Marseille 1915-2015: gateway to the remembrance trails

International conference

Aix-Marseille University – Marseille Archives

Marseille 1915-2015: gateway to the remembrance trails

Marseille 1915-2015 : portail des chemins de mémoire

Thursday 9 April, Marseille Archives (Amphitheatre)

8:45 Opening address: Sylvie Clair (Director, Marseille Archives)

Chair: Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille)

9:00 Jean-Marie Guillon (Aix-Marseille), “Marseille porte de la France et de la Méditerranée.”

9:40 Marco Caccavo (EIPACA) “La Légion garibaldienne : les Italiens qui servirent la France pendant la Grande Guerre.”

10:20 Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille) “‘Nos Alliés à Marseille’ : histoires croisées, mémoires partagées ?”

11:00 Coffee break

Chair: Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

11:20 Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille), “L’Empire britannique à Marseille : les cartes postales, vecteur du premier cercle de la mémoire.”

12:00 Thierry Di Costanzo (Strasbourg) “L’Empire britannique des Indes et la Première Guerre Mondiale : une approche historiographique et mémorielle.”

12:40 Lunch

Chair: Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille)

14:20 Cherie Prosser (Australian War Memorial) “Colonial forces and national identity in First World War French and British propaganda.”

15:00 Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine) “Charles E.W. Bean’s account of the Australian arrival in France.”

15:40 Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris-Dauphine) “The Invention of Anzac Day in Queensland.”

16:00 Coffee break

Chair: Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris-Dauphine/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

16:20 Ben Wellings (Monash) “Nation and Rejuvenation: youth and the politics of Great War commemoration in Australia.”

17:00 Andy Mycock (Huddersfield) “The First World War centenary and the post-imperial politics of commemoration.”

17:40-18:00 Summing-up

Conference dinner


Friday 10 April, Marseille Archives (Seminar room)

9:00 Round table: “Politics of the Past: the Centenary Effect.”

Chair: Andy Mycock (Huddersfield)

Discussion paper: Romain Fathi (Brisbane), “The (re)discovery of 1914-18.”

10:30 Coffee break

11:00 Workshop: “The Wider War” (“Nation, Memory and War Commemoration, vol.2”, Presses Universitaires de Provence – Liverpool University Press)

Chair: Ben Wellings (Monash)

Discussion paper: Elizabeth Rechniewki (Sydney), “Resénégalisation in World War I.”

12:30 Lunch

14:00 Guided visit of the exhibition “Marseillais fais ton devoir !” (Marseille Archives)

15:00 Conclusion















Matthew Graves & Gilles Teulié (AMU/LERMA)

Centre for the Study of the Anglophone World, Aix-Marseille University


Scientific committee

Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille University/LERMA/CREDO)

Jean-Marie Guillon (Aix-Marseille University/TELEMME)

Andy Mycock (Huddersfield University)

Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine University/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

Elizabeth Rechniewski (University of Sydney)

Shanti Sumartojo (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University)

Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille University/LERMA)

Ben Wellings (Monash University)



Australian War Memorial, City of Marseille, Huddersfield University, International Research Network for War Commemoration, Marseille Archives, Monash University, Paris-Dauphine University, RMIT University, University of Sydney.


“Mission du Centenaire 14-18”


“Marseilles 1915-2015 : gateway to the remembrance trails” cfp

“Marseilles 1915-2015 : gateway to the remembrance trails”, Marseilles Municipal Archives, 9-10 April 2015.

« Marseille 1915-2015 : portail des chemins du souvenir », Archives Municipales de Marseille, 9-10 avril 2015.

Call for papers

The centenary of the landing of the colonial troops of the British and French empires in Marseilles provides an opportunity to reflect upon how the Great War is remembered and commemorated on a wider regional and global scale, behind and beyond the front lines of the European theatre of conflict.

This conference will be a prelude to the centenary of Anzac Day 25 April 2015 and the inauguration of the ANZAC Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium. If Marseilles is a gateway to the remembrance trails of the combatant nations on the Western Front, it is principally as a point of entry and transit for the armies of the allied dominions and colonies from the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Of the several hundred thousand soldiers, sailors, labourers and auxiliairies who converged upon the city from 1914-18, or were repatriated  through its port in the months following the Armistice, more than 1,500 are remembered in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Mazargues. Their memory is in some cases marginal to the mainstream histories of the Great War, but in others it has become central to the narratives which define independence from the European colonisers.

This two-day conference is convened by Aix-Marseille University and hosted by the Marseilles Archives in the context of the “Marseilles and the Great War” centenary programme. It will bring together researchers from AMU’s partner universities in Europe and the Commonwealth and members of the International Research Network for War Commemoration (IRNWC) to examine the shared history of former allies and adversaries from the colonial perspective and to assess the scope and limits of the idea of “shared memory”. The conference will focus on the wider war beyond the lines of the Western Front as part of the “The Great War on all fronts” exhibition cycle organised by the city of Marseilles which draws on the rich WWI documentary heritage of the municipal and departmental museums and archives. Public outrreach will be ensured by cooperation with the cultural agencies of Marseilles and media outlets of the Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d’Azur region. An editorial workshop  prepare the second volume in the series “Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration (vol II) – The Wider War”, to be edited by Ben Wellings (Monash) and Shanti Sumartojo (RMIT) and published by the University of Provence Presses in conjunction with Liverpool University Press. Projected topics range from post-independence narratives of India’s role in the First World War, to reconstructing the history of the South African Native Corps in France, Afrikaans and British nationalism in wartime South Africa, and the Great War beyond Europe: in the Americas and the colonial theatres of Africa and the Asia-Pacific. Speakers announced include Ben Wellings (Monash), Andy Mycock (Huddersfield) and Devleena Ghosh (University of Technology Sydney).

Proposals are to be addressed to the conference organisers by email, with an attached 250 word abstract and brief biographical profile, by 30 January 2015.

The organisers :

Dr. Matthew Graves  T. +33 648357048

Prof. Gilles Teulié  T. +33 685249892

Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone / Research Centre for the Study of the English-speaking World (LERMA)

UFR ALLSH, Aix-Marseille University (AMU)


Revisiting Religion and the British Soldier in the First World War

The Friends of Dr Williams’s Library Annual Lecture will be delivered at 5.30pm on 13 November 2014 in the Lecture Hall, Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR.

‘Revisiting Religion and the British Soldier in the First World War’ by Dr Michael Snape (University of Birmingham)

The significance of religion for the British soldier of 1914-1918 has traditionally been downplayed, and even discounted, in the historiography and popular mythology of the First World War. However, more recent research has tended to highlight the importance of personal faith and the role of religious agencies in the British experience of the war. Going further than the case of Great Britain, and beyond the years of the war itself, this lecture examines patterns of religiosity in the British army, correlates them with the evidence of other armed forces and other conflicts, and reassesses the nature and significance of religion for the British soldier throughout the ordeal of the First World War.

All are welcome. To book a place, please email

For more information about the Lectures, see

Commemorating WWI in “The Conversation”

IRNWC network members are contributing a series of articles to The Conversation on Commemorating WWI


Who owns the myths and legends of the Great War centenary? – Ben Wellings & Shanti Sumartojo

Reconciliation or récupération: Indigenous soldiers in WWI – Elizabeth Rechniewski

WWI commemorations in Belgium give a glimpse of a divided nation – Laurence Van Ypersele

Why the Great War centenary will be a non-issue in Germany – Matthew Stibbe

The WWI centenary in France and the diplomacy of shared memory – Matthew Graves

New Zealand: the other half of the Anzac legend – Mark McKenna

UK WWI Commemorations should embrace Commonwealth experience – Andrew Mycock

Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration – book launch

Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration – Mobilizing the Past in Europe, Australia and New Zealand (Peter Lang, 2014) edited by Shanti Sumartojo & Ben Wellings

will be launched by Dr Douglas Craig – Head, School of History, ANU.

Date and Time: 5.30pm, Monday 4 August 2014

Venue: ANU Centre for European Studies, 1 Liversidge Street (Bldg 67C), Canberra

Parking: please see the Visitor Parking Map 
RSVP: by 1 August 2014

ANUCES is an initiative involving four ANU Colleges (Arts and Social Sciences, Law, Business and Economics, and Asia and the Pacific) co-funded by the ANU and the European Union.

NMGWC cover

The Great War continues to play a prominent role in contemporary consciousness. With commemorative activities involving seventy-two countries, its centenary is a titanic undertaking: not only ‘the centenary to end all centenaries’ but the first truly global period of remembrance.

This publication is based on a  symposium hosted by the ANU Centre for European Studies in 2012. In this innovative volume, the authors examine First World War commemoration in an international, multidisciplinary and comparative context. The contributions draw on history, politics, geography, cultural studies and sociology to interrogate the continuities and tensions that have shaped national commemoration and the social and political forces that condition this unique international event. New studies of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific address the relationship between increasingly fractured grand narratives of history and the renewed role of the state in mediating between individual and collective memories. Released to coincide with the beginning of the 2014-2018 centenary period, this collection illuminates the fluid and often contested relationships amongst nation, history and memory in Great War commemoration.

For more information please see

Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration (Peter Lang, 2014)


‘Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration: Mobilizing the Past in Europe, Australia and New Zealand’, edited by IRNWC co-founders Shanti Sumartojo and Ben Wellings, is now in print and available to order from the publisher Peter Lang:

Released to coincide with the beginning of the 2014-18 Great War centenary, this innovative volume combines the research of 16 members of the IRNWC who provide an international, multidisciplinary and comparative approach to the national commemorations of the First World War and the internationalization of the politics of the past. The studies range across Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific and illuminate the continuities, tensions and contradictions in the complex interrelations between nation, history, and memory in Great War commemoration.


Andrew Mycock/Shanti Sumartojo/Ben Wellings: ‘The centenary to end all centenaries’: The Great War, Nation and Commemoration – John Hutchinson: National Commemoration after the ‘Second Thirty Years’ War’ – Ben Wellings: Lest You Forget: Memory and Australian Nationalism in a Global Era – Roger Hillman: From No Man’s Land to Transnational Spaces: The Representation of Great War Memory in Film – Frank Bongiorno: Anzac and the Politics of Inclusion – Andrew Mycock: The Politics of the Great War Centenary in the United Kingdom – James W. McAuley: Divergent Memories: Remembering and Forgetting the Great War in Loyalist and Nationalist Ireland – Laurence van Ypersele: The Great War in Belgian Memories: From Unanimity to Divergence – Mark McKenna: Keeping in Step: The Anzac ‘Resurgence’ and ‘Military Heritage’ in Australia and New Zealand – Matthew Graves: Memorial Diplomacy in Franco-Australian Relations – Elizabeth Rechniewski: Contested Sites of Memory: Commemorating Wars and Warriors in New Caledonia – Matthew Stibbe: Remembering, Commemorating and (Re)fighting the Great War in Germany from 1919 to the Present Day – Sarah Christie: The Sinking of the Marquette: Gender, Nationalism and New Zealand’s Great War Remembrance – Guy Hansen: Museums and the Great War: A Curator’s Perspective on the History of Anzac – Christine Cadot: Wars Afterwards: The Repression of the Great War in European Collective Memory – Romain Fathi: ‘A Piece of Australia in France’: Australian Authorities and the Commemoration of Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux in the Last Decade – Shanti Sumartojo: Anzac Kinship and National Identity on the Australian Remembrance Trail.

CFP – War Memories: Commemoration, Re-enactment, Writings of War in the English-speaking World (18th-21st centuries)

Conference organised by the European University of Brittany (Rennes 2, France) and the Royal Military College (Kingston, Canada) 

Université Européenne de Bretagne – Rennes 2, France

17, 18, 19 June 2014


The wars of the past have not left the same imprint on collective memory. Wars of conquest or liberation have marked the history of the British Empire and its colonies in different ways.  American foreign policy seems to be motivated by what is sometimes viewed as an imperialist vision which led the army into the quagmire of Vietnam and more recently into controversial involvement in the Gulf. Whether they end in victory or defeat, or are a source of patriotic pride or collective shame, wars are commemorated in museum exhibitions or through literature and the cinema in which the threads of ideological discourse and the expression of subjective experience are intertwined. From the upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars and  the American Civil War to the Boer Wars in South Africa, from the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland to the carnage and devastation of the two World Wars, some conflicts seem to attract “duties of memory” while others are simply forgotten. Military interventions in the Falklands, in Bosnia, and more recently in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Libya have created a new kind of memory, the narrative constructed by television images. In this period preceding the 100th anniversary of the Great War, when the links between memory and history are central to historiographical preoccupations, this international conference will encompass the representations of wars in the English-speaking world during the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Our workshops will concentrate, among other things, on:

1)     The memories of places and the places of memory, commemorations and reconstitutions of wars (ceremonies, acts of remembrance, monuments, memorials, exhibitions, museums, war tourism, web sites, blogs …) and everything linking memory and places of memory with history (inspired by the reflexions of Pierre Nora and of François Bédarida).

2)     Remembrance and testimonies in the public and private spheres from important political and military figures or from ordinary soldiers or civilians (autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews, newspaper articles, etc.), which bring into focus the role and status of testimony in historiography, individual and collective identities in times of war and the process of recalling and commemorating.

3)     Representing war through the media (postcards, trench gazettes, caricatures, comics, posters, the press, radio, television, the internet…), through the cinema and through literature (drama, novels, poetry) and the Arts (music, painting, photography, sculpture), the image and spectacle of war, free and forced representations: propaganda, censorship, idealisation, the rewriting of history and the construction of the war hero.

4)     Subject and subjectivity in the representation of war and the representation of the subject at war. To what extent does conflict integrate the subject into the group by posing the figure of the Other as the Enemy? How does war alter the definition of the subject in an ideological system and a discourse which legitimise the act of war and redefine hierarchies and identity patterns? Subjectivity, memory, trauma, the unsayable or untellable… From trauma studies to fields where psychoanalysis, storytelling and history meet and to the temptation of contemporary hypermnesia and “archive fever” (Derrida).

5)     Wars and memories of war involving indigenouspeoples (Gurkhas, Native North Americans, Australian Aborigines, Maoris, etc.) and/or of non-English-speaking communities (Quebeckers, Afrikaners, etc.)in world conflicts. What traces and recollections remain of their individual or collective participation? To what extent can we say that the shedding of blood was the price they had to pay for national recognition and integration? How does the action of the native in the national cause square with the literary representation of him as an enemy? The contribution of indigenous peoples was long neglected, not to say forgotten or marginalised, in official records. But is this still the case in today’s postcolonial societies? Has literature helped integration by allowing the emergence of new narratives?

6)     Comparative and pluridisciplinary studies using a variety of approaches and methods will be welcome in a workshop dedicated to exchanges between areas with different cultural heritages (English- or French-speaking or within the Americas in particular) around the question of war and memory. Wars involving the United States on the American continent (Chile, Cuba, Mexico …) will also merit attention.

The mediatisation, performance, interpretation and rewriting of facts and events during and after wars will be central to our reflexions. We welcome diachronic, synchronic or comparative studies along with those questioning the process of memory and memorisation. Patriotic fervour, federating or demobilising discourses, resistance, conscientious objection, injury and trauma, propaganda and counter-propaganda contribute to the shaping of individual and collective memory and further the reconsideration of long-held truths in the light of new discoveries and with the benefit of hindsight. There will be a dedicated Great War workshop.

Contacts: Stéphanie Bélanger, Renée Dickason, Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

Please send your abstract of 250 words and a 200 word biography directly to the conference website by 15th June 2013.

Scientific Committee: Stéphanie BÉLANGER – CMRC, Kingston, Canada; James CHAPMAN – Leicester, Great Britain; Corinne DAVID-IVES – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Jeffrey DEMSKY – San Bernardino Valley College, CA, USA; Renée DICKASON – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Anne-Laure FORTIN-TOURNES – Le Mans, France; Matthew GRAVES – LERMA, Aix, France; Hélène HARTER – CERHIO, Rennes 2, France; Judith KEENE – Sydney, Australia; Françoise KRAL – ERIBIA, Caen, France; Daniel PALMIERI – CICR, Geneva, Switzerland; Michael PARSONS – Pau et Pays de l’Adour, France; Elizabeth RECHNIEWSKI – Sydney, Australia; Jean-Claude SERGEANT – Paris 3, France; Gilles TEULIE – LERMA, Aix, France; Delphine LEMONNIER-TEXIER – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Stephen WHITFIELD – Boston, Mass., USA



Histories of Forgetting

Now in print, the latest issue of E-rea, Aix-Marseille University’s electronic journal of anglophone studies, takes as its theme Histories of Forgetting in the English and French-speaking Worlds, 20th-21st centuries:
Co-edited by Matthew Graves (LERMA/APMC) and Valérie André (LERMA), issue 10.1 brings together researchers from France, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland who explore, from a transdisciplinary social and human sciences perspective, the lacunae in collective memory and the lost, concealed or censored episodes of the national past; those ‘forgotten’ histories that persist in counterpoint to canonical histories and conventional narratives of identity or which, once reconverted, may be used to underwrite them.

Histories of ‘forgotten’ conflicts feature prominently, with case studies drawn from the First and Second World Wars, including the struggle for the recognition of Australia’s aboriginal veterans, as well as the strategic forgetting of colonial pasts in Africa and Ireland.

“What is interesting about the latest issue of the online journal E-rea is how it redirects our attention towards European fields of memory which are less familiar than the French or German – the Northern Irish for instance – while also looking beyond Europe at Australia’s collective memory which has long been scarred by the strategic forgetting of the aboriginal past.” Emmanuel Laurentin, La Fabrique de l’Histoire, France Culture, 11/01/2013

General editor: Prof. Sylvie Mathé (LERMA/AMU)


Editors: Matthew Graves & Valérie André (AMU)

Introduction:  Histories of Forgetting in the English and French-speaking Worlds, 20th-21st centuries.

I. The Colonial Past, between Forgetting and Re-appropriation

Robert Aldrich (USYD), Commemorating Colonialism in a Post-Colonial World.

Virginie Bernard (CREDO/EHESS), The Forgotten : exemple de réappropriation aborigène de lhistoire officielle australienne.

II. War Memory, from Erasure to Remembrance

Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris XI), The Imperial Nature of the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Ciaran Wallace  (UCD), Between Remembering and Forgetting: Ireland and the Boer War.

Elizabeth Rechniewski (USYD), Forgetting and Remembering the Darwin Bombings.

III. Difficult Pasts and Reconciliation

Stanislas Hommet (UCaen), Enseigner les passes douloureux en Europe: entre oubli et hypermnésie, quelle place pour lenseignement? Présentation dun projet européen de recherche.

Karine Bigand (AMU), Peace in History and Heritage. Some thoughts on Northern Ireland.

Fabrice Mourlon (Paris XIII), Official responses to dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

IV. Rewriting History in the Era of Commemoration

Catherine Delmas (Grenoble III), Remembering place, revisiting the past.

( …)


The Coral Sea incident (1973): a case of symbolic sanction ?

To embody the ideals of the nation and project them onto the global stage have been aspirations of Australian prime ministers since the 1960s, as Australia has developed a middle power role and diverged from the British world view in foreign affairs. Michelle Grattan observes that ‘through the century of Federation, Australia’s place in the world has been a preoccupation of its prime ministers’1. We contend that, in the period in which Winter locates the ‘second memory boom’, the prime minister’s office has assumed responsibility for key areas of foreign affairs, including memorial diplomacy, because of its potential for articulating national identity inwardly and projecting national aspirations abroad. Just as the President of the Republic is the ‘first magistrate’ of France, Australian premiers have acted as the Commonwealth’s ‘first diplomat’, most visibly when Gough Whitlam combined the highest political office with the portfolio of Foreign Affairs in 1973.

Whitlam’s premiership (1972-75) rewrote the script of Australian foreign policy: ‘the themes of equality and interdependence, intolerance of racism and contempt for colonialism would form the core of Whitlam’s approach to international affairs’2.  The first Australian Prime Minister to visit the People’s Republic of China, his diplomacy of the ‘new nationalism’ aimed to emancipate Australia from its dependence on ‘great and powerful friends’. In so doing, he sought fresh symbols and idioms, both at home – in the Eureka Stockade (1973) and Gurindji (1975) speeches among others – and overseas, notably during the prime ministerial visit to Europe in the winter of 1974-75 which saw Whitlam tour the European capitals via Singapore less than two years after Britain joined the Common Market.

Arguably, it is because Whitlam’s world view rejected containment, forward defence and ideological confrontation that war memory remained on the margins of his diplomatic discourse. However, James Curran has shown that the Eureka speech made in Ballarat on 3 December 1973, in which the Prime Minister set the tone of the ‘new nationalism’, was circulated by the Department of Foreign Affairs to all overseas missions with a memorandum recommending it as the ‘mainspring of the Government’s political philosophy and hence a motivating force in its actions and reactions on foreign affairs’3. Eureka was therefore at once an exercise in memorial politics and diplomacy, aimed at both domestic and international audiences. Similarly, when Gough Whitlam ceremoniously poured the red earth of Vestey land into the cupped hands of Vincent Lingiari on 16 August 1975, it was more than a gesture of restitution to the Gurindji people of the rights to their traditional lands. It signalled that Australia was turning the page on the ideology of the White Australia policy and preparing to engage with its Asian neighbours, placing the politics of land rights on an international trajectory. In neither instance is there a clear dividing line between the national and international dimensions of the politics of the past: their wavelengths lie on the same policy spectrum, albeit more or less visibly according to the priorities of the day. Memorial politics moves into the diplomatic spectrum when it seeks to emphasise the transnational dimension of commemorative links and histories shared between visitor and host nations or between national communities.

Documents from the personal papers of E.G. Whitlam in the Australian National Archives reveal a diplomatic hiatus in the commemorative calendar which placed a strain on bilteral US-Australian relations in the early 1970s. In 1973, the American State Department sought to downgrade the Coral Sea Week commemoration, which had been celebrated jointly with visiting US dignitaries since 1946 as a gesture of gratitude for American support for Australia in World War II. The American ambassador to Canberra, Walter Rice, informed the Department of Foreign Affairs that the official US delegate, Peter Flanigan, had declined the Australian-American Association’s invitation to attend the Coral Sea week celebrations as their special guest, and that his successor, ambassador Marshall Green, was unavailable. Flanigan was Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs and an influential aide in the Oval Office, advising Nixon personally on diplomatic and financial affairs4. His last minute defection is said to have elicited a “bitter reaction” from the AAA Federal President. Further correspondence reveals the State Department’s reluctance to commemorate the Battle of the Coral Sea more than once every five years, if at all, and speculation in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as to its tacit motives5.

It seems a reasonable hypothesis to attribute the rise in US-Australian tensions to divergences over policy towards Vietnam. Three days after it took up office on 5 December 1972, Whitlam’s government ended the military commitment to South Vietnam and on 26 February 1973, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with North Vietnam while continuing to recognise the government of the South. The US government appears to have been prepared to suspend the Coral Sea commemoration in 1973, and even discontinue it thereafter, to mark the divergence of views with the Whitlam government over the future of the Asia-Pacific region post-Vietnam, in the context of Nixon’s Guam doctrine. American diplomats argued instead that with the decline of the Coral Sea generation and the fading of communicative memory, the commemoration was of decreasing relevance and public resonance, while pressure to discontinue the event was interpreted on the Australian side as a symbolic sanction. In extremis, a compromise solution was reached whereby the lesser known Apollo 17 astronaut, Dr. Harrison Schmitt, was delegated to stand in for the absent dignitary6. Coral Sea Week was subsequently subsumed within the Battle for Australia Day commemoration in 2008, confirming its long-term decline.

Gough Whitlam’s engagement with commemorative issues continued beyond office into the prime ministerial ‘after-life’ : he was to revisit the themes of the Eureka Stockade (nationalism in a minor key) at the Battle of Vinegar Hill Dedication Ceremony in 1988 ; and in his tireless campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles he has supported the cause of world heritage that he helped define as the Hawke government’s ambassador to UNESCO (1983-85), distancing Australia from the cultural paternalism of the British Museum and, symbolically, from dependence on a monocultural British heritage.

At the ‘Politics of the Past’ symposium7, we debated whether memorial diplomacy was more than just ‘mood music’, a ceremonial counterpoint for the hard power cut and thrust of inter-state relations. The Coral Sea incident suggests that the mood can be dark and out of key when commemoration turns to diplomatic censure.



  1. Grattan, Michelle. Australian Prime Ministers. Sydney: New Holland, 2000, p.15 []
  2. Curran, James. The Power of Speech: Australian Prime Ministers Defining the National Image. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006, p.80 []
  3. Curran p.118 []
  4. []
  5. Personal Papers of Prime Minister EG Whitlam. Correspondence between E G Whitlam and Walter L Rice (American Ambassador) regarding guest at Coral Sea anniversary ceremony: NAA M503, 20690 []
  6. NAA M503, 20690 []
  7. ANU, 26-27 April 2012 []