The logo for the upcoming Anzac centenary was released last year with surprisingly little fanfare. The final design was selected from several options by the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board after consultation with the public, veterans and current serving personnel, and reveals a great deal about how Australians may commemorate the event.
The centenary of the first world war (2014-2018) looms large this Remembrance Day and governments are investing heavily in commemorative events and infrastructure. The UK will devote £75 million to commemorate the centenary; France has planned a series of exhibitions and events; and New Zealand has allocated NZ$17 million.
Australia is spending an extraordinary A$140 million, with federal funds supplemented by corporate donations, an investment that reflects the renewed centrality of the first world war to Australian national identity since the 1980s.
Unlike other nations, Australia is not commemorating the first world war but the Anzac Centenary. The Gallipoli campaign (April 25 1915 – Dec 1915) was a military defeat; but the exploits of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) were said to exemplify a unique national character, signifing the birth of the nation.
As a result, remembrance in Australia is focused on the first day Australians went into battle rather than the day the war ended.
Attendances at Anzac Day services began to fall after the second world war but, in recent years, Anzac commemoration has undergone a powerful resurgence in Australian politics and culture.
Historians, including Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake, have grown increasingly concerned about the prominence of Anzac mythology in Australian history, arguing that remembrance involves a great deal of forgetting.
A growing public appetite for Anzac commemoration has certainly been fuelled by state-sanctioned commemorations yet overt actions to manage the mythology have resulted in public criticism. In early 2012 an outcry erupted over attempts by the Federal Government to “brand” the Anzac Centenary.
Several veterans and politicians publicly slammed “tax-payer-funded” market research commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to investigate “what and how to communicate with the community about the anniversaries”.
A study conducted in 2010, at the cost of A$370,000, identified the risk of commemorations excluding multicultural communities and Anzac Day becoming negatively associated with alcohol consumption.
A follow-up study was commissioned in 2011, reportedly at the cost of A$103,275, to address those concerns and test designs for Anzac Centenary logos.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard claimed she “completely” disagreed with the study’s finding that commemorating Australia’s military history in a multicultural society could be a double-edged, and potentially divisive, sword.
Her response alleviated concerns that the Labor Government planned to “tone down” Anzac Day and make it more “politically correct”.
Should focus groups and registered trademarks surprise us? State-sanctioned commemorative events in the 21st century are meticulously planned, promoted, managed and mediated across various platforms from TV to online.
Curiously, despite the furore over event branding, there has been no outcry over the Anzac Centenary logo. War has historically served as a test of Australian manhood, as well as a test of nationhood, and the male digger takes centre stage, glistening in gold.
As a precious metal, gold is highly valued and reflects prestige. It reminds us of the social currency represented by Anzac as well as literal commercial value, evidenced by booming publishing and tourism industries.
Sport and war have taken on particular centrality within Australian national identity and gold also evokes sporting success - signifying gold medals or Olympic rings.
Mythologies of the “digger” and the “sportsman” idealise and glorify archetypal Australian masculinity and represent a set of values that inform what it means to be Australian, including mateship, courage, endurance and sacrifice.
That gold is also the colour of victory is thick with irony since the Gallipoli Campaign was a resounding defeat.
Other nations have also hired creative agencies to design logos for their centenary commemorations. Rather than the digger, the iconic Flanders poppy is central the New Zealand centenary logo, a symbol strongly associated with Armistice Day and the war’s end.
The silver fern, a national emblem often used in military insignia, features prominently along with the WW100 event name.
The British centenary logo also evokes the colours and shape of the poppy, reflecting the new “fragmented” visual identity of the Imperial War Museum.
Its shattered form reflects the overwhelming force of war to shape people’s lives. Text along the logo reads “First World War Centenary” and the logo itself forms the shape of a “C”.
In contrast, the French centenary logo is muted in sombre grey and white. Despite a self-conscious effort towards ambiguity, the stark design recalls a granite gravestone.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Australian centenary logo is the absence of any reference to the first world war at all.
The design is focused firmly in the present, commemorating “100 Years of Anzac, 2014-2018” rather than the first world war, 1914-1918. The design conveys myth, rather than history, an ambition encapsulated by the tagline “The Spirit Lives”.
In this way, the logo reflects our contemporary relationship with the Anzac legend, serving as a poignant reminder that Anzac mythology now operates well outside of the confines of the first world war from which it originated.
Lest we forget the terrible conflict we strive to commemorate.