BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
THE RETURN OF THE GALLIPOLI LEGEND: JACKA VC, by Michael Lawriwsky
, November 27, 2010
Albert Jacka in peacetime
THE RETURN OF THE GALLIPOLI LEGEND:
by Michael Lawriwsky
Foreword by General Peter Cosgrove
(Sydney: Mira Books)
Paperback: 471 pages
Rec. price: $34.95
Reviewed by Bill James
In my review of Michael Lawriwsky's account of Albert Jacka's World War I military career, Hard Jacka (News Weekly, December 20, 2008), I concluded with the words of General Peter Cosgrove: "Meticulously researched, the rich dialogue of Hard Jacka rests on the firm foundation of a wealth of histories and accounts. It rings true."
Exactly the same can be said of this second volume, which tells the story of Jacka's life from his 1919 return to Australia after the war, until his death in 1932.
The imaginatively recreated scenes and conversations emerge from Lawriwsky's mastery of material from archives, books, letters, photographs and interviews.
Jacka had won the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli, followed by the Military Cross and bar at the Western Front, and a recommendation for the DSO.
However, like many another successful soldier, he found that military decorations were no assurance of an ability to cope with the post-war world.
There was his failed electrical goods import business, which eventually collapsed despite a huge injection of funds from John Wren.
There was his marriage which didn't produce any children (they adopted a daughter instead), and which broke down in separation.
There were the family tensions with his left-wing father and one left-wing brother.
Then there were the unrelenting pressures from the media and hero-worshippers; the tormenting memories; and, finally, his broken health, legacy of four years of wounds and privations, which eventually killed him.
Jacka did achieve the distinction of serving as mayor of St Kilda, but his greatest claim to fame in his peace-time career was his devotion to the welfare of returned servicemen, particularly the unemployed.
Lawriwsky punctuates the chronological progression of his narrative with flashback chapters to Jacka's experiences in Gallipoli, but not, oddly enough, to those in France.
The Melbourne which he evokes of the 1920s and early 1930s is another world, despite its familiar names of streets and suburbs.
The Shrine of Remembrance is in the stages of conception and early construction.
Visiting American and Japanese fleets arrive to popular acclamation.
Sectarian tensions between Roman Catholics and Protestants loom large in business and politics.
Horse cabs vie with the new motor taxis in the CBD.
The Soviet dictatorship is revered by many as a beacon of hope, and communists blow up the home of a detective where his family are sleeping.
It is dominated by names such as politicians Billy Hughes, Stanley Bruce and James Scullin; notorious figures John Wren and "Squizzy' Taylor; and generals John Monash, Harry Chauvel and "Pompey" Elliott.
These three officers play a role in maintaining order during the 1923 Melbourne police strike, when trams are overturned, windows smashed, shops looted, and three lives lost.
In other words, Lawriwsky's account - not hagiography! - skilfully embeds Jacka's personal tragedy in its historical context of the Great War, post-bellum attempts to come to terms with it and (as we say now) "move on", and the looming shadows of threats far worse than Prussian militarism, in the form of communist and fascist totalitarianism.