Lest we forget: the Kapooka Tragedy 1945

Peter Rushbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper narrates the story of the accidental deaths of twenty-six army engineers, or 'Sappers', in an explosion during a training exercise at the Royal Australian Engineers Training Centre, Kapooka Camp, near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, on 21 May 1945. Though of interest in itself as a contribution to military and vocational training history, the event suggests questions relating to its institutionalised 'forgetting' by historians and the wider population. Given its status as the site of the most deaths suffered in a training accident in Australian Army history, why then is it not recorded in the literature and popular memory? This collective amnesia suggests questions related to how we write, record and value history. The paper flags these themes through a brief discussion focused on the ideas of 'history', or the systematic and critical investigation of the past, and 'heritage', or the popular and often distorted selection of past events for legitimising contemporary institutional behaviours. The paper concludes with a suggestion that the Kapooka Tragedy may serve as an allegory for New Millennium VET training and research: what pasts are we 'forgetting' and leaving for resurrection by future historians; and what pasts are we holding on to, distorted or otherwise, as 'heritage'? And, why do we choose one path or the other?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-55
Number of pages8
JournalHistory of Education Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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