2013, 224 p.
I know that historians often get railroaded into a title for their book by marketing-oriented publishers, and I can’t help thinking that the title of this 2013 book was chosen with one eye on the then-upcoming centenary of Gallipoli in April 2015. There is, in fact, very little about Gallipoli in it at all. The content is far better conveyed by the sub-title ‘The hidden history of Australia in World War I’. Although even that isn’t particularly accurate either, because much of what is written in this book is not ‘hidden’ at all: Jauncey covered much of it in 1935 and Ernest Scott (available online) covered the rest the following year in his Volume 11 of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.
Nonetheless, given the hoopla which surrounded Gallipoli in 2015, it was important that there be a corrective to the view that the whole of Australia wanted to rush off to fight on foreign fields and the equally erroneous idea that Gallipoli was the ‘birth of a nation’. This book is an eminently readable counter-balance, aimed at a general audience, that examines the division and acrimony at home in Australia during the war.
There are eight chapters, titled with a quote and descriptor.
- ‘To the last man and the last shilling’: Patriotism triumphant
- ‘If you want the 44-hour week, take it!’: The strike wave begins
- ‘Wherever green is worn’: Irish discontent
- ‘I will curse the British Empire with my dying breath’: The first conscription referendum
- ‘Fifteen years for fifteen words’: The empire strikes back
- ‘Solidarity for ever’: The Great Strike of 1917
- ‘We’ll burn the town down!’: The second referendum
- ‘Plunge this city into darkness’: The peace turns ugly.
It seems to me that historians write about Australia during the war through a prism which, while recognizing other contemporaneous influences, hones in on one particular focus. Judith Smart focuses on women; Jauncey focuses on pacifists; McKernan on mainstream churches, and here Bollard picks up on the unions in particular. Chapter 2 takes readers back to the ‘working man’s paradise’, the Harvester judgment and arbitration. He refers in many places to the Broken Hill – or as he terms it the ‘Barrier’ -miners, and his chapter on the Great Strike is probably the strongest in the book. I liked the final chapter, too, where he examines the role of returned soldiers in the strikes that exploded during the wars immediately following the war.
With the focus on unions and resistance, this is a very political book, with few individuals (other than politicians) stepping forward to centre stage. It is a book of organizations more than people, drawn from newspaper reports and government files. His reference list is fairly dated, and women don’t get that much of a look-in here, other than as part of a crowd, and there are no families.
But what he does really well is tell a good story. The narrative is chronological, it is very clearly written, and it’s a seductively easy read. It’s a good antidote to the hefty, celebratory WWI books with big single-word titles that have burdened the nation’s bookshelves over the past few years.
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library (e-book)
Read because: in preparation for my talk to Heidelberg Historical Society on the conscription referendums of 1916 and 1917.