Daley, Paul: My Brother Jack 50 years on

Daley, Paul

My Brother Jack at 50 – the novel of a man whose whole life led up to it‘, Guardian Australia, 23 December 2014

Covers the novel (first published 1964), the author, George Johnston (died of alcohol and TB at 58), his wife, Charmian Clift (suicided at 45), and troubled family, Melbourne between the wars, Hydra, and the influence of the novel on Daley himself. More than that, it presents the reality of war’s aftermath, as seen in the life of Johnston’s family (thinly disguised as the Merediths in the book) and the damaged war veterans who passed through their house, contrasted with the mythologised version that became the Anzac myth.

Daley assesses ‘the novel’s real strength – a daring iconoclasticism that challenges pervasive assumptions about Australian character, values and suburban complacency’. He goes on:

When I grew up “Australian history”, such as it was, began with European settlement in 1788, covered the first world war, the ensuing great depression, world war two, Menzies, Vietnam and the cold war (Whitlam, and the dismissal, were too recent news to be yet considered historically worthy).

World war one was presented as a tragedy, which it was, for the loss of 62,000 Australian men (and the wounding of a countless tens of thousands more). But the social impact of that loss, the legacy bequeathed the surviving soldiers and the families of the dead, was never explored. Instead the war was, we were inculcated to believe, simply the moment of national definition. I’ve written often enough about how I never did and never will quite understand how that came to be, but it was Johnston’s My Brother Jack that truly awoke in me an alternative social and historical narrative for the first world war.

The article includes a link to an ABC program on the anniversary. Another piece marking the occasion is by Nadia Wheatley, Clift’s biographer.

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