Kitty’s War by Janet Butler, (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2013).
This is the kind of history I want to read. Thorough research, deep analysis and compelling writing, Kitty’s War by Janet Butler engaged me from cover to cover.
In Kitty’s War author, Janet Butler, does not merely recount what she has learned from the diary of World War I nurse, Kit McNaughton, she interrogates McNaughton’s diary, draws heavily on a myriad of contemporary historical resources and produces a searching analysis of war, gender and the nature of diary writing while maintaining an engrossing narrative.
Kit McNaughton served with the Australian Army Nursing Service from 1915 for the duration of the war. Initially stationed in Egypt, she served on the island of Lemnos treating men injured men at Gallipoli. After the withdrawal from Gallipoli she was transferred to northern France where she served in a number of hospitals in northern France treating enormous numbers of soldiers injured in the horrific battles on the Western Front.
Looking back through my notes in my reading journal I see that I have repeatedly used the word ‘perceptive’. Butler does not take the diary at face value and the book is all the better for it. The chapters about Butler’s service on the island of Lemnos treating soldiers injured at Gallipoli would have been bland if Butler had not dug deeper. Butler is sensitive to the cultural constraints under which the nurses worked. The ideals of a ‘good nurse’ required nurses to be stoic in the face of difficulty, ministering angels only thinking of the needs of the patient and not of their own. McNaughton reflects these ideals in her diary hence she makes little mention of the awful conditions under which she is working. Drawing on other sources Butler allows the reader to understand the context in which McNaughton’s diary is written. Continue reading →
‘Our Schools and the War’ by Rosalie Triolo (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012).
War is not just about tactics on the battlefield or the machinations of political leaders. It is also about community, both at the site of active fighting and in the home towns and cities that have seen their men disappear to fight.
In ‘Our Schools and the War’ Rosalie Triolo explores Australia’s participation in World War I in terms of community. She focuses on the students, parents, teachers and officials who comprised the Education Department of Victoria. Triolo examines the battle field as well as the home front in her quest to understand how this education community responded and contributed to what was referred to as ‘The Great War’.
The consideration of the role played by Victorian school children in the war is one of the strengths of this book. Throughout the war the Education Department exhorted school communities to raise funds for the war effort. Triolo shares a long list of activities undertaken by students. In Leongatha students raised canaries for sale, made photo frames, caught mice and sold fish they caught. Students at other schools sold vegetables they grew, helped to feed farm animals, gave musical performances, caught rabbits and sold their skins and made fly nets. Innovation in fundraising was encouraged as long as it did not have the taint of gambling.
Children were made to feel as real contributors to the work of the communities in which they lived. Their contributions to the war effort gave them many opportunities to apply what they learned at school. We may have a stereotype view of education in this era, that it was about the three R’s rote learning and corporal punishment, but Triolo observes,
…children were given unprecedented responsibility and autonomy in their communities. They were freed to exercise initiative, step out of desks and classrooms and engage in activities for the wider community as never before.
Author, Emily O’Gorman at the Sydney launch of her book, Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing, 2012).
I would never have read this book if it wasn’t for twitter.
Last year I came across the twitter stream of the University of Wollongong’s, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (@AUSCCER) and those of researchers who work at the Centre. I have enjoyed these tweets about geography and the environment . One day I noticed their tweets about the Sydney launch of a book written by one of the researchers at the Centre, Flood Country: an Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin. Happily I was free at that time and could attend.
People remain connected to and dependent on the natural environment despite all our inventions designed to make us more comfortable. However, our technology and structures have lulled us into thinking that we are immune from the vagaries of our environment. We get a nasty shock when this veil is ripped from us in a fire, drought or flood and we are forced to confront a difficult reality.
It is no accident that I decided to read Flood Country this month. I was going to read another book but the flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald prompted me to change my plans.
My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s. This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.
In Flood Country author, Emily O’Gorman uses the case studies of four floods to examine the relationship between the European settlers and the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin. She covers a broad sweep of European settlement starting with the flood in Gundagai in 1852, then moving on to the flooding of Bourke in 1890, Mildura in 1956 and the flooding in south-western Queensland in 1990. In between the accounts of these floods are chapters that tease out particular issues of the period such as the differing approaches to regulation of water for the pastoral and mining industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the rise of the engineered solution to water management in the twentieth century. Continue reading →
I have just posted an overview of the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs written for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge in the first seven weeks of 2013 which you can find here. Overwhelmingly the reviewers preferred to read memoirs over biographies and histories. Why is this? On the Australian Women Writers’ website I have posed some questions about memoirs which I hope will stimulate comments and reveal why this genre is so popular.
Of course there are many more readers and reviewers out there who read histories and biographies written by Australian women. Are you one of them? If so I encourage you to participate in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge this year so that other readers can hear about the great histories and biographies written by Australian women. You don’t even need to have a blog. You can easily open a free Goodreads account and post your reviews there. Click here to find out more about the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge and sign up.
Share the news about the great history writing by Australian women!
‘The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe’ by Fiona Paisley, (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2012).
Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased.
The Lone Protestor is the story of a remarkable Aboriginal man who lived in Europe during the interwar years. Anthony Martin Fernando’s protest about the terrible treatment of Aborigines in Australia was featured on the front page of the highly regarded Der Bund newspaper in Switzerland in 1921. Fernando handed out hundreds of flyers decrying the behaviour of British towards Aborigines to Catholic pilgrims in the vicinity of St Peter’s in Rome. He used his court appearances at the Old Bailey to bring attention to the injustice received by Aborigines in Australia.
Creative, intelligent and audacious are some of the words that came to my mind when reading about A M Fernando. His protests were bold and very public, reaching to institutions that were at the heart of European civilisation. Yet few Australians knew about him at the time. His name has never been mentioned in history books… until now. Continue reading →