Those opposed to the naming of Canberra’s new Federal electorate after war correspondent and Australian War Memorial founder, Charles Bean, are shooting wide of the mark.
It is a dangerous practice to place a moratorium on honours for any of our 19th and early 20th century forbears who had the misfortune to have been “politically incorrect” by the standards of our time.
Edmund Barton, Billy Hughes, Alfred Deakin and John Curtin, like most politicians until the 1950s, were staunch champions of the “white Australia policy”.
That hasn’t stopped the nation from honouring them by naming Federal electorates in their memories.
To say Bean does not deserve the same purely on the basis of anti-semitic remarks that he subsequently regretted and made significant atonement for is double standards.
In the 1940s, at a time when public opinion was deeply divided on the matter, Bean supported the establishment of a safe refuge for the Jewish people in Australia.
He also conceded he had been wrong in opposing the promotion of Monash.
Charles Bean was, without doubt, one of the greatest Australians of his generation. He shared the hardships, and the dangers, of the diggers at Anzac Cove and on the Western front.
When asked by a dying soldier “will they remember me?” he left no stone unturned to ensure the answer was a resounding yes.
Bean was scrupulously fair in his reporting and writing and, far from traducing Monash on the basis of his religion, if anything later overstated the Australian General’s contribution to the war effort.
Bean’s 12-volume official war history and his best-selling abridged account “Anzac to Amiens” are among the most influential books published in this country in the last 100 years.
They helped to define the character of the young nation and set down the facts behind the Anzac legend for all time.
The real irony is that if Bean was alive, and able to comment on whether or not the new electorate should be named in his honour, today the odds are he would be staunchly opposed.
The Bathurst-born scribbler who took a bullet through the leg at Sari Bair on August 6, 1915, and then refused medical evacuation because he felt it was more important to record the deeds of the troops, never wanted the commemoration of Australia’s World War I sacrifice to be about him.
This is despite the fact he displayed genuine heroism at Gallipoli on May 8, 1915, rescuing a wounded soldier under fire during the second Battle of Krithia.
Bean felt his words were his monument and that the real heroes were the men he wrote about. When, many years after the war, he was offered a knighthood the journalist/historian turned it down.
The real issue is not Bean’s fitness to be honoured in this way but rather why the Australian Electoral Commission feels now is an appropriate time to honour yet another dead, white, male.
It is a shame they did not consider this an opportunity to recognise the many women, recent immigrants or people of indigenous background who are equally worthy of such an honour.