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Patriotic Duty For a nation that has never fought a war on its own shores, Australian history has been crucially shaped by our participation in international conflict.

The First and Second World wars were central to our realisation of a national identity. The lasting impact of Australia’s military experience in these conflicts is demonstrated by the reverence in which the Anzac ideals of mateship, sacrifice and duty are held. The Korean and Vietnam wars emphasised our growing ties with the United States of America; and, at the end of the century, the East Timor conflict confirmed Australia’s role as an important peacekeeper in the Asia-Pacific region.

Perhaps the most famous image from the First World War is William Longstaff’s Menin Gate at Midnight, which shows the ghosts of soldiers rising up from the battlefield. The painting toured the country to huge acclaim throughout 1928.

The artistic response to the Second World War was more complex, with less emphasis on the heroic nature of fighting for King and country. Australians were shocked by reports of atrocities and by the sacrifice of 39,000 servicemen and women - artists found little to celebrate. Some accentuated the anxiety and social dislocation created by war; others portrayed women who had been given the opportunity to take on roles usually reserved for men.

In Australia as in America , the conflict in Vietnam saw civilians back home involved in demonstrations and political unrest. The art of those years reflects the anger of the protest; artists also graphically portrayed the trauma of active service.

When Australian forces undertook the role of guardian in East Timor, the Australian War Memorial continued the tradition of the official war artist. The two artists who were appointed have shown the reconstruction of the country and the revival of the spirit of a people. Australian troops are presented not as heroes of war, but as preservers of peace.

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