In Conversation: Born of Fire and Ash Book Launch

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Welcome speech given by Mr Matt Anderson PSM, Director, Australian War Memorial for the Born of Fire and Ash Book Launch, 15 March 2023.


I would like to open by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

And, at this place, as we do every night at our Last Post Ceremony, I welcome those who have served, those still serving and, as I look at the Stockings family sitting in the front row, the families who love and support them.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston

Air Marshall Errol McCormack

Air Vice Marshalls Peter Criss and Roxley McLennan

Major Generals Jason Blain, Paul Symon and Steve Meekin

Commodore James Stapleton

Brigadiers James Kidd, Garth Gould and Simon Gould

A great number of you present tonight who served in East Timor and who receive honourable mentions in this tome – could I have a show of hands of those of you who served in East Timor in 1999-2000?

Thank you for duty nobly done.

WOFF Air Force Ralph Clifton

Cath Bergin, Chief of Staff to Minister for Veterans Affairs

Professors Hugh White and John Blaxland

Our former official historians – Professor David Horner, Mr Ashley Ekins, Dr Peter Edwards and Emeritus Professor Peter Dennis

Members of Council (Hon Kim Beazley, Susan Neuhaus, President of the RSL, Greg Melick, Sharon Bown, James McMahon, Rhondda Vanzella and Josephine Stone) and my staff.

What this volume – or at least the process behind this volume - taught me was there is limited understanding both of the importance and impartiality of the Official Historian as one of our nation’s great office bearers.  

The Memorial exists to lead the nation’s commemoration, and understanding of the Australian Experience of War - commemoration through understanding.

The Official Histories provide, in one place, a comprehensive examination of Australia’s lived experience. This volume will be used to inform the content in our new galleries, and what our children, our teachers and our academics understand of 1999-2000. The causes. The conduct. And, of course, the consequences. 

Craig always set as his standard to follow in the tradition of Bean and write a history that could be understood by a lay person.

The judgements within it are his own.

As Craig said in a recent interview, he works at the Memorial, not for the Memorial. Although we are extremely proud to have the Memorial’s logo on the spine of this volume.

He has had access to official records, amongst other sources. Simply turn to the bibliography – 24 pages (and for the record, that’s longer than any essay I’ve ever written) to see how many books he has read and people he has interviewed.

This volume contains Craig’s judgements, written in his inimitable style born both of his intellectual rigour and lived experience. For he too is a veteran of INTERFET.

Rhys Crawly (Author of Vol 4 Afghanistan 2010-24) once told me there will be a new generation of historians made seeking to build on (or pick holes in) the research contained within these 921 pages – and I caution Rhys, in the subsequent five volumes in this series, including yours!

Some facts:

The then Prime Minister and now Member of Council, Tony Abbott commissioned this series on 2 May 2015 – 7 years, 10 months and 13 days ago – 2874 days ago

Craig was appointed on 27 January 2016 – 7 years, one month and 16 days ago.  

Or 2603 days ago.

Craig, I’m sure you and your family (and I note your wife Emma and family are here) and feel keenly every one of those days.

But context is important:

The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 is a 12-volume series, edited by the official historian Charles Bean, who also wrote six of the volumes, and was published between 1920 and 1942. Twenty two years, not counting the three additional volumes on the official History of the Army Medical Service.

The Official History of Australia in the Second World War began in January 1943 with the appointment of Gavin Long as General Editor. The 22 volumes, written by 14 authors, were published by the Memorial over a 25-year period between 1952 and 1977. That’s 25 years!

So, for those who think tonight has been too long in coming, there is precedence!

But I’m sure you will all agree it’s been worth the wait.

Tonight’s format will be for me to invite Craig to introduce Born of Fire and Ash, our Chairman, the Hon Kim Beazley, AC will respond briefly, and then they’ll engage in a conversation.

Questions will then be taken from the floor, followed by canapes and refreshments.

So, without further ado, it is my honour to thank you all for being here tonight and to welcome Kim and Craig to the stage.

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