June 16th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reflections on the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx

EDITORIAL Significance of report into shooting down of MH17

CANBERRA OBSERVED Lee Rhiannon: too Bolshie or not Bolshie enough?

POLITICS Wading further through the Greens party bilge

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

POLITICS Greens promise to keep Australia legally stoned and welfare dependent

ENVIRONMENT Scientist sacked for challenging claims of demise of Great Barrier Reef

REDEFINITION OF MARRIAGE Humpty Dumpty has his way with words

CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY Tradition, Christianity and the law in contemporary Australia

EDUCATION Ladybird, ladybird: adventures in literacy

OFFICE LAUNCH NCC Sydney: a new chapter in a continuing story

ASIAN AFFAIRS Indonesia takes religious syncretism to the nth degree

WA RALLY FOR LIFE 3300 crosses in Perth poignant reminders of abortions

HUMOUR News snippets

PHILOSOPHY Bendigo initiative

MUSIC Gain is loss: Where is there left to discover?

CINEMA 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unsurpassed 50 years on

BOOK REVIEW The house that could not stand

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first official war historian


EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

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Australia's first official war historian

News Weekly, June 16, 2018

CHARLES BEAN:  Man, Myth, Legacy

Edited by Peter Stanley

NewSouth, Sydney
Paperback: 256 pages
Price: AUD$39.99

Reviewed by Anthony Staunton

Australia, at the end of World War I, was the only British dominion other than Britain itself to produce a comprehensive official war history. It took more than 20 years before all 15 volumes were published, which included three medical volumes.

Charles Bean was elected by his fellow journalists as official correspondent to the Australian Army. He travelled with the first Australian contingent to Egypt and lived alongside Australian troops at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. In 1917, he helped create the Australian War Records Section that collected documents and photographs, art and artifacts that described the role of the Australian Army in World War I.

The Australian official history owes it scope and its reputation to Bean, who edited the 15 volumes and wrote six of the volumes relating to operations at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Bean also conceived and worked for the establishment of an institution that would become the Australian War Memorial, which was officially opened two years into World War II and a month before Pearl Harbor.

The Australian official history was a remarkable departure from the British official histories that had been produced up to and including the South African War 1899–1902 in that it concentrated on the experiences of the ordinary soldier and the junior officers. The work was extraordinary in that the volumes contained thousands of footnotes identifying officers and men mentioned in the text.

Charles Bean: Man, Myth, Legacy is based on the papers presented at a July 2016 UNSW conference. Peter Stanley edited the volume. Stanley is author of 30 books, was with the Australian War Memorial for 27 years and is now research professor at UNSW Canberra.

The book is divided into two parts: Charles Bean, his life and work, with nine chapters; and the Australian official history tradition, with seven chapters. Each chapter is written by a different author, many of them distinguished Australian historians.

Three days before the start of the conference, Professor Jeffrey Grey, who wrote the “Confrontation” half of the “Emergency and Confrontation” official history, suddenly died. The paper he had prepared for the conference was read to the conference and included a disarming quote from C.D.R. de Cosse-Brissac, former head of the French Army Historical Service. The quote was: “Our work is dry, overwhelming, and insufficiently known to its numerous beneficiaries.”

As well as official war correspondent, official war historian, and the driving force behind the creation of the Australian War Memorial, Bean was also a public servant, institutional leader, author, activist, thinker, doer and polemicist.

Michael McKernan, a distinguished Australian historian, spoke at the conference on reading Bean. He noted that Bean’s criticism of senior commanders was muted and his language restrained. He noted that the British headquarters staff, rather than pressing for the Australian attack at Fromelles, had deep misgivings at its probable result. Fromelles was the first Australian divisional attack on the Western Front, and was a complete disaster, but it ceased within 24 hours after 5533 casualties. It was the only major battle that Bean did not witness since he was with the Australians on the Somme where four days later the Australians would attack and seize Pozieres.

As soon as the armistice came into effect on November 11, Bean immediately visited the Fromelles battlefield. The 1916 volume of the official history has 120 pages on Fromelles, the most detailed account of any single day on the Western Front.

Part 2 has seven chapters on the Australian official history tradition. The first chapter looks at World War II and the work of the General Editor of the history of that conflict, Gavin Long. Stanley says that work has begun on a biography of Long and that “justice may be done on Long’s place in Australia’s war history tradition”.

There are three chapters by official historians for Vietnam and the Malayan Emergency, and three chapters on peacekeeping and post–Cold War operations. Official histories are forthcoming on Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor.

Charles Bean: Man, Myth, Legacy is a fine tribute to Australia’s first official historian. It is an important work on how the Australian official history tradition began and why it is continuing.

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