Ancestors of Late-Military General Sir John Monash Fear Tony Abbott has Hijacked the Legacy of the WWI Hero

THIS is Monash month, an extraordinary period in which a great Australian general who died some 87 years ago is shaping current politics.

The huge legacy of Sir John Monash will feature strongly in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s April, here and abroad, for reasons historic and just plain weird.

That’s because Tony Abbott is fixated on the brilliant military leader and civil servant in a way the Monash family say is discourteous, inaccurate and unhealthy for the man’s memory.

They fear their famous relative is being discredited by association with Mr Abbott’s “horse and buggy era” policies.

Politically, Mr Turnbull will have to deal with barbs from the strangely-named Monash Forum, the tiny Liberal and National party coal loving group which includes Mr Abbott and which has filched the general’s name.

The special $1 coin adorned with the likeness of the celebrated military general, Sir John Monash.
A unique $5 commemorative coins has been released this month by the Royal Australian Mint to celebrate the legacy of General Sir John Monash.

Next, in a massive irony, Mr Turnbull on Anzac Day will officially open the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, on the Western Front of WWI France.

The $100 million memorial project was created by Mr Abbott and was the theme of some of his finest speeches as prime minister.

Back home, the general has been a more contestable inspiration.

Not only is there already a real Monash Forum, attached to the Monash University Business School, but there are strong doubts the man himself today would support the coal-at-any-cost campaign using his name.

“I imagine he would embrace new technology, as he did when alive,” one relative told news.com.au.

This has not bothered Mr Abbott, and former ministers Barnaby Joyce, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz who are core members of the group which has taken Sir John’s name in a so-far vain effort to rouse support for new coal-fired power stations.

But in a statement, seven descendants of Sir John, headed by John Colin Monash Bennett, ask them to drop the title.

Sir John was “intellectual and scientific” says the statement, pointedly implying the pro-coal campaign which has appropriated his name isn’t.

The Sir John Monash centre close to the Australian National Memorial site near the town of Villers-Bretonneux in Northern France. Picture: David Dyson

But the Prime Minister won’t be able to escape the Abbott-Monash concoction when he flies to Europe on April 17 for a range of engagements including a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London.

And then there will be the Anzac Day function at Villers-Bretonneux.

One of Mr Abbott’s last duties as PM, before being rolled by Mr Turnbull in September, 2015, was to announce the winning design for the memorial.

“Gallipoli has dominated our imagination but the Western Front was where Australia’s main war was fought,” he said on the occasion.

“This is where our thoughts must dwell if we are truly to remember our forebears, pay homage to their sacrifice and honour their achievements.

“Gallipoli was a splendid failure; the Western Front was a terrible success and we should recall our victories as much as our defeats.”

He said of his hero: “It was the commander of the Australian Army Corps, General Sir John Monash, who most thoroughly brought organisation and technology to the battlefield: to break the stalemate of trench warfare and the futility of men charging against barbed wire and machineguns.

“And it was on these broad slopes to the east, that Monash and his men fought what has been acclaimed as ‘the perfect battle’ at Le Hamel.”

That indicates one source of the Monash Forum name fixation, Monash the advanced-thinking warrior.

A bust of Sir John Monash in Civic Square, Yallourn. Victoria.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott at the unveiling of the Sir John Monash Centre Design at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretoneux in 2015. Picture: Brad Hunter/Office of the Prime Minister

The forum members also argue that post-WWI Sir John managed Victoria’s State Electricity Commission from 1920-1931 and exploited Yallourn coal to generate power.

But the statement from relatives said: “We are sure that, today, he would be a proponent of the new technologies, eg: wind and solar generation, rather than revert to the horse-and-buggy era.”

Adam Joseph is an experienced political adviser and a distant relative of Sir John Monash, but not one of the seven who issued the statement.

He and other family members don’t presume to speak for the general but have followed their acclaimed ancestor closely enough to speculate.

“If forced to hazard a guess as to how he might feel about fossil fuel, I imagine he would embrace new technology, as he did when alive,” Mr Joseph told news.com.au.

“As a civil engineer responsible for many of Melbourne’s bridges built before the Great War, Monash was no traditionalist.

“He is best known as a military commander who pioneered the use of tanks as an infantry shield. “So if alive today, I should think he would be a champion of battery storage, which can be used to make solar and wind power ‘non-intermittent’.”

No joy for Monash Forum members there, but none for Malcolm Turnbull, either, this April.

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