Nation-building, community-building…and the Anzac myth

Imagine with me for a moment, that Nation-building could be the intentional and thoughtful building of a positive, inclusive, visionary, peaceful and sustainable vision of and for our Nation (a sort of meta-community, made of many communities).

In other words, a Nation-building ‘myth’ at best, is a ‘STORY’ about who we all are, where we have all come from, and where we would like to go/ what we would like to build together.

This would actually more closely resemble community building, at its best – ie bottom-up (organically nurtured from grassroots level), not top-down (enforced by elite through propaganda in media and education).

This would be Nation-building which celebrates our diversity and draws from our many varied strengths; which encourages and strengthens a nation to work together in difficult times; and which gives meaning and purpose to our shared lives and pursuits.. 

Image: Leunig

With the much-heralded approach of Anzac Day here in Australia, I must say its a relief to realise we will be on our holiday overseas, missing all the endless carry-on: mock religious ceremonies in every RSL dotted around the country, with politicians making an appearance almost everywhere- appropriating the day to somehow support whatever latest bit of policy they need support for…

All this is packaged strategically in endless  nauseating hours of coverage by the obedient media myth makers, and digested en masse, it seems, by an Australian public- hungry for meaning and affirmation.

This has to be the best day in the National calendar for the PR industry, spin doctors and the like… Not to mention those powerful vested interests in the background with an agenda: military-industrial or otherwise – which needs to convert each successive generation to its cause. Before they’re left alone for long enough to question.

It could also, slightly more positively, be seen as the best or most obvious exercise in Nation-building that I have yet encountered. Nation-building (the term and the process) can itself be seen negatively (as in, the spin doctors and propaganda refered to above); or positively (as the building of an over-arching narrative that binds many people together into a ‘nation’, with shared interests and pursuits).

Let’s try to focus on its positive potential for the rest of this post –

I would like to think the ‘Anzac’ myth has had (at some times and in some ways) this empowering and inspiring role in shaping the Australian ‘nation’ and identity… Despite my barely restrained sarcasm at this rampant ‘nationalism’ (the destructive, divisive sort); and the nausea-inducing hours of government and media platitudes it inspires… (but more about its latent potential later…)


Sadly, the Anzac legend is as exclusive and divisive as it is ‘Nation-building’- in a country where more than half the population now has one or more parents born overseas…. But there may still be room for modification and expansion of its basic tenets, and greater inclusiveness as a result…

For example, the arrival of the first fleet in Australia was long celebrated without any thought for the pain it caused to aboriginal people each year… Whereas now we have national ‘sorry day’ and other campaigns to attempt to balance out the narrative and celebrations around this day; and find better ways to navigate the troubled history it relates to. 

In a similar manner, all these world war ‘commemorations’ need to be expanded to include the full truth about war- as experienced by all sides-  and to enable a deeper, more inclusive and more lasting vision of the Australian Nation, past and present, to emerge. 

(eg the cynical use of whole generations of young men as cannon fodder, simply to achieve the shady agendas of the elite in power on all sides of the conflicts. Then, as now, the masses are lied to, indoctrinated, and then sacrificed for the sake of vested interest, NOT ‘the greater good’. Always. This seems to always be the core truth in some form in any war… But here I digress... )

This ‘nation-building’ is a project to be undertaken by all who live in this country- the more voices joining in the discussion, the more likely Australia’s view of itself will be realistic, inclusive and robust. 

I don’t know exactly what this will look like, and anyway since I wasn’t born here I will probably never be considered, or feel like, a ‘true blue’ Australian (even though it feels like home to me). There are many other people more able and willing to describe what it means to be Australian!

However, I do feel I can point in the general direction to be taken- or what the process should look like:

(And here I am drawing from the fields of peace studies, communications, political science and preferred futures thinking, particularly the practice of ‘back-casting’)

..peeling back the layers of taken-for-granted culture…to examine the ‘power behind discourse’ which shapes all we hear and (if we digest it mindlessly) what we end up thinking. 

.. plunging into the murky waters of myth, nation-building and nationality in general, to see if we can point out some of the rotting corpses hidden under there, and hopefully instigate some dredging or clearing of these waters…

..imagining what a brighter, happier future might look like, and planning the steps required to get there

In other words: reshaping outdated myths, discarding what is unhelpful or unhealthy – and creating new, hopeful and inclusive stories together. Meaning, purpose and vision are ours for the making!!

Let the conversations begin!!

Comments and discussion welcomed

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