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Project Albany

Part of recognising the other side of history is to gather information of the parts involved. With this, we welcome a great new digitisation project - Project Albany - which is going to revolutionise the way we see the memory of the Great War. And it is all about the aftermath of the war itself. First a few words by way of background, the digitisation of repatriation records was the first and it was the unanimous recommendation of a panel of historians appointed to advise the Anzac Centenary Board in Canberra. To date, the Australian government has committed $3.5 million to this project which is a woefully inadequate amount and we should be appalled about the things that it’s being spent on - the way that money is being spent in the centennial show. Now today very few people have viewed any of these records and the samples taken by historians have been very small, so this exhibition will try to walk through some of these files and to explain why their digitisation has to be an urgent priority for the centenary. Repatriation files deal with the post-war period story and the ‘aftermath of the war’. It’s a story that has too long been marginalized in the way that we remember 1914 to 1918, or to 1919. It is the story of the men and women who came home and what that war did to them, their families and their communities, and it is called Project Albany because the first batch we are digitising are the men and women who sailed on the first contingent in 1914 – those who returned. These files are by their very nature disruptive to a simplistic and romantic view of war that we are fed all the time by the media but we are going to explore how historians are using these incredible files in different ways. In the second part of the exhibition we are going to recapitulate the One Hundred Stories Project. The One Hundred Stories are incredibly controversial and caused a rift within the Anzac Centenary Board.

In the course of recovering these stories about Australia’s post war trauma historians were told:

"These stories are too confronting, they are too uncomfortable, they might embarrass the minister and that wasn’t in keeping (and I’m quoting here a senior public servant) with the mood the centenary should be trying to create."

What are Australians expecting from the Centenary?

"Well, we think they are expecting a warm fuzzy feeling."

A historian who leaves the public with a warm fuzzy feeling about the Great War is not a historian at all. Now we can find many images of returned service men and women on the National Archives of Australia website. The website has been rebadged - it’s now called Discovering Anzacs and that in itself is testimony to the way thousands of Australians have connected through the keyboard to an imagined Anzac past. The public visit this site to view the service dossier of a man or women who went to war and thus they insert their family story within a wider kind of national narrative. Discovering Anzacs also provides a space for people to load pictures like this one and to leave their family tributes, their family memories and, of course, this is one or two generations, so as people, we are not really talking about memories, we are often talking about post-memories. The site has become a virtual memorial. It’s certainly a place to pay tribute but for the historian, these images highlight the selective nature of war remembrance.

BS