Cochrane, Peter: Simpson and the Donkey

Peter Cochrane

Simpson and the Donkey: The Making of a Legend, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 1992; revised edition, 2014

The book explores ‘the legend’s popular appeal and its political significance, its permanent place in Australian folklore and its periodic reappearance as an official icon. Throughout, the reader witnesses a play between the few known facts about Simpson and the expurgated versions of his life, between the daily reality of war and its transformation in the press, and between the stories about Simpson and the forces that produced them. Legends are a way into the history of a national culture, its politics and symbolisms.’ (blurb)

The book provoked controversy.

A revised edition was published in January 2014 and the preface is here.

The point is simple – the Simpson legend was a particular distillation of an epic model of swagger and bravado created and perpetuated by the print media, overseen by government and the censors, and attributed to Australian soldiers in general. That epic model was heroic rhetoric for cannon-fodder, a grotesque romanticisation of Australian soldiers in battle and death. (Preface to 2014 edition)

A related book by Graham Wilson is reviewed here.

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