Conserving Australia's Overseas War Heritage – Professor William Logan

Professor Logan discusses the delicate international negotiations which enable our wartime heritage to be recognised and protected for current and future Australians.

First World War (1914-18), Second World War (1939-45), Vietnam War (1962-73), New Zealand War (1860-66), Boer War (South Africa) (1899-1902), Boxer Rebellion, China (1900-01), Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) (1947-1951), UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (1948-1985), Malayan Emergency (1948-60), UN Commission on Korea (1950), Korean War (1950-53), UN Observer group in Lebanon (1958), The Congo (1960-1964), Yemen Observer Mission (1963-1964), Indonesian Confrontation (1963-66), Cyprus (1964-2017), India-Pakistan Observation Mission (1965-1966), Rhodesia (1979-1980), Sinai, Egypt (1982-86, 93-), Namibia (1989-90), Uganda (1982-1984), Iraq-Iran Military Observers (1988-1991), UN Mine Clearance Training Team, Peshawar, Pakistan (1989-1993), First Gulf War (1990-91), Cambodia (1991-93), Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia (1992), Somalia (1992-94), Rwanda (1994), Haiti (1994-95), Mozambique (1994-2002), Guatemala (1997), Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (1997-2003), East Timor (1999-2005, 2009), Solomon Islands (2000-2003), Sierra Leone (2000-2003), Ethiopia and Eritrea (2001-2013), Afghanistan (2001-), Iraq (2003-2009), Sudan (2005-2011), South Sudan (2011-), Syria (2014-)
Army, Air Force, Navy, Nursing services, Peacekeeping operations

Most cultural heritage is difficult to protect and with Australia’s war heritage lying mostly overseas, the conservation and management of significant sites and related artefacts is even more difficult.

Using illustrated examples from both World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam War, this lecture discusses the delicate international negotiations which have enabled this heritage to be recognised and protected for current and future Australians.


Leonie Pratt: Welcome to the Shrine of Remembrance. My name is Leonie Pratt. I am the Manager of Education, Marketing and Community Programs. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Shrine is built, their elders both past and present. I’d also like to acknowledge the attendance of any veterans, or any current servicemen or women who are here this evening. Are there any of you here? Would you please give them a round of applause. 

[Audience applauds] 

Welcome. As is tradition here at the Shrine and before commencing this evening’s event, we’d like to take a moment to honour the service and sacrifice of all Australian servicemen and women. For those of you who are able, could you please stand?

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,

We will remember them. 

Audience: We will remember them. 

Leonie Pratt: Lest we forget. 

Audience: Lest we forget. 

Leonie Pratt: Thank you. As you entered this evening, you would have received a copy of the What’s On which covers all of our programs and events for the period January to June this year. You’ll find information about programs, exhibitions, ceremonies and of course our Friends program. Our next Public Program is taking place next week, Thursday 27 February. It’s a lunchtime event, so 12:30pm, titled Australian Gallipoli Prisoners of War, and it’ll be presented by Dr Jennifer Lawless. She will be discussing the experiences of Australian soldiers who were captured and imprisoned by the Turkish during the First World War, so hopefully we’ll see a few of you there.

As we’re about to start tonight’s program, may I remind you that all these lectures that are held here at the Shrine are recorded, and they’ll be available for download either via our website or iTunes. So for this evening I’m pleased to welcome our guest speaker tonight, Emeritus Professor Bill Logan. Bill Logan is Professor Emeritus and UNESCO Chair of Heritage and Urbanism in Deakin University’s Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific. He is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, member of the Heritage Council of Victoria and Co-Editor of the Routledge Key Issues in Cultural Heritage Book Series. His research interests include World heritage, Asian heritage, heritage in Human Rights and the heritage of war. This evening Bill will be focusing on the delicate negotiations and management that takes place in conserving Australia’s war heritage, the large majority of which lie in foreign lands. Please join me in welcoming Professor Bill Logan. 

[Audience applauds] 

Professor William Logan: Well good evening everyone. I’m very pleased to have been invited to talk tonight and pleased to be here. Most cultural heritage of course is difficult to protect against development pressures of one kind and another. In the heritage field we talk about a number of kinds of heritage. I mean, one way of talking about heritage is to divide it into cultural heritage and natural heritage. Now natural heritage generally does better than cultural heritage with political decision-making and development pressures and so on. I have to couch that of course because if you’ve been reading the paper you know there are enormous pressures on some of our World Heritage-listed and natural sites in Tasmania and particularly the Great Barrier Reef. The case of cultural heritage is even more difficult because there’s often the belief among politicians and decision makers and developers that it’s all replaceable. You can always build another house or another monument, or another palace or temple, or whatever. One of the battles in the heritage field, that we face in the Heritage Council of Victoria and so on, is how you mount arguments to convince governments and developers that if you plan carefully you can actually keep both the heritage and have the new development, because nobody wants to live in cities that are museums and so on. About a decade ago, I led a Deakin group doing what’s known as a thematic study, for the Australian Heritage Council in Canberra. The way they develop the National Heritage List is by doing these studies of a particular theme to try and identify places that should be added to the list. The one we did was ‘Australians at War,’ and that is now used as a basis for making decisions when somebody in the public might nominate a war-related place for the list. They will refer to this thematic study. As we were doing that study we ran a number of focus groups, men and women from the armed services, and nurses and various associated agencies and bureaucracies. One of the things we discussed were ‘what were the most significant war-related places for Australians?’ And with one exception the places coming out in the top-20 list were all overseas. They were all places where Australians had lost lives, and you know it’s understandable. The one exception is the Australian War Memorial which of course is extremely important as a memorial site. The most significant places are overseas. That immediately brings in what I’d call the extra-territorial factor. Not only is heritage normally difficult to conserve and manage, but if you’re dealing with heritage that’s in somebody else’s country then you have an additional set of factors. This relates to places, and to artifacts and a whole range of things. If Australia wishes to memorialise war-related events and losses we can only do so by the grace of the governments and the people of foreign sovereign states. Our monuments overseas owe their existence to the governments and peoples of foreign sovereign states.  

Now going on from that thematic study we did, a group of us at Deakin decided that we would apply for some funding from the Australian Research Council to do a wider study of Australia’s war heritage abroad, and we were successful and we ran that project over three years. It’s now finished and we’re putting together a book that’s based on it, and we’ve been publishing along the way. Largely what I’m saying today is coming out of that. There are all sorts of very interesting questions to do with this topic:

  • Why do foreign governments and people allow Australia to set up memorials and commemorate, have commemorative services in their country? Particularly if we were belligerent, if we were fighting them in the past.
  • In what ways are foreign countries sensitive about their war involvement? How does this impact upon their readiness to allow foreign governments and citizens, such as the Australians, to erect, maintain and use memorial sites in their territory?
  • We have many sites, I’ll talk about these in a moment, but how sustainable are these in terms of a range of things: the cost to the tax-payer—these are very expensive to maintain, especially if they’re in tropical climates as many of them are. The wear and tear on those from natural factors is enormous. ,
  • How sustainable are these in the light of changes in political regimes, and political systems and governments in the foreign countries?
  • Does the presence of this Australian interest and memorialisation activity have an impact on the way those foreign countries think about war and interpret the war, and develop their own national narrative and their own memorialization practices? 

It’s really a very rich and interesting area.

The topic as it was advertised, you can see I’ve changed the subtitle, is a little bit different, and I’m focusing on this factor, the extra-territorial factor. I did say I was going to use examples from the two World Wars and so on. That was really, for 45 minutes, too vast and I’ve brought it back. So I’m going to focus, I’ll say a little bit about Gallipoli and the Western Front from the World War One. But I’m going to focus on three places: the Thai Burma Railway from the Second World War; Kapyong in Korea from the Korean War; and Long Tan from the Vietnam War. 

Australian Governments have been involved in remembering war for a long time, and there’ve been three major periods of memorialising activity or the construction of memorials in foreign battlefields. The two decades after the First World War, especially in the Western Front and Gallipoli, leading up to the big Australian War Memorial at Villers Bretonneux which was opened in 1938. Then there was a similar period after the Second World War. Then interestingly the last two decades have been another period of renewed activity, really from the early 1990s through. It’s interesting to wonder what’s causing this, why is this activity?

Examples of course are in France: Villers Bretonneux, Fromelles Memorial Park in 1998, Hamel and a whole range of sites there. Gallipoli in Turkey, the Anzac Commemorative site, major works in 2000, road works—controversial road worksױin 2005. Thailand: Hellfire Pass that I’ll talk about, the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum in 1998. In Papua New Guinea, the Isurava Memorial in 2002. The Sandakan Memorial Park in Malaysia in 1999. The Long Tan Memorial Cross was re-raised—I’ll talk about this later—in 1969, re-dedicated in 1996. That process continues on with plans for Kokoda Track Memorial, and major works going on here and overseas in readiness for the 2015 Anzac celebrations.

These activities are not, and never have been uncontroversial. All of these sites in other sovereign countries are testaments to the way we interpret war experience, but in the middle of other potential ways of thinking about those same conflicts. Typically these Australian sites are informed by their incorporation into the Anzac tradition, that is they’re intended to reflect a series of values or characteristics supposedly exhibited by Australians at war, first displayed at Gallipoli and subsequently reaffirmed. The increasing pilgrimage to former battlefields tends further to define these sites in Australian terms, even though as Bruce Scates has pointed out in 2006 these travellers have a variety of meanings. There’s a contestation about the meanings they give to these sites. Nevertheless, we need to recognise that while to Australians these sites are significant, to the local communities within which they’re sited, can be either not significant at all or, alternatively, are significant within their own national history and mythology and given a completely different twist, a different meaning. The commemorative areas on the Gallipoli Peninsula for example are today key destinations for both Australians and Turks. They regard the site, and the events of 1915, as nation-forming: forming the Turkish nation; forming the Australian nation. But they see it quite differently. What’s remarkable about Gallipoli is the way the Turks and the Australians have come together to be able to tell the stories, not in conflict but in a sense of peace and going forward. This kind of memorialisation in foreign countries has all the usual problems of looking after heritage sites but has these additional problems that are essentially diplomatic. They’re concerned with the status and the administration of the site, and really involving inter-governmental negotiations and coming to, hopefully, bilateral agreements about how things should proceed. They are managed, where all is successful, as heritage for Australians but in ways that allow for a dialogue with the peoples within those countries, where the sites are located. 

I’ll start with a few words about World War One. The World War One memorials really set a pattern that has continued on. Recently there’s been some moves away from that pattern, but a very powerful pattern. Commemoration and memorialisation took on a major scale with World War One, and a number of people have wondered why that’s so, what led to that? In my view it’s really to do with the emergence of the democratic state, and that is a different contract really between a government sending people to war, and the people who are being sent to the war. Before that, kings and lords just dragooned the people out of the local villages whenever they needed an army and just sent them off. I mean those people had almost no rights. With the formation of democratic governments you could no longer do that. Governments then have to behave in different ways to the troops during the war, and again afterwards. They have to look after widows, and resettlement and all those things, and one of those things is to commemorate, and honour and remember: memorialise. This is really the least a government could do for people who’ve suffered, and particularly those who’ve lost their lives in war.

Immediately after the World War One the Imperial War Graves Commission was set up in 1917. That became the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. It now operates as an inter-governmental organisation made up of six independent sovereign states: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. They set a pattern for the way we go about building memorial sites. For instance, it is their approach or their policy to respect all dead from Commonwealth countries, individually and equally, regardless of military and civilian status, regardless of race and creed. Flowing from that then you get the pattern, like you can see in that photo which I hope is alright, it’s taken from the web so it’s probably not 100% on the screen. You can see there that you get that pattern of the individual gravestone for each soldier. Not grouped together, but individual and individually named. Equal in the sense that there’s the same sort of information for all of the individuals there, there’s no more on some than on others. These cemeteries are scrupulously maintained all around the world and there are hundreds of them. You’ll find them in surprising places, if you go to the Pyramid in Rome for instance, just near the Pyramid there’s a Commonwealth War Grave. It’s exactly this pattern. Some aspects of this pattern are probably not repeatable today. After the First World War France was in such a demoralised state that it gave enormous power to the Imperial War Graves Commission over the land that these places are on. They’ve almost ceded the land. There was an attempt a few years ago to expand the Charles De Gaulle Airport out into the fields of Flanders and this came up. You could just see that there’ll be cases going to the International Court of Justice over who has the right to determine this. Probably the French do. Countries today are probably less likely to give that sort of power to a foreign country. 

Let’s look at the example from the Second World War, the Thai Burma Railway. This is a Ross Bastiaan plaque on the site. Ross Bastiaan’s a local dentist, you probably know about him. He’s been, out of his own pocket, creating these sculptures of war sites and locating them all around the world. There are two on the Thai Burma Railway. This one’s at the start of the railway at Kanchanaburi, and the other one, I think there’s only two, the other one’s at the Three Pagodas Pass which is on the Myanmar border. This is a railway that the Japanese built to get supplies and troops through to Burma during the Second World War, to avoid having to send their ships around through the Straits of Malacca, past Singapore, where they were vulnerable to attack. They built this railway from Kanchanaburi which is near, not far from Bangkok, and the Bay of Bangkok, the Bay of Siam, Gulf of Siam. Up over the mountains and then down, drops down quite steeply into Myanmar on the coast there. To build this they used prisoners of war: British, Dutch, Australian, Americans and Canadians. They also used local Asian indentured labourers called ‘Romusha.’ Up to half of the 200,000 workforce on this railway were actually Romusha. There were also Koreans. South Koreans—well Koreans because there wasn’t North and South—there were Koreans involved and they were mostly the orderlies working under the Japanese bosses. The railway runs 415 kilometres over very rugged terrain, jungle in parts, malaria and other diseases, malnutrition. There were large prisoner of war camps along the way. This is the one at Kanchanaburi, and I’ll show you this bridge in a moment. People think this is the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai.’ It isn’t actually the historic bridge on the River Kwai at all. But there’s a camp that’s gone now, you can’t see that. You might from the air pick up some indentations where roads and things have been, but the buildings are essentially gone. 

In these camps and out on the works, on the railway, there was enormous death toll. 6,904 British, 2,802 Australians—notice that there are almost three times as many British—2,782 Dutch—so almost as many Dutch as Australians—131 Americans and a few Canadians, and probably 92,000 or more Romusha, mostly Malays and Burmese. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission came in and have built, again, a typical cemetery in Kanchanaburi. There’s another one at Chungkai across the river from there, in exactly the same pattern. Now this railway of course has become part of the national memory, part of the narrative we tell about ourselves. It’s become indelible in the memory through things like films, The Bridge on the River Kwai essentially telling a British story. Neville Shute’s book A Town like Alice which became a film and television series. Lots of books written about it. Now that’s the bridge on the River Kwai, this is in Kanchanaburi, and they have a big festival here every year for the tourists about this. These days it’s all sound and light, and it features a Thai boy and a Japanese girl having this romantic affair, and it symbolises the countries coming together and, I mean, it’s so removed from this Death Railway that it’s not funny. The real bridge is further up the railway, it was a timber bridge and no longer exists.

On the edge of that cemetery at Kanchanaburi is a museum run by an Australian, his name’s Rod Beatty, which brings up an interesting feature that we found in these stories of the memorial sites, that very often there are some individuals who start the work, who trigger it off. Only later do the governments, the states become involved. Rod Beatty’s been doing all sorts of things. I mean he doesn’t precede the government’s intervention, the War Graves Commission got in there very quickly, but he’s been very important in focusing attention on the Thai Burma Railway and getting things done.

Then of course Weary Dunlop has burned a place in our memory. His story is really an important one, and there are a number of memorials now around the country. He died a few years ago and his ashes have been scattered in three places, partly in Victoria but partly near Kanchanaburi, and another one at Hellfire Pass. That’s the little memorial in the Pass itself which is a cutting that the POWs and the Romusha made through a mountain, the stone of a mountain, so the railway could run through. 

Australian Government intervention really began in a major way under Prime Minister Paul Keating. There’s another interesting fact, the role of prime ministers has been important. They’ve often picked up a particular memorial site and pushed it. This one is Keating’s. This is not a European site, ou can see Keating, this is an Asian site. He attended an Anzac Day ceremony at the Hellfire Pass in Konyu Cutting back in 1994, and at that Cutting they interred some of Dunlop’s ashes. Keating was heard to say that he would do something about this. In fact what he did was not the usual Commonwealth War Graves Commission approach at all, it was to build a memorial museum at Hellfire Pass. The role of PMs are important. John Howard’s important in Gallipoli, Western Front. Rudd in Kokoda. Gillard when she went to Korea, starts talking about Kapyong which I’ll talk about next. Now with another new prime minister, what’s Abbott going to focus on? He’s got a lot to do next year anyway with 2015.

Here’s the building, a fairly modest, white building opened in 1998. It’s in an absolutely superb setting, because the cutting is below. It’s on a mountain of course, that’s what they were cutting through, valley and all the mountains in the distance. You go down from that museum, down into the cutting itself and there it is—all built with pick and shovel, and with disease and sickness, and terrible temperatures and climate. Inside the museum, it’s an interpretive museum really. It’s trying to interpret the whole railway and what it means. When it opened in 1998 it caused some offence on the part of the British, well, one particular British historian who visited. When John Howard gave his speech to open the memorial, he also gave offence by not referring to the fact that the British were there and the Dutch. This was an Australian event and of course the Australians had paid for this museum, but everybody I think was embarrassed by this so they redid the exhibit to make it more inclusive, and that’s the way you see it today. There are these sensitivities, as I pointed out before, and of course the British loss was much greater than ours, the Dutch also very significant. Visitors from those countries to the Thai Burma Railway are really important, perhaps not as numerically strong as Australian, but very important. 

Now there are some other problems with this site. One is that it’s on not ordinary government land, Crown Land, but on Thai army land, and in Thailand the army has a very special position. We often refer to that kind of government as stratorian, in other words you have governments that run only because the army lets them run. That’s how it operates in Thailand, and you know there’s huge trouble going on at the moment in Thailand. The army is holding back but you expect any day for the army to intercede as it’s done many, many times. In terms of sustainability of this site we can’t be sure, we’re there by grace of the Thai army. They own this land. Another problem is that the site is of no significance really to the Thais themselves. These days, Thais make up about 52% of the visitors to the site. That’s building up, it’s getting onto tourist routes and so on. But Thailand, as you know in the Second World War, was then called Siam, was officially neutral but it didn’t resist the Japanese using Thai territory for Japanese purposes. So these days there is a gap in the history, in the narrative, the Thai narrative, and in the history books and university courses almost nothing is said about this period.

When we started our work there with the Chulalongkorn University students, they had no idea. They couldn’t understand why we would be interested in this. For them this railway was a kind of recreational thing. People were going there for bush walking and elephant riding and going on the river in the canoes, and what have you. This little bit of the railway’s still there, at Wampo, and it’s quite spectacular and pretty dangerous I would think. There are some of the sites—this is Nam Sai Yok Falls, waterfall—which are just used by foreigners and by local people for swimming. So, the Chulalongkorn University students couldn’t understand our interest. Our first task really, was to get them to understand why we might think it was important. We weren’t trying to make them believe it was important, but at least to get them to understand how why it’s important to us, and then to move on from that. A problematic site. 

The next example is Kapyong from the Korean War. The Australians were involved in ten major battles in this war, one of them being Kapyong or it’s now spelt Gapyeong rather than Kapyong. This is in a valley, it’s a good way south of the Demilitarised Zone these days, and south of Seoul. You probably know that the Chinese, their armies moved up and down the Korean peninsula, retaking Seoul I think three times as they went, completely destroying Seoul. So it was on one of these moves forward of the Chinese troops that the Australians and the Canadians found themselves in the path of the incoming Chinese. The Chinese wiped out the South Korean unit that was in Gapyeong Valley and moved on, and there were the Australians and the Canadians. To the credit, I suppose, of the Australians and Canadians they held their ground and turned, well if they didn’t turn the Chinese back they held the Chinese long enough that other Allied troops were able to move in to take on the fight. The Australian losses were 32 dead and more wounded. Prisoners of war, 280 were taken off to Busan which is further down in Korea and another hundred or more were taken to Hodagaya, which is near Yokohama in Japan. There were 45 missing in action, probably in the Demilitarised Zone where you can’t go searching for them now. It’s still a Demilitarised Zone and it’s still full of mines and what have you. 

After the war a major cemetery was built in Busan. This is an interesting one in that it’s the United Nation’s cemetery. This is not a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. It’s the only United Nation’s cemetery in the world, and eleven nations, the Koreans and South Koreans, and ten other nations have soldiers buried there. The countries that run this commission that looks after the cemetery meet annually and they have sub-committees. Australia chaired it in 2006 and we have memorials at Busan. The one I’m talking about is at Gapyeong, it’s quite a small memorial, very rarely visited. The Obelisk was constructed with the support of the Mayor of Gapyeong Village municipality. There’s a Bastiaan plaque there to the left, over here, of the Anzac Memorial. The local government of Gapyeong maintains the site, the Australian Government doesn’t have to. Unfortunately there’s nothing on the site to interpret the battle to visitors, if you went there you wouldn’t have a clue what it was about. In lots of ways this is an exception to the generalisations I’ve been making about it. This is a case where it’s the Korean Government who want the memori