Australia and the Great War Identity, Memory and Mythology – Book Review

This is a valuable collection of chapters written by established and emerging authors seeking to present a range of material on complex issues arising from the Great War. The papers are a selection from the conference ‘British Empire & the Great War – Colonial Societies / Cultural Responses’ held at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 20-22 February 2014 marking the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Keynote speakers at the conference included Professors Hew Strachan and Jay Winter although their papers are not included in the collection.

Consider the opening sentence: ‘In comparing an article entitled ‘ANZAC Day: the ‘Birth of a Nation’ in Freeman’s Journal on 27 April 1916, with a speech made by prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott at the Dawn Service to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli Landings …’ and following commentary.

The chapters are usefully substantiated with rich footnotes, leads to further reading, an extensive bibliography and bio-notes on the contributors. There are also a number of linguistic riddles: Siad-ian paradigms; ‘disenfranchised grief’, creation of ‘Australianness’; and ‘Remediating Gallipoli’- an exposition of Bruce Scates’ On Dangerous Grounds A Gallipoli Story.

The chapters are also replete with contrary assertions prompting dispute, with Peter Stanley arguing that ‘Maybe places like Britain and Australia which are clearly obsessed with the First World War are the aberration … it would be a good thing if it [The Great War] was removed from the curriculum …’; or others, such as Rhys Crawley, encouraging a return to scholarship and concerned that -‘Frustratingly, public discourse within Australia has not evolved in line with these developments in the international scholarly literature. Popular histories, with little basis in archival research or the wider literature, continue to flood the bookshelves.’

The depth and diversity of challenging opinion is revealed in articles ranging from consideration of ‘Identities and Australianness’ and Emily Robertson’s ‘From the Boer War to the Great War: Atrocity Propaganda and Complex Imperialism at the Westralian Worker 1900-1917’, to that of ‘Memory and Mythology’ and Ayhan Aktar’s ‘Mustafa Kemal at Gallipoli: the Making of a Saga, 1921-1932’.

As well, there are key words/terms/phrases/titles/authors calling out for the reader’s attention: Professors Joan Beaumont and Joy Damousi; ‘Imperial Feminism’ and ‘Australian Red Cross’; ‘Australian Medical-Military Expertise’; ‘1918 Mystery Aeroplane Panic’; ‘Global Climatic conditions, Pests and William Morris Hughes’; ‘Irish-Australians Before and After Easter 1916’; ‘Violence against Greeks on the Australian Home Front’; ‘Revealing Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides in C.E.W. Bean’s Official History; ‘Bean’s Passchendaele’; ‘Nationalism and Memory’; ‘Tom Nicholson’s Palestine Monument’.

Well worth exploring.

Michael JK Walsh, & Andrekos Varnava. Melbourne University Publishing 2016. Paperback RRP: $59.99
Michael JK Walsh, & Andrekos Varnava. Melbourne University Publishing 2016. Paperback RRP: $59.99

Contact Jim Wood about this article.

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