Curthoys, Ann, AW Martin & Tim Rowse, ed.: Australians from 1939

Ann Curthoys, AW Martin & Tim Rowse, ed.

Australians from 1939, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, Broadway, NSW, 1987

One of the volumes in Australians: A Historical Library. Thirty historians, political scientists and citizens contribute to sections on Australians and the world, people and place, Aboriginal Australians, politics and media, making a living, sickness and health and taking stock. Some of the chapters cover Aboriginal Australians in the war, cars for the people, audiences for art, religion and politics, the film industry, bosses and workers, sickness cure and prevention, and changing minds (about psychiatric treatment). There are recollections from ten (mostly prominent) Australians of the 1980s, among whom Al Grassby, former Minister for Immigration, states, ‘The most significant event in the history of Australia since federation was undoubtedly the post-World War II migration program’.

The volume covers fifty years of Australian history including and following the second of our major wars, yet the military history of that war is only a very small part of the material in the book. The book epitomises the many-strandedness of Australia’s history (or perhaps it simply indicates its genesis before 1990, the year which seems to mark the beginning of the disproportionate attention to our military history). Nevertheless, Ken Inglis’s opening chapter is a poignant description of the home front during World War II. He writes of 1939, when he was 12 years old:

“The Great War” became “the last war”, and though nothing much was happening so far in this one it felt like the resumption of an adjourned contest between good and evil. In my favourite comic from England, the Champion, “Rockfist” Rogan, RAF, was winning the old war one week in an ancient biplane and next week, apparently no older, he was flying a Spitfire in the new one. In real life and nearer home, another khaki expeditionary force began to be assembled, in a uniform that looked slightly more comfortable than the first one, and marching three abreast, not four – as we, too, were now marshalled for schoolground drilling. (p. 1)

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