Rizzetti, Janine: Victorians and WWI home front

Rizzetti, Janine

RHSV Conference: The Other Face of War: Victorians and the Home Front‘, The Resident Judge of Port Phillip [blog], 11 August 2014

Report of conference of Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Speakers included Bart Ziino (Deakin University) who ‘challenged the perception that there was widespread eagerness to enlist and great excitement at the announcement of the war’ and examined conflicted feelings about duty as well as the emotional toll on families.

Then there was Ted Baillieu, former premier, speaking about Victoria’s Anzac centenary commemorations

encouraging schoolchildren to identify [says Rizzetti] with ancestors who served; marking the houses with plaques where men enlisted. There’s something so seductive about such plans – who, after all, does NOT want children to have an appreciation of what has gone before? – but I must confess here to my own misgivings. I am unsettled by the emotional salience of war, so sensitively discussed by Bart Ziino the night before, being used as a hook for children, painted over by a “heroic” gloss.

Other conference speakers, well-summarised in the blog, included Michael McKernan on the Victorian home front, sessions on class war (John Lack, Peter Love, Nick Dyrenfurth), patriotism (Peter Burke, Jillian Durrance, Judith Smart), sacrifice (Joy Damousi, Carole Woods, Rosalie Triolo), and, finally, Ross McMullin on loss.

McMullin was at pains not to overemphasize the relative cohesion of Australian society prior to the war, and he pointed out that the war years were probably the most [divisive of Australia’s] post-settlement history. He noted that although it is true that the war did contribute to nationalism and identity, the trope of “The War Made Us” that is so often being promulgated in the media and through educational publications ignores the fact that the losses – physical, emotional, and in terms of national identity as a progressive nation – were even more significant.

 

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