It looks like I’ll be voting, and soon too, in the new Federal electorate of Bean. But like many, I just can’t get excited about the name.
The Member for Bean just doesn’t resonate, and sorry Brendan the only image it conjures is of Mr Bean, not the World War 1 correspondent and historian Charles Bean, seen as instrumental to the establishment of the Australian War Memorial, which is across the lake in Campbell by the way.
It’s been a while since the Australian Electoral Commission’s announcement of the result of its redistribution in the ACT that rightly restored a third seat and offered up the name of Bean, over Aboriginal activist Ngingali Cullen and the first Member for the ACT, Dr Lewis Windermere Nott.
And the objections to the name have rolled in, most notably from Labor Eden-Monaro MP and former soldier Mike Kelly, with a strong counter-attack mounted by AWM Director Dr Brendan Nelson backed by several divisions of facts, quotes and anecdotes.
It seems Bean was an anti-Semite, like many at the time apparently, and plotted against General Sir John Monash, who, as is the nature of Australia’s obsession with national myth-making when it comes to military matters, won the war.
Nelson says he was simply a man of his time and eventually had seen the light and repudiated his anti-Semitic beliefs, which is not good enough for stickler Kelly.
But the real crime in all this is not Bean’s contentious past or divisive character but the Electoral Commission’s lack of imagination and its falling under the spell of the 100-year anniversary of the Great War that has been rolling out across the country since 1914.
Like the war itself, it’s been an exhausting campaign.
I’m all for lest we forget, because far from making this country, the war broke us and those 60,000 dead should not be forgotten, nor why.
But in 2018 do we really need to pull out yet another white, Anglo-Saxon man who already has a lasting legacy in Canberra?
As Kim Fischer argued recently, despite 30% of Australians having a culturally and linguistically diverse background, only around 5% of seats out of the 150 are named after significant CALD figures. Of the 70 electorate names considered by the Committee, it appears that only one (Ruth Arndt) was from a CALD background.
Surely there are plenty of other names that would better reflect the electorate’s people and the land it encompasses – a woman, a migrant, and the obvious, an Indigenous trailblazer? Or even just a place name like Namadgi?
Something distinct to Canberra that unites us going forward.
“Why was Romaldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, not deemed suitable for consideration? The instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak? Or Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium? Or even Pawe? Strzelecki, the explorer who named Mount Kosciuszko?” asks Fischer.
Because no matter how Dr Nelson may argue that the War Memorial, great attraction though it may be, is an apolitical, neutral institution that commemorates not celebrates our role in war, it is as much a creature of culture and myth as any other.
Bean wanted us to remember the fallen but he went much further, establishing a national myth that some say defines us, and others say chains us to a certain past.
The AEC should broaden its view, and reconsider.