BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
From Vinegar Hill to the mountains of Afghanistan
, March 17, 2012
GREAT BATTLES IN AUSTRALIAN HISTORY
by Jonathan King
(Sydney: Allen & Unwin)
Paperback: 444 pages
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
Although Australia has existed as a nation for only 11 decades, in that period of time its troops have been involved in two world wars and a number of other conflicts.
Dr Jonathan King, an historian and award-winning author of over 30 historical books, not to mention producer of a number of noted television documentaries, re-tells the story of some of the most famous (and infamous) battles in which Australians were involved since before Federation.
The first two, belonging to the colonial period, were the Battle of Vinegar Hill of 1804 and the Eureka Rebellion of 1854.
The next conflict King examines is the Boer War (1899-1902), which marked a transitional time for the colonies of Australia. When this war commenced, troops were sent by the individual colonies; however, by its conclusion, the Australian Army represented the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia.
A significant proportion of this work is devoted to World War I battles. Many of them, such as the landing at Gallipoli, Lone Pine and Fromelles are familiar to readers. Others, such as the sinking of the German battleship Emden off the Keeling Islands, are less familiar.
World War II battles surveyed include Tobruk, Darwin, El Alamein, the Kokoda Trail and Milne Bay. Strangely, the first battle in which the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was engaged, Bardia, Libya, is not examined.
As to be expected, later sections of the book cover the battles that Australian troops fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as subsequent armed conflicts.
The most recent event chronicled in the book is the military action that took place in Afghanistan in June 2010, during which Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith performed an act of heroism for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Dr King examines not only the factors that caused each battle, but also the subsequent progress, aftermath, effects and significance.
The author situates each battle well in its historical context, while each account essentially stands separate from the others. Hence, at times there is a sense of considerable repetition.
Dr King particularly focuses throughout his work on the Australian recipients of the Victoria Cross.