Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – ANZAC spirit tainted by Abbott and greed

Politicians, the media, the RSL and the military lobby have kicked an own goal. Incredibly, they have managed to tarnish the Anzac legend and turn off a large number of Australians.
How did they do it? By crassly politicising the event and grossly commercialising it. The Abbott Government invested some $200 million in the 100th anniversary and topped it off by sending 350 soldiers to Iraq with a handful of Kiwis to re-ignite the Anzac story.
Commercial television, Rupert Murdoch’s rags, the NRL, breweries, Woolworths, Target, biscuit and chocolate companies, Qantas and memorabilia manufacturers cashed in with “Anzac specials”.
As they polluted the history, many Australians switched off. One hundred years ago they were turned off by jingoism and mass slaughter. They rejected conscription in not one, but two referendums, despite an avalanche of pro-conscription propaganda from Empire loyalists, monarchists, Tory and many Labor politicians and the newspaper media (there was no radio or television).
This week’s centenary commemorations had one brilliant exception: actor Sam Neill’s ABC documentary in which he told his own family’s story to illustrate the birth and survival of the Anzac legend. Pandering to embedded cultural tastes, it was titled Why Anzac? in Oz and Tides of Blood in NZ. I didn’t mind Neill’s sentimentality because there was a rare honesty in his presentation. It was challenging, engaging and beautifully filmed and edited.

Lest we forget

Winston Churchill’s great-grandson Randolph Churchill reflecting on his relative’s Gallipoli misadventure which cost 8,000 Australian lives and 18,000 wounded:
“I think from our family viewpoint it was a brilliant idea.”

Oz poll bludgers

The two Svengalis of right-wing electioneering, Linton Crosby and Mark Textor, are in London employing their dark artistry to secure the re-election of Prime Minister David Cameron and his incredibly stupid Tory Government.
The UK general election takes place on Thursday, May 7, less than a fortnight away and their grubby paws are already evident massaging their favourite topics – the war on terror and keeping out immigrants.
Last weekend hundreds of armed Victorian rozzers staged one of their biggest anti-terror alerts and arrested some young men with Middle Eastern parents. They released all but five of them within 24 hours.
Then we learnt that Scotland Yard anti-terror police were in Melbourne to assist Victoria’s “thin blue line”. This was followed by the news that the “brains” behind the terror plot to shoot police officers on Anzac Day was a 14-year-old boy who was arrested in Lancashire on the other side of the world. Did they need the Household Cavalry or the SAS to carry out this deadly operation? We weren’t told.
By now, News Ltd papers in Oz and the UK had linked Abbott and Cameron with Anzac and “the war on terror”, buzz words aimed at improving the polls for both of them.
The overriding PR message? Dangerous times require strong leadership.
Of course, we have no way of knowing if Crosby and Textor had their grubby fingers in all this. But I wouldn’t be knocked over if they had.

Wilesmiths gathering

Members of the extended Wilesmith family gathered in Brisbane on April 18 for the launch of Tom Freeman’s book “Gold Expedition to Stannary Hills – The Epic Journey of Christina and Joseph Wilesmith”.
The book recounts the arrival of the family’s forebears in Queensland in 1864 and their pioneering role in the history of North Queensland.
Freeman, a Vietnam veteran, chemical engineer and diligent historian, reckons that George Augustus Frederick Elphinstone Dalrymple (1826-1876), born in Aberdeenshire with family estates at Logie, is the Father of North Queensland, and he gives the title of Mother of North Queensland to my great-grandmother Christina Wilesmith, nee Wallace, born in neighbouring Perthshire.
Their story, vividly brought to life by Tom using primary documents from the Qld State Archives and Qld State Library, is quite remarkable and uncovered much that I never knew. My young brother Jeff says the story is so exceptional that it should be made into a movie. Tony and I agree.
The master of ceremonies was John Seary, a schoolmate of Tom’s from St Augustine’s College in Cairns, and the official launch was conducted by Dr Ruth Kerr OAM, the distinguished historian and author of acclaimed books on Queensland’s early history.
The conference room at the Yeronga Services Club, south Brisbane, was packed; we had to bring out more chairs to seat the 100 or more guests.
Wilesmiths, Threlfos, Michaels, Shannons, Rouths and Mitchells came from all over; they were of all ages too and many backgrounds, united by a family history of extraordinary courage, adventure and stoic character.
Afterwards, addresses were swapped, photographs taken and family memories shared. We all left with a signed copy of Tom’s book and prouder than ever that we are Wilesmith descendants. Our mob done good.

Rudd alert

Kevin Rudd has such a shocking reputation among National Press Gallery journalists that his ambition to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations is championed only by a bunch of unknown scribblers.
The former dysfunctional prime minister is inconsolably distraught that the front-runner is Helen Clark, the former NZ prime minister, who ran an administration with skill and determination. To Rudd she must be like some kind of reincarnation of “that woman” – Julia Gillard – who stole his job in 2010.
Rudd is loathed by leaders of the UN’s most powerful players, Russia, China and the US, and he has been rubbished in political books cataloguing the last decade in Australian politics in which he played such a destructive and malodorous role.
He seems unusually similar to Tony Blair, the UK’s New Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007. In a recent Newsweek profile, Blair’s overwhelming egotism and vanity came shining through.
Interviewed in Sierra Leone last year about his post-PM career, Blair said: “I’ve done British. I suppose where I think I can make most difference is a global level, working on things that had interested me as prime minister but I was not able to devote myself to.”
Rudd has “done Australian” and now, like Blair, wants to put his genius into service on a global scale.
Blair shared with Newsweek his “unconventional ideas” of running a modern nation as “a non-political, unelected leader, unrestrained by events, bureaucracy, electorates, opposition or the press, able to pursue results rationally, with pragmatism and without distraction.”
Recognise the political institution he’s recommending? It’s called dictatorship. I dare say Rudd would agree with the model as well.


    1. Thanks, Ian, all the family historians have done a wonderful job: you, Bob and Tom. We had precious little to read when we grew up. We are leaving future generations a great legacy of research.

  1. Congratulations on your distinguished ancestry and its distinguished legacy.
    By the way, who’s the “Toni” in the Wilesmith column?
    Seems to me that Tony Blair forgot to say that his discarding Plato would likely result in an unlimited increase in his bank balance, and of course he would own the bank.
    I somehow doubt that Randolph Churchill would attract universal acclaim.
    I somehow doubt that Ireland would monopolise the disgust.

    So well written, Alex.

  2. As a fairly conservative businessman and lawyer I often read CTR with some scepticism. This CTR is not too bad at all. Can’t agree with the ANZAC and poll bludgers conspiracy theories but life would be so boring without a regular dose of alleged conspiracy to get the adrenalin pumping again. The Churchill comment is something that family should be ashamed of. What the hell was a bunch of Aussie boys from the bush doing in Turkey anyway? It may have been a smart arse theory to invade Germany from behind, but a shocker in execution by incompetent British officers. As for Rudd check out this interview – seems like KRUDD set up his own front outfit, the Asia Society Policy Institute [ASPI], to help him push to become a world leader. I am so glad China hates his guts.
    The Wilesmith column is excellent and the book will be a good read. Well done.

  3. I heartily agree with Alex’s assessment of the Sam Neill documentary on ABC1. It was engaging and honest, while steering away from sable-rattling and sentimentalism.

  4. Commercialising Australia’s involvement in WWI is far from new. While this war was in full force, Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot Biscuits advertisements exploited the image of heroism and strength. The most tasteless ad had artwork of a soldier or soldiers and. as the bottom, a picture of tiny boys in cut-down military uniforms. The caption promoted the biscuits, alleging the fathers fighting overseas were strong and brave because of eating them, and that their sons would grow up to be the same (and be cannon fodder) from eating the biscuits from infancy. I kid you not! This was considered a selling point, not a turn off.

  5. I enjoyed your article on the launch of the book on the Wilesmith family. What an impressive bunch!
    Jeff’s suggestion of a movie would be something to think about.

  6. Spot on Alex. The Sam Neill doco was great television. A few embellishments and the odd mistake, but beautiful measured TV gently told with great impact.
    All the best x

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