The Kapooka tragedy 1945: history or heritage?

Peter Rushbrook

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


The paper is a further contribution to the author's (and a range of collaborative partners) long-term project of mapping, analysing and critiquing the construction of Australian adult and Vocational Education and Training (VET) history. 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
Title of host publicationSixth Australian VET Research Association Conference 'The changing face of VET'
Place of PublicationAustralia
PublisherAVETRA (Web)
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2003
EventAustralian VET Research Association Annual Conference - Sydney, NSW Australia, Australia
Duration: 09 Apr 200311 Apr 2003


ConferenceAustralian VET Research Association Annual Conference


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