The Honest History Book

DAVID STEPHENS AND ALISON BROINOWSKI (eds) The Honest History Book. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

HONEST HISTORY

This is a passionate argument for a wider Australian history. Never have so many ringing phrases from so many historians rung so true.

Every weekend I drive down Anzac Highway to my home in Plympton, passing the Keswick Army Barracks, and note a sign to the Army Museum beckoning me in. This past month (May) is History Month, rebadged as the South Australian History Festival, so I finally make the turn. The museum contains substantial holdings of all manner of equipment and memorabilia, the most fascinating of which is probably the Cheer Up Piano signed on all panels by hundreds (if not thousands) of service men and women prior to embarkation for the First World War. The museum’s items are arranged according to wars and campaigns but there is little interpretation of the material. As I’m wandering through the collection I pass into the Vietnam section where an old-timer (not much older than me) is explaining Australian heroism at the battle of Long Tan to a 10-year-old boy. The military record is that the Australian troops fought magnificently, but I’m tempted to break in with a question — ‘Why?’ Why were we fighting there at all?

A year ago on this site I reviewed Henry Reynolds’s book Unnecessary Wars in which he stressed that Australia had fought only one war it needed to be involved in – the Second World War. The Honest History Book is an important successor to Reynolds. As it boldly asserts on its cover, ‘Australia is more than Anzac – and always has been’. Organised in two parts, the first, ‘Putting Anzac in its place’ offers eight chapters arguing for the Anzac story to be reduced and thus given a proportionate place in Australian history, while the second, ‘Australian stories and silences’ proposes enlarging many other aspects of our history which are being neglected or sidelined – the environment, immigration, the economy, egalitarianism, a wider pool from which to draw heroes, women’s leadership, coming to terms with the concept of European invasion and settlement and its consequences for Indigenous inhabitants, the frontier wars, republicanism, and our role in wars as imperialist lackeys.

Let’s hear some of those ringing phrases (and sentences):

‘All historians select evidence. It is how they select it that matters, not the fact that they do.’

‘The study of history involves choosing not just evidence but also subject matter.’

‘… war is important in our history – not so much because of what Australians have done in war but because of what war has done to Australia.’

These are all from David Stephens and Alison Broinowski’s introduction and we’ve only reached page two. Reading on we are told:

Honest History believes the best way of coming to terms with Anzac – and of countering its extreme version, Anzackery [a term coined by historian Geoffrey Serle 50 years ago] – is to display the richness of our broad national tapestry, of which khaki is but one strand. 

To do otherwise is surely ‘a sign of arrested development’ as a nation. We have now reached page five.

Writing with an international perspective, Douglas Newton asks us not to think of our glorious dead but to ask, ‘For what precisely were Australian lives given up?’ – 46 000 of them on the Western Front. He reminds us that the Anzac centenary has narrowed our understanding of the fact that we were fighting an imperialist war, before closing his chapter with a chilling assessment: ‘The Great War should rattle our souls, not raise our national self-esteem.’

The international thread runs through several chapters and especially those by Mark McKenna and Alison Broinowski in the second part. In ‘King, Queen and Country: Will Anzac thwart republicanism?’ McKenna shows that whereas we originally engaged in battle as ‘the ultimate proof of the right to belong to a global British community’ now we do so for nationalist reasons. The trouble with our nationalism is that we have never grown up. According to Broinowski in ‘Australia’s tug of war: Militarism versus independence’, the independent strand has continually been trumped by the militarist. What is worrying about Anzackery is that to question it is regarded as disloyal.

Perceptions change, myths abound.

In ‘Adaptable Anzac: Past, present and future’ Carolyn Holbrook writes:

As tales of the Anzacs’ fighting capacity spread through the years of the war, so did stories about passive and ineffective Tommies ineptly led by pompous officers. Australian chests puffed out with pride; our men were natural soldiers, we told ourselves, slack on the parade ground but highly disciplined and effective under fire. They were different from Britons but not inferior. The Anzac legend thrived under the umbrella of British imperialism, but it was the story of Anzac distinctiveness and achievement.

This was the first myth and the first perception of the Anzac story, one which by the 1950s was fading, and by the time of Alan Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year (1958) seemed outdated. Fresh perceptions, however, followed publication of Bill Gammage’s The Broken Years in 1974, and the growth of family history and the release of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli offered interpretations that were emotional, intimate and sympathetic as well as enabling new audiences to understand the traumatic suffering experienced by men and women at the Front.

Both Holbrook and Frank Bongiorno in his chapter ‘A century of bi-partisan commemoration: Is Anzac politically inevitable?’ cover some similar ground. Billy Hughes is the first prime minister to exploit war for political purposes but it is interesting to discover that his successor, Stanley Bruce, a British Army captain at Gallipoli, where he was twice wounded, had (according to his biographer) ‘an abiding detestation’ of war. Holbrook dates Bob Hawke’s Gallipoli pilgrimage for the 75th anniversary as smoothing the way for Anzac history into the mainstream and prime ministers from both sides of politics have continued the push. While Paul Keating attempted in the ‘Australia Remembers’ campaign to reroute the Anzac legend to the Pacific war against Japan, John Howard emphasised the role of the First World War in the foundation of the Australian nation. As Bongiorno points out, since Howard, both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard maintained references to a ‘national soul’, but Tony Abbott added a religious dimension:

The Anzacs for him were no longer mere mortals. Like Christian saints, they had become exemplars of a personal holiness to which mortals could only aspire … the Anzacs ceased to be merely virtuous democratic everymen, as they were for Keating and even Howard: Abbott had taken both ‘them’ and ‘us’ out of secular ‘history’. And with a most peculiar turn of phrase – ‘Yes, they are us’ – Australians, dead and living, form into a single spiritual ‘body’, a nation reconsecrated as an Anzac Communion of Saints.

Have we passed the worst of Anzac excesses?

There are understandable overlaps in different chapters in this book but the various authors complement rather than repeat the work of others. Some relate to myths.

‘Myth is not the same as history: the discipline of history is about the search for and presentation of evidence. Myth on the other hand is about providing comfort.’ These words open David Stephens and Burçin Çakir’s astonishing chapter on the persistent referencing of words supposed to have been spoken by Kemal Atatürk some time in the 1930s that, despite being confirmed as only hearsay 15 years after his death, have proliferated in various versions since. The myth of ‘the Johnnies and the Mehmets lying side by side in this country of ours’ may be a comfort to those who lost family members at Gallipoli, and to the Australian and Turkish nations at large, but at heart it is, as the authors claim, nothing more than ‘a confidence trick’.

Myths and denial represent the core of several other chapters. For Mark Dapin, that Vietnam veterans were excluded from Anzac Day marches; for Rebecca Jones, that we ignore regular patterns of fire, droughts and floods when considering future planning and settlement; for Stuart McIntyre, the denial of boom and bust economic cycles and the failure of governments to take advantage of good times and ameliorate the hardships of depressions; for Carmen Lawrence, who sees the myth of the Fair Go blinding us to reality in a nation of greater inequality; for Peter Stanley, it is the previous egalitarian spirit emphasising the fortitude of ordinary soldiers being overthrown by an emphasis on celebrities, whether they be Victoria Cross winners or Sir John Monash as a general; for Larissa Berendt, it is the question of whether Australia was settled or invaded; and for Paul Daley it is facing up to the frequent bloody means by which our land was acquired through frontier wars with Aboriginal people.

A final point that sparked my interest is the disjunction between feting Charles Bean’s role in the Anzac story, while ignoring his views. In his chapter ‘The Australian War Memorial: Beyond Bean’ Michael Piggott argues that championing Bean as the founder of the AWM discounts both Bean’s own efforts to advance Brudenell White’s part in the memorial’s beginnings, and for units to control their own records. And Peter Stanley writes that ‘Bean’s admiration for the egalitarian, volunteer citizen force he documented, celebrated and mourned seems less accepted than it once was’.

Edited collections of essays by 20 authors usually contain obvious highlights and a few dull spots. The Honest History Book maintains a uniformly high quality of presentations from all the contributors.

Honest history, to quote Stephens and Broinowski in their conclusion, would like the place for Anzac to be retained in a ‘quieter and more reflective form’.

In a diverse society, there is a room for this sort of Anzac, but it needs to get beyond sentimental stories of Australian men in khaki fighting and dying heroically. It also needs to look at why wars occur, how Australia enters them, whether they are worth it, what happens at home while the soldiers are fighting and what happens afterwards.

Dishonest history is no history at all.

David Stephens and Alison Broinowski (eds) The Honest History Book New South 2017 PB 344pp $34.99

Bernard Whimpress is a historian who usually writes on sport. His most recent book is Adelaide Oval: A Photo-Document 2009.

Victoria the Queen

JULIA BAIRD Victoria the Queen: An intimate biography of the woman who changed the world. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

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This immensely satisfying biography of Queen Victoria humanises its subject.

The final words of Julia’s Baird’s biography of 493 pages are ‘Victoria endured’.

Victoria endured to the age of 81 years when the average life span of her subjects was 46 and only one in 20 Britons passed the age of 65. Victoria reigned as queen for 63 years, seven months and two days, the longest reign of any English monarch until surpassed by the present incumbent, Queen Elizabeth II. Victoria endured while giving birth to nine children over 16 years, almost double the average number of births for women of her time. Victoria did not succumb to death in childbirth but suffered the agony of losing three of her children – second daughter Alice, second son Alfred, and fourth son Leopold – as well as a grandson, ‘Eddy’ (Albert Victor), the elder son of Edward (Bertie), Prince of Wales, who would succeed her as Edward VII. Victoria endured through 20 administrations of ten prime ministers. Victoria loved two men – her husband Prince Albert and her ‘intimate friend’ John Brown – and endured the loss of both.

An enduring image of Victoria is taken from photographs: a frumpy woman wearing black clothes and a stern expression. The enduring phrase which rings from her lips is ‘We are not amused’.

We should forgive all photographic subjects of the 19th century forced to hold a pose for long exposure times, often with their necks clasped in place to prevent blurring. However, when Victoria did allow publication of a picture of her smiling at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it was her daughters, Helena and Beatrice, who were not amused and thought her behaviour somehow unbecoming.

Victoria could be unbecoming.

She was a lover and a hater: she was wilful, stubborn, forthright and dependent. Growing up she was supported by her German governess, Baroness Louise Lezhen, against critics and opponents including her mother, Marie Louise Victoire, Duchess of Kent, and Sir John Conroy, the equerry to her father, advisor, rumoured lover of the Duchess, and aspirant to become her private secretary when she became queen. When she attained the crown at 18 Conroy was banished and her mother excluded from influence.

Victoria continued to rely on Lezhen in domestic affairs, although when this later drew complaints from Albert, she had to go. Victoria’s political mentor was Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne, a Whig, but a do-nothing leader, who frequently spent six hours a day tutoring the young queen and precious little time running the country. As Baird notes, quoting the political diarist Charles Greville:

‘He is certainly a queer fellow to be prime minister. He had no agenda for reform, no vision for a new, improved country, and no policies he wished to see made law.’

Victoria’s loyalty to Melbourne certainly passed its use-by date and was an early example of her inappropriate behaviour, playing favourites with Conservative prime ministers Benjamin Disraeli and the Marquess of Salisbury, and her open hostility to the greatest statesman of the age, Liberal leader William Gladstone.

Baird introduces a new Victoria, a young woman with a high libido – ‘some kind of sexual predator who devoured a tolerant but exhausted husband’ – at a time when women were troubled by sexual feelings; a woman who loves being married but rages at her pregnancies and gives birth to four children in the first five years; a woman who, despite the burdens of motherhood, sees herself first and foremost as the leader of her country. Marriage to Albert brings happiness and contentment although there are also strains: initially on his side when he is seen as ‘only the husband and not the master in the house’; and then on hers when she defers to him as Lord and Master. They work together as a political couple but his greater intellect and wider appreciation of policy issues cause her to lose confidence.

Albert’s early death in 1861 is a major turning point in her life and her long bereavement and withdrawal from the public sphere (which might today be described as Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder and a social phobia) is viewed as selfish, and eventually leads to a souring of public sympathy. Certainly her behaviour was morbid, as Baird relates:

Albert’s belongings and rooms were preserved exactly as they were when he was alive. Victoria hung his photo above his side of the bed. Each day, servants carefully laid out his ironed shirts and pants in the Blue Room and provided clean towels and hot water for shaving, which grew cold as his clock ticked and blotting paper sat unmarked. His remains were interred in a burial site on the Windsor grounds, and Victoria arranged for a sculptor, Baron Carlo Marochetti, to model effigies of Albert and herself, at the same age, to be placed on their tombs. It was as though she, too, had died at age forty-two. At Windsor she went to the mausoleum every day to pray and gaze at his statue and she visited the Blue Room every night.

Victoria’s will to live returns on 7 October 1863 following the overturning of a carriage in which she is travelling in the Scottish highlands. It is her servant John Brown who gets her back on her feet, metaphorically as well as physically. Victoria’s relationship with Brown, which spans the next 20 years, has, of course, been the subject of the 1997 feature film Mrs Brown, starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, and this relationship is explored courageously here:

Victoria never hid her relationship with Brown … They spent many hours on the moors, drinking whisky – or what John Brown called ‘sperruts’ – and stayed in remote locations with rooms near each other. It is difficult to imagine that such a passionate, lonely woman could have been immune to the attraction of a rugged Scot. We will never know what actually occurred; whether he held her hand, or put his arms around her as they sat, isolated and miles away from human eyes in the mountains near Balmoral. There are a thousand possibilities for intimacy on the spectrum between lover and friend …

What is certain is that Queen Victoria was in love with John Brown … It was not a love she had known with Albert, in which she was the devoted inferior who worked on ‘improving herself’ under the guidance of a man she saw as a god, not an equal … Her love for John Brown was unique … The thought that a marriage could occur between a woman who ruled the world and a man who tended her horses was absurd to her and would violate her basic conception of the relationship. But she loved him, as a woman who loves the man who protects and adores her.

Brown was despised by Victoria’s children and palace courtiers as ‘the Queen’s Stallion’ and has largely been edited out of Victoria’s story by the royal family and Royal Archives, both when she was alive and even to the present time.

Baird’s revisionist history is subtitled an ‘intimate biography’ of a woman but it has much to say about her family, the children she doted on, delighted in, was sometimes bored by, and married off, not always happily, into European royal families in the hope of making strategic alliances, although frequently these resulted in conflict. As with her prime ministers, she favoured some children more than others: she was fond of Helena, Alice and her haemophiliac son, Leopold, but clearly liked Beatrice (her youngest daughter), Vicky (her first-born child) and Alfred the best. Edward, the man who would be king, was dull and a disappointment to both his parents.

The book also has much to say about the great issues of the 19th century: reform, revolution, imperialism, war; individual conflicts – Ireland (the Great Potato Famine and the quest for Home Rule), the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer War; and movements, particularly the greater emancipation of women in the home, in the workplace and finally in the political sphere.

Victoria is a contradiction in many respects. Tolerant of religious, race and class differences at times, she had a compassion for individuals rather than movements and thus ignored the plight of the Irish during the famine, the victims of imperialist wars, and the struggles of her own sex. She had no sympathy for suffragettes. In Baird’s words:

The deceptive part of being queen was that, while the job was the same as that of king, it sounded like a female position and therefore seemed appropriate. Victoria supported women’s being ‘sensibly educated’ and ‘employed whenever they can be usefully’, but not their entering into serious professions or voting. Throughout her life, Victoria was a paradox: a model of female authority in a culture preoccupied with female domesticity.

This is a big story and one marvels at how much material is packed into a densely written yet highly readable text and endnotes. In another age I would have cried ‘Hats off to Julia Baird’. I’ll raise a glass instead.

Julia Baird Victoria the Queen: An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire Harper Collins 2016 PB 752pp $49.99

Bernard Whimpress is a republican who takes special delight in being able to list all English monarchs (including the dates of their reigns) back to the Plantagenets.

In His Own Words

BOB ELLIS In His Own Words (compiled by Anne Brooksbank). Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

This anthology of Ellis’s writing reflects his wide range of interests and concerns.

Scene 1: A man came up to me in a pub. I was reading Goodbye Jerusalem or Goodbye Babylon – one of the big books. ‘He’s an angry man, Ellis,’ he said. ‘He’s much to be angry about,’ I replied.

Scene 2: I was drinking coffee at Café Bravo, Norwood (an inner-city Adelaide eastern suburb) and reading either Goodbye Jerusalem or Goodbye Babylon – one of the big books – when I spotted Ellis at an adjacent table. I approached him to say how much I was enjoying it. ‘How far have you got?’ ‘Page 606.’ ‘You’re sticking with it then,’ he said. We spoke for half an hour.

Scene 3: An actor friend was appearing in Ellis’s play, Shakespeare in Italy, which he was also directing in a small back-street theatre in Hindmarsh, an inner-west former industrial suburb of Adelaide, now mainly consisting of derelict warehouses, a soccer stadium and a cemetery. Ellis greeted patrons in the foyer when they arrived. I reminded him of our earlier meeting. When the play began Ellis positioned himself to the centre and rear of the small auditorium and laughed at his own jokes in the script. I’m told he often did this.

Scene 4: After Ellis died in April last year I met with the actor friend and a few others whereupon a toast was raised to him as the ‘Falstaff of Australia’. I have a feeling Ellis might have approved, in part as a man who frequently played court to the mighty, and could sometimes be perceived as a jester or fool; conversely he was a man of great wisdom, fearlessly expressed.

Ellis’s body may have deteriorated over time but as the back jacket picture and interior photographs of In His Own Words reveal, he was handsome in his youth and even in middle age. There was certainly no evidence of a mind having gone to seed, and in compiling this impressive anthology Ellis’s widow, Anne Brooksbank, has included material written as recently as eight days before his death.

I was glad to see the rich praise in a jacket note from Guy Rundle: ‘Bob Ellis is not merely the finest prose writer Australia has produced, he is probably the finest three or four of them.’ When people have asked me about why I read Ellis I have often said that in a 600-page book there is a great sentence on every page. I can think of some writers who don’t produce a single great sentence in a book or even a career.

The text is divided into 10 sections, some chronological and others thematic: Childhood, Growing Up, In the Midst of Life, Politics, War, Thoughts and Ideas, Saying Sorry, The Wider World, People, On Time Passing and Endings. The material is drawn from newspaper and magazine articles, from previous books, speeches – published and unpublished, and his final words from blogs. Most of the writing is prose although there are a few rhyming poems and excerpts from play and film scripts.

Politics and Labor Party history were central to his being and we are fortunate that Ellis was present at Parliament House when the Whitlam Government was sacked on 11 November 1975. He remembers the end of that bruising day as a world going mad:

And then it was late, and by lamplight we were singing ‘Solidarity Forever’ on the steps, and it was Labor and it was a fuck-up and we were history. Soon we were all drunk as shit, and people driving home were running into trees and rooting total strangers, and that was it, the end of an era. The end of hope. The beginning of a new professionalism, the Wran Rethink, the Richo machine. (Goodbye Jerusalem, 1997)

Hope springs afresh and 24 November 2007 spells the likely end of the Howard Government. Coincidentally, Ellis’s son Jack is being married that afternoon in a Kirribilli park and Ellis hasn’t written his speech. In the morning he despairs while doing poll duty in Cremorne in Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney:

Voters are coming past in their hundreds, all of them Liberals, scorning our leaflets. Where do these people come from? There’s so many of them. The clam-faced bearers of haemorrhoids, I call them. They sit in their rocking chairs behind their green shutters and come out once every three years to vote for John Howard and they all look just like him, the men and women, and go back home for three years. Put on their cardigans, eat Vegemite sandwiches and play Kamahl’s Greatest Hits … We’re going to lose this. (And So It Went, 2009)

No one can quite unload on Liberals like Ellis.

However, he taps his typewriter with more than vitriol. He summons up great sensitivity when writing about love in So It Goes (1999). It might seem odd that the best definition he finds is in The Readers Digest of 1955 – ‘fullness of response’, but he enlarges on young love. ‘It’s a measure of what fruitfulness comes with unconsummation, what sweet sorrow.’ He further suggests:

Love is a word that covers too many meanings … and it were best for us if we had more different words for different loves and none for the generality … A great unspoken fact of love … is its situationality – its proneness and vulnerability to geography.

Many people (perhaps on both sides of the political divide) might regard Ellis as a ratbag. But no mere ratbag could write this. Only a poet, a lover, a family man could do so.

The subjects in this selection are various: speeches on turning 40, 50 and 70; ancestors, friends, childhood, death and losing the family house; writing a love letter for a friend; seeking work – a letter to a prospective editor; the Sydney of the early 1960s; overseas travel – USA 1968, UK 1974, USSR 1988, Eritrea and Nepal 1994, Vietnam 1995; as witnesss to key events – Maralinga 1985, the waterfront dispute of 1998, the Olympic Games of 2000, Tasmanian wood-chipping, Tampa and 9/11, the Walk Across the Bridge of 2000, the death of Saddam Hussein, the Beaconsfield Mine Disaster of 2006, Sorry Day 2008; black and white versus colour film, the state of the language, the free market and the national anthem; politicians – Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Turnbull, Bronwyn Bishop, Mike Rann, Beazley, Abbott, Costello, Howard, Carr, Dunstan; and people – Les Murray, Don Bradman, Barry Humphries, Lindy Chamberlain and Francis James.

Above all, however, the charm of Ellis lies in his passionate argument and deft phrasing: sometimes running on for pages, at others providing minor gems.

Who else could write of Bradman in the week of his death?

Strange that an artist whose art was never seen – apart from the six or seven sweeps and late cuts caught by the newsreels – could be so beloved by so many for his art. A Michelangelo whose Sistine Chapel was never viewed. A Shakespeare whose Hamlet was never acted. A Dickens never read. A Caruso never heard … He defied the rules of the universe … And he crossed as heroes did … the line between fact and fiction.

Or encapsulate the spirit of the Sydney Olympics as ‘a kind of two-week national honeymoon, or a protracted Mexican wave, that enriched and pleasured all our memories’ or convey a grittier resolve at Beaconsfield:

I looked around the faces in the pub. They were big, burly, mild, self-mocking, no-bullshit blokes with Bob Mitchum and John Meillon faces, like my father’s generation – it’s September 1951, I thought, and all’s well – a time capsule, like most of the rest of Tasmania, of family men, shooters, weekend sailors and fishermen, shotgun-wed a few of them, I guessed, and copping sweet the decades of mortgage, skrimp and grind that followed. My father, Keith, was a coalminer for a while in Maitland, an Anglo-Celtic monoculture like this one, and I felt at home. (The Australian Worker, July 2006)

In addition to Ellis’s own words are heartfelt tributes in Anne Brooksbank’s Foreword, the Introduction by his son, Jack, and a poem by his long-time friend, Les Murray.

For readers familiar with Ellis this collection is a book to be treasured. For new readers let us hope it leads them back to his previous works, the big books and the small. If I can make a recommendation for one or the other it would be to start small with The Ellis Laws published as a Penguin Special in 2014. Almost an alternative Ten Commandments, it can be read in an hour and benefits from constant rereading and discussion.

Their Brilliant Careers

RYAN O’NEILL Their Brilliant Careers: The fantastic lives of sixteen extraordinary Australian writers. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

their-brilliant-careers

I’m tempted to describe this book as a parody of Australian literary history — so I will.

Taking the piss is very Australian. It’s also very British and the practice is diffused to various corners of the British Empire and Commonwealth. In taking up any book for review I read the jacket notes, and here I discover that Ryan O’Neill ‘has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers’. Mmmm. I’m invited to meet three – Rachel Deverall, Rand Washington and Addison Tiller, ‘The Chekhov of Coolabah’. Mmmm. I’m told that Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of linked stories, ‘a wonderful comic tapestry of the writing life’ which takes ‘Australian writing in a whole new direction’. Be prepared, as Lord Baden-Powell might have put it.

But I stay on the back cover, for there is a small head shot of the author looking like a stand-up comic (or a CSIRO scientist) with biographical details attached. According to this bio Ryan O’Neill’s ‘internationally acclaimed fiction and nonfiction have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, and translated into several languages. His work is studied in universities around Australia, and has been adapted for radio and the stage’. He apparently lives in Sydney with his fiancée, Anne.

I’m about to turn the book over when I note in tiny print that the author’s photograph has been taken by Rachel Deverall. Is this the same Rachel Deverall ‘who unearthed the secret source of the great literature of our time – and paid a terrible price for her discovery’, the same Rachel Deverall who is one of the (invented) Australian writers? Could be.

Warning bells ahead.

Open the book. Half-title page, pass. Books by the same author, check. Google as everyone does. Fiction – The Weight of a Human Heart: Stories was published by Black Inc in 2012 and it won literary awards; pass. Non-fiction – three books listed which don’t exist. Forthcoming – a book with a very long title co-written with Anne Zoellner. Google again. Find a Mary Ann Zoellner, four-time Emmy award-winning TV producer at NBC news in the United States. She could be a worthwhile co-author to promote the new book internationally. Keep turning pages. Dedication – ‘For my late wife, Rachel’. Sad. Coincidence? Contents – Foreword by Anne Zoellner (here she is again), the biographies, acknowledgments and index. Index? Ever read a novel with an index before? I mainly read history and even substantial works of scholarship don’t have indexes these days, nor footnotes, nor are they edited, and so one can blather on and on and on. But a novel with an index promises to be a novel novel.

Indeed.

I find myself drawn to the index to begin with and being a contrary kinda bloke the last entry will come first and the first last.

Zoellner, Anne:

affair with Ryan O’Neill 129

betrayal of her best friend Rachel Deverall and providing Ryan O’Neill with an alibi 136-7

Have you ever started reading a novel at page 129? Is there mention of Anne Zoellner’s affair with Ryan O’Neill on that page? No. Are either of them mentioned on that page? No. Is there mention of Anne Zoellner betraying her best friend and providing Ryan O’Neill with an alibi on pages 136-7? No. Did I say this book was a piss-take? Something along those lines.

When I get around to finally reading the 16 biographies there are actually 15. Although listed under Contents for pages 261 to 262 the chapter on Sydney Steele is entirely blank. Why? Probably for the same reason his index entry reads: ‘Steel, Sydney, Blank’.

So what is this book about? A lot of make-believe characters with connections, plays, substitutions, witty epigraphs, much ado about plagiarism, jokes galore: Quarter for Quadrant, Northerly for Southerly (or Westerly), Overground for Overland, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Souci’, ‘Whingeing Matilda’ and those books which flow so readily from Frederick Stratford – Odysseus, The Sun Comes Up Too, The Prodigious Gatsby, Ooroo to All That and Long Time No See, described as a ‘picaresque satire on Parisian life’ told without using the letter C on any of its 734 pages. Stratford also launches lawsuits against James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Graves, among others, for breach of copyright.

Of the curiously named experimental writer Arthur ruhtuA it is said, ‘Poor Arthur: The only constraint he couldn’t overcome was his lack of talent.’ Of editor Robert Bush we learn that Bush’s favourite copy-editing symbol was ‘Delete’. And the spirit of Addison Tiller’s prose is encapsulated in the line,”‘Wot a larf, eh Pa?’ howled Pete. ‘Wot a larf!’

There are other laughs (and minor amusements). Addison Tiller (Henry George Watkins) might stand for Steele Rudd, Edward Gale for Keith Windschuttle and Donald Chapman for Ern Malley. Like Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis), Tiller is an ‘authentic voice of the Bush’. And as Davis chose Steele as a first name because of his admiration for the English essayist (The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 1985, p 603) so too did Watkins choose Addison, Steele’s friend and fellow essayist. Pa and Pete, of course, can readily be recognised as Dad and Dave

Do we know what Their Brilliant Careers is about? Sort of. But how was it written and is this a proper question to ask? Did the author take up the Australian Dictionary of Biography and sieve through it for literary entries on which to make variations? Did he examine the aforementioned Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, extract a bit here and tweak a bit there? Has he made a close study of the subject as a whole or merely a close study of Geoffrey Dutton’s The Australian Collection: Australia’s greatest books?

Should the reader be offended that these biographies are of people who aren’t real? It is a novel: it is fiction. Offence is most often taken when fictional characters are real. The publisher (if not the author) has been straightforward, on the back cover at least.

As for the author, finally, will the real Ryan O’Neill reveal himself? I had begun to think he might be a former Goldilocks Hollywood actor who had lost the plot and forgotten how to spell his own name, so I googled again. I find that the photograph taken by the non-existent Rachel Deverall is repeated on the Black Inc website and purports to be of a man who was born in Glasgow, is married with two daughters, and teaches at the University of Newcastle.

Nice.

Finding Sanity

GREG DE MOORE AND ANN WESTMORE Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

finding-sanity

This is an outstanding biography of Australian lithium pioneer John Cade, whose life merits major recognition.

Let’s start with a statistic. The year 1948 marked a peak for deaths in Melbourne asylums, 183 at the Royal Park Mental Hospital alone, and John Cade kept a tally – three and a half a week, two out of every 15 admissions. A high proportion of those patients would have suffered from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression. The figures were astonishing.

John Frederick Joseph Cade was the son of a doctor, and doctors and chemists represented an unbroken line among his ancestors for nearly a century and a half. His father was a medical officer and then superintendent of mental asylums at Beechworth, Mont Park and Sunbury after the First World War, so the son was exposed to life in these institutions as a child and a young man. After graduating in medicine in 1934 he served briefly at the St Vincent’s and Royal Children’s hospitals before joining the mental hygiene department of the Chief Secretary and returning to his old stamping grounds as medical officer at Beechworth and Mont Park while undertaking an MD degree in psychiatry in 1938. During the Second World War he served with the 2nd/9th Field Ambulance and following the fall of Singapore in February 1942 spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner in Changi camp.

He was dubbed the ‘Mad Major’ during his POW days, but the term was most likely a form of endearment because Cade was above all a physician first, a psychiatrist second, and very much a practical man, as is evident in the following passage from his unpublished memoir. Survival meant eating and gaining nutrition, no matter the source:

I was asked by the cook to condemn a batch of rotten fish. I said ‘You stupid bastards. We won’t get any replacement. It’s rich in protein and maggots. Thrash it within an inch of its long departed life, sieve out the bones and maggots and serve it as fish soup. It won’t kill you but it will nourish you.’

Another source was a local grass – lalang – which was bundled in armfuls and churned into a foul-tasting liquid known as ‘Tiger’s piss’, which many soldiers refused to drink but was rich in riboflavin.

On his demobilisation in 1946 Cade returned to the mental hygiene department as medical superintendent and psychiatrist at the Repatriation Mental Hospital, Bundoora, and began a lone research project injecting urine into guinea pigs. Although his first hypothesis that urine from a manic patient was more toxic than regular urine proved false, he found that adding lithium to uric acid to make lithium urate had a calming effect on the animals.

Now comes a moment of high drama, as co-authors Sydney psychiatrist Greg de Moore and Melbourne medical historian Ann Westmore report:

John Cade in 1948 was a blend of the military and the medical: it was never likely that he would inflict an untried potion on an innocent man until he had weathered its effects himself. For a man who had survived three and half years’ incarceration as a POW, the act of self-experimentation and a preparedness to take chances had become a way of life …

All John knew was that lithium had led his guinea pigs to lie vacant-eyed and dreamily insensitive to the prodding of human fingers.

 As John prepared to take lithium, the spirit of the alchemist stirred within, knowing he was doing what many would regard as against the natural order. He emptied the lithium powder into a test tube, stirred a solution and raised the transparent fluid to his lips. Whatever the nature of the force that guided his hand, it was deep-rooted and arcane.

He held the elixir to his lips: his nostrils sensed no odour, and, with the courage and recklessness anything truly original must embrace, he opened his mouth.

Eyes closed, he drank.

Having experienced lithium with no ill effects, he decided it was now time to test it on Bundoora patient Bill Brand, who had been in a state of mania for five years. Brand had been misdiagnosed and shamefully treated by the army and various medical practitioners over a period of 25 years. Two years before, Cade had given him nine treatments of electroconvulsive therapy – then a violent and gruesome process – but while each treatment had calmed him for several months, the mania had always returned: ‘The remnant of a near-demolished human being, Bill was a wreck by the time John Cade resorted to giving him lithium.’

Within days the potion began to work and after a few weeks Cade began to use it more widely. In September 1949 when causes of mental illness – psychological, biochemical, social – were being debated, he published a historic paper in the Medical Journal of Australia on his treatment of 10 manic patients. De Moore and Westmore enthuse:

The paper is a masterpiece, his magnum opus. It is everything a scientific paper should be, and so different from just about every modern scientific paper you will ever read. It is a four-page wonder, a manifesto on the treatment of mania; its scope – of life and death – is operatic. It was published without fanfare – just another article in the midst of hundreds – but it would, in due course, be celebrated as the journal’s most cited paper, and for changing the way we think about mental illness.

A year later at least 100 patients around the country were receiving lithium.

Lithium treatment of mania, however, now struck a few reverses. It could cure but it could also kill. Bill Brand died of lithium toxicity in 1950; two manic female patients treated by the same doctor at the Ballarat and Ararat mental hospitals also succumbed over the next two years, and another male patient died in Perth. Lithium was also banned in the United States. Three people had died from the use of lithium chloride in place of table salt and as a result an effective treatment of mania was delayed for a generation. In 1952, after Cade was appointed superintendent of the Royal Park Mental Hospital, the most important psychiatric institution in Melbourne, he had less time for medical research and his belief in lithium seemed to waver. Fortunately it was kept alive by others – Edward Trautner and Sam Gershon in Australia in the 1950s, and then by Mogens Schou in Denmark in the early 1960s. It was not until 1970 that Cade gained full international recognition for his work.

Beneath the main narrative of the doctor and medical researcher is the very human story of how the boy became the man:

In 1920, a typical eight-year-old boy played cricket with his mates on the streets of suburban Melbourne; John played games with disturbed men in a lunatic asylum who thought they were Jesus. There can be little doubt that in these germinal years John’s affection for the mentally ill stirred and took root.

The narrative is also extended by Cade’s choice of secondary education at Scotch College. He had been raised a Catholic, following the religion of his mother, and his father’s old school was Melbourne Grammar (Anglican), yet he opted for the Presbyterian school his grandfather Joseph had attended. That made him an outsider, and he remained something of an outsider in the psychiatric profession, initially by turning his back on private practice, then as a medical researcher, and particularly through his criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis.

A decent man who lived an ordered life, Cade is humanised by his routines, even if they seem exaggerated: grace before meals; mass every Sunday; bedside prayers with his sons; ‘seven cigarettes daily, but they were strategic’; ten cups of tea daily at five set intervals – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, night; a double glass of sherry in a favourite oak chair. He could be reserved and his emotions were described as ‘clipped hard’ in dealing with the death of an infant daughter, as they had been in Changi.

At other times he could enjoy life, as he did with his elder sons shooting rabbits at Bundoora at the end of a working day, and body-surfing at Kennett Beach on holidays with his family on the Victorian south-west coast. With patients he was warm and thought of many as members of an extended family, while medical students who attended his Royal Park lectures regarded them as legendary:

His teaching was traditional, perhaps even old-fashioned. You rolled a patient out in front of your assembled students and took a history and tapped tendons, or in the case of psychiatry, asked more questions to reveal the mire of depression or exuberance of mania. And so the patients would enter, one at a time, and John would demonstrate masterfully. He cast his eye over each component of the patient before him, totting up evidence for and against each possible diagnosis … They relished his Sherlockian deductions in deciphering the meaning of self-cutting on different parts of the body, and poured in through the doors on Saturday mornings to hear lectures they would remember for the rest of their professional lives.

I received an inscribed copy of Finding Sanity from one of the authors, who is a friend, with a supplementary remark – ‘A Great Australian Story’.

Indeed, it is.

Greg de Moore and Ann Westmore Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder Allen and Unwin 2016 PB 336pp $32.99

Bernard Whimpress is a historian who usually writes on sport but once took a psychology major in his undergraduate degree. He most recently edited a cricket anthology, Baggy Green: A selection 1998-2010.

The Game of their Lives

NICK RICHARDSON The Game of Their Lives. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

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The Game of Their Lives is a compelling account of Australian Rules football and the men who played it in a time of war

.GAME OF THEIR LIVES

Central to this story is the exhibition match played between teams from the Australian Imperial Force’s 3rd Division and the training units at Queen’s Club, West Kensington, London, on 28 October 1916.

None of the players (many of whom had represented major league clubs in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania) in what was regarded as ‘a showpiece for the Australian game’ had yet been to the front.

Before opening this book I tried to imagine it, and TS Eliot’s lines in ‘The Hollow Men’ about the Shadow that falls between the intention and the act came to mind.

I imagined Nick Richardson having a great idea about constructing a book around the reality of a single footy match and providing details of the players’ lives before and after the event. The strength or weakness of the Shadow would be determined by the ability of the narrator.

A number of lower-case shadows were certainly cast over the game. The advent of the First World War spoiled the Australasian Football Council Carnival held in Sydney in August 1914 and the evangelising efforts of Australian football officials to make inroads into rugby territory. But even worse were the attacks on football in its own stronghold. While athletes, and footballers especially, were lauded as ideal soldiering material, and many took up the call to arms, many were not enough.

In Richardson’s account football’s fight is on two fronts. The soldiers experience various degrees of boredom, dread and exhilaration. Football is among the activities used to maintain morale as well as fitness in the training camps and temporary relief behind the lines. At war’s end shipping shortages mean delays of up to a year before the troops return home. Sport again gives the men something to do. Football carnivals are organised in Charleroi (France) along with Inter-Allied athletics games in Paris and the AIF cricket tour of England during the summer of 1919.

War politicises people and this book reminds us how, in the euphoric rush of Empire loyalty on the eve of the conflict, Australia’s political leaders outbid each other in the election campaign of 1914. At Horsham, Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Cook declares, ‘Remember that when the Empire is at war, so is Australia at war’, only to have Labor Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fisher up the ante at Colac on the same day with, ‘Australians will stand beside the mother country to defend her to the last man and the last shilling’.

Many men rush to join up for the ‘greatest adventure of their lives’ in the optimistic belief that the war will be won by Christmas. However such belief is soon dashed as the war expands on many fronts. Footballers are among the early recruits and of those who die in the first day’s carnage at Gallipoli are Collingwood’s Alan Cordner, Melbourne’s Joe Pearce, South Melbourne’s Charlie Fincher, University’s Rupert Balfe, Fen McDonald (Carlton, Melbourne), Claud Crowl (Carlton, St Kilda) and Norwood’s Phil Robin. As Richardson writes:

It was a sombre reminder that, despite all the mock-heroic sentiments, sportsmen were not invincible creatures who could outrun bullets and shrapnel.

When casualties mount few families are left untouched and attitudes harden.

Footballers and those who watch the game come to be unfairly stigmatised. Prime Minister Billy Hughes (who replaced Fisher in October 1915) and Defence Minister George Pearce display a maniacal intensity in their efforts to raise additional troops for overseas service.

The Victorian Football League comes under attack when it votes to continue its competition. Divisions operate largely on class lines with figures like lawyer, pastoralist, politician and Victorian Cricket Association president Donald Mackinnon and Wesley College headmaster Dickie Adamson (a prime proponent of muscular Christianity) unable to understand those who don’t enlist. They are abetted by the Argus journalist RWE Wilmot, who contrasts the men who stormed the foothills at Gallipoli with others who continue to play and watch football on Saturday afternoons. Melbourne’s other morning newspaper, the Age, supports this position.

The truth lies elsewhere.

Richardson shows that while football, boxing, racing and cricket were all targeted by community pressure groups, football bore the brunt of the criticism. The Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Fitzroy clubs, which continued playing, may have mainly represented the working class but at the end of 1915 football had a better record than cricket in supplying recruits.

The great irony of the main football match of the title is that it is played on the same day that the first conscription referendum is held in Australia:

The legitimacy of the shared qualities between Australian football and soldiering was an esoteric argument few of the soldier-footballers had any great inclination to acknowledge. For them, the Exhibition match was like their football life on rewind, spooling back to the time when they could play the game without the fear of conflict and mayhem that beckoned them.

There’s nothing hollow about the mainly men in this history, whether on football fields or at the battlefront, and figures such as Bruce Sloss, the Reverend Charles ‘Redwing’ Perry, Hughie James, Dan Minogue, Carl Willis, Stanley Martin, Percy Trotter, Leslie ‘Leggo’ Lee, Thomas Hewitt and George Barry are among the players and umpires, the details of whose lives and (in some cases) deaths are skilfully interwoven throughout the text.

It might be said that it takes all sorts to make an army but among these footballers the contrasts are sharp. Former South Melbourne captain Sloss, a fitter and turner, had faced family hardship during childhood following the loss of a farm at Naringalingalook and a house in Balaclava burning down; Norwood’s Perry had been a mobile ruckman at Prince Alfred College and sees sport as a testing ground before beginning his league career and continuing to play as a Wesleyan clergyman; James, a bricklayer from Ascot Vale, had represented Essendon in the Victorian Football Association before rucking for Richmond; Trotter is a Fitzroy star who moves to East Fremantle and works on the Fremantle docks as a stevedore after facing his own share of family tragedies; Willis is a Wesley College footballer/cricketer who qualifies as a dentist while representing the University and St Kilda clubs; and Martin, also from Wesley and from a professional family, plays for University for five years while mucking around failing all his subjects in both medicine and dentistry.

One of the pleasures of reading this book is to note how the author fleshes out the lives of a vast array of characters, providing drama and context to their various worlds. As he draws on an enormous range of sources, perhaps that which is employed most impressively is the Sloss family archive. Bruce Sloss is the 3rd Division captain in the exhibition match and his elder brother (James) and younger brother (Roy) are also in uniform. James is a Turkish POW so the information on him is scant, but Bruce is a lieutenant in the 10th Machine Guns when he is killed by a shell:

It was the news Christina Sloss had dreaded … Bruce had been the one connection between her boys overseas. And Bruce had discovered something liberating about military life: the sense of order, the joy of command, the adrenalin of danger. He had told them at home he had never been happier. But he had a life planned for when the war was over: he and Glad [his fiancée, Gladys Hamilton] would be married and then move into the house at Nyora Street, Malvern. Glad was bereft at the loss of the man she loved. They had been together eight years. What would become of her now? What would become of the house her father had built? After all the hardships of the Slosses’ family life, this was another hammer blow.

This is simple, direct prose, perfect for its purpose in conveying one family’s tragedy. Importantly, Richardson doesn’t miss a beat but immediately takes up the story of Bruce’s sister Tullie, who has been living in New Jersey and narrowly escapes death on the SS Laconia when it is torpedoed off the Irish coast as she is on her way to service with the Women’s Legion in Britain. Subsequently we learn of correspondence between Tullie and Glad, who joins the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps at home in the hope of getting to France to serve. By this time (March 1918) we also discover Glad’s politicisation, her disgust for ‘degenerate males’ – eligible men who fail to enlist – and loathing of Archbishop Mannix for his opposition to conscription.

Richardson’s book highlights the exhibition game and the men who took part in it but is also the catalyst for a much more ambitious project. At the end the argument runs that the players from the Queen’s Club encounter should be seen as ‘footballers first and soldiers second’ – a puzzling conclusion. The Game of their Lives is a panoramic history of sport and war, so the book’s great strength, its breadth of vision, almost inevitably means that the exhibition game is somewhat lost, left half in shadow, half in light. It’s probably where it deserves to be.

Posted on http://www.newtownreviewofbooks.com.au on 25 August 2016

Unnecessary Wars

HENRY REYNOLDS Unnecessary Wars. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress at newtownreviewofbooks.com.au 6 July 2016


UNNECESSARY WARS

Unnecessary Wars provides a powerful antidote to the pervasive militarising of Australian history over the past 20 years.

Not how, but why, is the most compelling question posed by Henry Reynolds in this book, which examines Australian debates about war and peace, nation and empire, dependence and independence, with a particular focus on the Boer War (1899-1902) as a starting point.

It is curious that after 114 years the echoes of the words of 19th-century poet Alfred Tennyson are stronger than those of popular late 20th-century musician John Lennon:

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the Valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Give peace a chance? No chance.

Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was based on a cavalry charge led by Lord Cardigan during the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, one of many British wars fought for imperial purposes. Around one in six of the cavalrymen died in that charge. Approximately 16 000 Australians fought in the Boer War and 606 died. There was little reasoning why.

Australian colonial governments avoided any temptation to support the Crimean War or any other British conflicts until 1885, when acting New South Wales Premier WB Dalley sent 700 troops to assist a campaign in the Sudan, and a dangerous precedent was sent. At a stroke, any advantages of maintaining neutrality alongside logical moves towards maturity as a republican nation were turned on their head as loyalty to the British Empire and monarchy took precedence.

Fourteen years later all six Australian colonies were involved in the war in South Africa and, as Reynolds points out, the new Federal Government inherited such a role in 1901 ‘without any doubt or regret’. Indeed, Edmund Barton, both as a New South Wales backbench politician and first Australian prime minister, was certainly willing to endorse the motto ‘The Empire, right or wrong’, as did former South Australian premier and federal Minister for Trade and Customs, Charles Kingston, after the conclusion of the conflict.

The Empire, right or wrong, was not good enough. Not asking questions about supporting the British alliance in the Sudan, the Boer War, the First World War and aspects of World War II, or the United States in Korea, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars and Afghanistan, is not good enough. Blithely assuming that our great and powerful friends with whom we have a ‘special relationship’ will necessarily come to our aid in time of strife is also questionable.

One of the chief merits of Unnecessary Wars is to note how past errors compound to impact on the present.

From somewhere in my reading I’m reminded of the advice Gough Whitlam once gave to Bill Hayden when passing over the position of Leader of the Opposition. His words approximated to, ‘Remember, Bill, Australians love a good war.’

Reynolds writes movingly of how Federation was trumped in Sydney on the day of its birth (1 January 1901) by a move of ‘calculated brilliance’ which saw the imperial government send a large contingent of British and Indian troops consisting of ‘more than 1000 representatives of six cavalry regiments, four artillery detachments and almost 500 members of nineteen of the most famous infantry regiments’ to join the main parade. Two days later 10 000 troops paraded before the Governor General, the Earl of Hopetoun, and an enthusiastic crowd of around 150 000 at Centennial Park; but what followed was even worse. While the premiers were in Sydney they met and agreed to dispatch 2500 men and horses to the South African war:

Looking back now on the celebrations marking the foundation of the Commonwealth, it is clear that the great political and social achievements of the Australian colonies were upstaged by the glamour and excitement of a war that was far enough away to obscure the horrors of battle and the brutalisation of the Afrikaner civilian population.

The Boer War netted Australia nothing for being on the winning side except perhaps some imagined good will from Britain, and that quickly evaporated when the Conservative-Unionist government lost power to the Liberal Party. Britain faced hostile reactions from Europe and the United States for her role as a global bully and especially for the prosecution of a war that demanded total capitulation of the enemy and the incarceration of civilians in concentration camps. Australia was ‘complicit in the infamy’ and within two years its end the war was being described in the Australian Senate as unjust and ‘one of the biggest blots in the history of the Empire’. It is not surprising that for most of the 20th century it became a forgotten war.

One of Reynolds’s most powerful chapters, ‘The nation’s selective memory’, comes near the end of his book and begins with discussion of a centenary history of the Boer War published by the Australian War Memorial in 2002, in which the author Craig Wilcox declares ‘it was a good war for Australia’. As part of Australia’s obsession with war (which has grown exponentially with government budgetary support) the conflict now has its own commemoration day: a National Boer War Memorial Association has been formed, rallies are held for descendants, the Royal Mint has issued a 50-cent memorial coin, and a lot of egregious nonsense has been spouted about the original soldiers being ‘Fathers of the ANZACS’ and establishing proud military traditions, especially by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott: ‘We don’t fight to conquer; we fight to help, to build and to serve.’ If ever there was an attempt to airbrush history this is it. Reynolds’s response is forthright:

Do the Australians who gather on Boer War Day believe it was a good war? Do they think the soldiers did us proud? How many families who now claim kin with long-forgotten veterans of the conflict know anything about the horror of the war? Do they concern themselves with the terrible impact on Boer civilians, mainly women and children?

The imperial loyalists won their arguments, leading to enormous loss of Australian lives before the British Empire itself was lost. One of the impressive aspects of Unnecessary Wars, however, is the attention given to dissident voices: those of John Dunmore Lang, Sir Henry Parkes, George Reid, Louisa and Henry Lawson, Andrew Inglis Clark, Henry Bournes Higgins and others, leading down to former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who recanted his earlier position (as Minister for the Army and Minister for Defence during the Vietnam War) towards the end of his life. Fraser’s later view of the United States as a ‘dangerous ally’ reveals moral courage, and Reynolds’s only regret is that Fraser was unaware of the powerful anti-imperial tradition that began in the 1850s:

We are able to observe how closely he trod in footprints he didn’t know were there. His central argument is a close recapitulation of that of the anti-imperialists. Great powers are dangerous neighbours and perilous patrons, their talk of family loyalty and mateship notwithstanding. The colonial critics were certain that eventually Britain would drag Australia into a European war, which they realised would be a major conflagration. How prescient they were! We can only hope that Malcolm Fraser is not so successful in the business of foretelling the future – that Australia’s 21st century will not see a replay of the one just past, with its parade of unnecessary wars.

In writing this book, Reynolds reveals his own moral courage. Attacked by right-wing intellectuals as one of the prime exponents of the Black Armband view of Australian history in the History Wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, Reynolds has hit back at those who argue that Gallipoli is central to our foundation myth and against the narrowing of Australian history that results from overemphasising the role of war within it.

Unnecessary Wars should be read by every thinking Australian and a lot of unthinking ones as well.

Bernard Whimpress usually writes on sport and most recently edited a cricket anthology,Baggy Green: A selection 1998-2010 (2016). However, he did publish an essay, ‘Creeping Anzacism’, in 2006.

Henry Reynolds Unnecessary Wars New South Books 2016 PB 304pp $29.99