‘Don’t name seat for anti-Semite’

Charles Bean. Photo: The Australian War Memorial

AN acclaimed scholar of the life of General Sir John Monash has attacked the naming of a federal electorate after an anti-Semitic historian who undermined Australia’s greatest citizen officer.

Professor Roland Perry, author of two landmark books about Monash and his pivotal role in World War I, is incensed at plans to name the ACT’s new electorate after Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian of the 1914-18 war.

Among several new seat names, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) this year announced the Victorian electorate of McMillan will be named for Monash and the ACT seat for Bean.

However, critics have pointed out Bean’s racism. He described Monash as a “pushy Jew”, writing, “We do not want Australia represented by men mainly because of their ability, natural and inborn in Jews, to push themselves” and attacked the “Jewish capacity for worming silently into favour without seeming to take any steps towards it”.

Perry, author of Monash, The Outsider who Won a War and Monash and Chauvel, noted Bean’s skewing of Monash’s contribution has been accepted for a century, particularly after his founding role at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

Since his death in 1968, Bean’s legacy has resulted in “not one paper” from the AWM on Monash and his Diggers at Amiens, who turned the tide against Germany, Perry told The AJN.

Bean not only spun Australia’s WWI narrative, but launched intrigues against Monash to try to prevent his due recognition. Condemning Bean’s “total disservice to the country”, Perry called on the AWM’s director Dr Brendan Nelson to “step in and do something” about its lingering “anti-Monash” culture.

Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly, a former army officer, made a submission to the AEC, arguing Bean’s anti-Semitism over much of his career makes his name a poor choice for the new electorate.

Bean “put an enormous amount of energy and time” into opposing Monash’s appointment to command the Australian Corps in 1918 “specifically for the reason that Monash was Jewish”, Kelly told The AJN.

Stating, “there are worthier candidates” for the seat name, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block said Bean “regrettably demonstrated a degree of antagonism towards Jews at different times in his professional career … and sought to overturn Monash’s promotion behind the scenes”.

Nelson told media that although anti-Semitism “remains a repugnant and virulent force” and “I’m not excusing it”, Australia at the time was “deeply divided along political, religious and racial lines” and Bean later realised he was wrong.