and investment in heritage and creative industries can help stop decline and attract visitors and new residents. Peace trails and museums are a regional development strategy.
Young is famous for its cherries and its attractive rural landscapes. It is also the site of a notorious case of racist violence. The colonies attracted Chinese immigrants in large numbers as there were labour shortages. The Gold Rushes of the 1850s attracted even more Chinese people and they were resented by white miners. In 1861, a particularly infamous attack took place in Lambing Flat near Young. Australia had a racially based immigration policy until 1973 when the ‘White Australia’ policy was repealed. In 1992 the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden was opened to honour the victims of racist violence at Lambing Flat. It is a beautiful garden and an example of inclusive remembrance and acknowledges Australia’s large Chinese-Australian community.
Canberra Peace Trails
A peace trail within Canberra could start at Gandhi’s statue in Glebe Park in Canberra City, proceed to the Peace Keeping Memorial in Anzac Avenue, from there go to Yarralumla for the Nara Garden Peace Park and the SIEV-X Memorial in Weston Park. The National Museum of Australia in Acton has a vast Indigenous collection and often has exhibitions with a peace and justice theme. The National Gallery of Australia, Reconciliation Place, and the Aboriginal Embassy are close to each other in Parkes on the long axis between Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial. Parliament House and the Memorial are situated on hilltops and are imposing monuments to the ‘primary Australian narrative as a relationship between democratic legitimacy and military sacrifice’ (Strakosch, 2010, 270). Reconciliation Place lies in between and is often overlooked. Australia has a long way to go with Indigenous Reconciliation and Reconciliation Place is a small step in the right direction.
The SIEV-X Memorial is the most unusual. It is a protest memorial like the makeshift Aboriginal Embassy, which highlights the irony of the Indigenous inhabitants needing an Embassy. The SIEV-X was an overloaded boat containing refugees which sank on the 19th of October 2001 with 353 people drowning (Kevin, 2004). The sinking of the SIEV-X followed the ‘Tampa Crisis’ in the middle of the 2001 elections. Australia signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, but it has, in the last 20 years, moved away from the spirit of the Convention. It now has a harsh policy which includes mandatory offshore detention of indefinite duration. Many Australians disagree with such policy and work to improve Australia’s record in respecting the human rights of refugees and contributing to humanitarian solutions to the global refugee problem. The SIEV-X Memorial in Canberra is inclusive remembrance of the ‘other’. It is a grassroots people’s memorial built in opposition to Commonwealth Government policy. Each asylum seeker is represented by a pole, decorated with an artwork and a message from a sponsoring group. Support for the project came from communities right across Australia. The memorial is in Weston Park on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. There is now an official website for the SIEV-X Memorial (sievxmemorial.com), which tells the story and illustrates it with archival film.
Peace Trails for Australia
A peaceful future is never guaranteed, but it is possible. It is not easy and requires challenging old habits of thought and comforting myths. Peace trails need to be discovered, researched, written up and designed. ‘Barani Barrrabugu’ is a good example of the work of professional historians researching Indigenous stories in the City of Sydney and producing an interpretive booklet. It helps urban Indigenous people understand their stories and it fosters reconciliation with non-indigenous people. The Cowra Breakout was a dramatic and tragic event. Over a period of 75 years the Cowra community has contributed a great deal to friendship with Japanese communities. It shows other small communities what can be achieved with vision and hard work. The SIEV-X Memorial has turned a protest into a sculptured landscape and a permanent memorial of people who died in their quest to build a new life in Australia. It is a brilliant example of grassroots organisation in the spirit of the Refugee Convention. Together these three case studies can help other communities discover their hidden stories and build peace trails for a better future.
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[i] A ‘Welcome to Country’ can only be performed by an Indigenous person from that specific area. Other people can perform an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’.