Serle, Geoffrey: Digger tradition

Serle, Geoffrey

The digger tradition and Australian nationalism‘, Meanjin Quarterly, 24, 2, June 1965, pp. 149-58

Describes Inglis’s ‘Anzac tradition’ article as ‘the first serious modern discussion of Anzac and the digger legend’ (149) and goes on that ‘most Australians assume and believe – they have been told it so often – that Australia did achieve nationhood between 1914 and 1918’ or at least that Australian patriotism ‘intensified and spread‘ through the community during that period because of the exploits of the AIF and at the expense of the link to Britain. The war was important in ‘shaping and firming Australian nationalism’ (156) though divisions grew and confidence faltered during the 1920s and 30s and the digger legend tended to be appropriated by conservatives, particularly through the RSL.

It is impossible to establish whether Australia became a nation during World War I though ‘one could reasonably argue, according to the tests of nationhood one adopts, that Australia became a nation at Federation or not until after the Second World War’ (149).

‘After the war the digger joined the bushman as a second national stereotype or idealised Australian type. But in most essential respects, the “digger” was only a new version of the “bushman”.’ (152) In crises, nations tend to hark back to an existing stereotype ‘which becomes elaborated and reinforced’; army life had similar characteristics and required similar qualities to that in the bush.

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