Charles E W Bean was the official Australian military correspondent during World War I. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson has defended military historian Charles E W Bean over claims he was anti-Semitic.
Last month the Australian Electoral Commission proposed to name a new federal electorate in the ACT after Bean, who documented Australia’s World War I battles.
He also later founded the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
But there have been objectors to the proposal, including federal Labor MP and former army officer Mike Kelly, who claimed in Federal Parliament that Bean had a clear record of racism throughout his life and was stridently anti-Semitic.
Mr Kelly argued that Bean’s anti-Semitism was most notable when he tried to prevent Sir John Monash from becoming the commander of the Australian forces on the Western Front, due to his Jewish beliefs.
“The fact that Australia did appoint Monash to the highest command despite his religion and ethnic background was a tremendous step forward towards the multicultural success story we have become,” he said.
“Bean would have set us back along that path in not only this but his attitude to Asians.”
Mr Kelly said Bean’s achievements had already been “well acknowledged” and argued the people electorates were named after should “have been shown to have stood out against what were clearly significantly wrong attitudes of their day”.
‘A product of his time’
After documenting the war, Bean founded the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)
But Dr Nelson said Bean has been unfairly maligned.
“Like many Australians of his day, our nation was deeply divided along political, religious and racial lines,” he told ABC Radio Canberra.
“What this man did however, was land with the Australian troops at Gallipoli, he was chosen by his own colleagues to be the official first world war correspondent.
“He was at the front with them throughout the entire war, he refused to be evacuated when he was wounded, he was almost killed twice.”
Dr Nelson said Bean later realised he was wrong about his views on race and actively campaigned for a Jewish refuge in Australia.
“If you look at the founding fathers of our constitution and the number of electorates named in honour of those people, those people had very similar views,” he said.
“In some cases did not change them at all throughout their lives.”
Call for more electorates to be named after women
In objecting to the electorate’s name, Mr Kelly also called for more divisions to honour Australian women.
Mr Kelly said only 10 of the 150 seats paid tribute to famous women.
“I would like to suggest that a more appropriate name for the new Canberra division that would also resonate with the ACT and the nation is Betty Churcher AO,” he said.
“Her contributions to the cultural life of this nation and to our National Gallery in Canberra are unquestionable and she very much earned such recognition.”