We thought this little story deserved a multilingual headline. Close followers of the Anzac season will have caught up with the despatches about the error-ridden Villers-Bretonneux piece in some Fairfax papers by veteran ‘storian Jonathan King. The article has now been taken down but Fairfax’s long, abject but unsigned correction and apology is available and has been greeted with guffaws, even in New Zealand. (Historian Jenny MacLeod’s previous work on King’s errors is in a chapter in this book.) Fairfax seems to have sacked its ‘storian.
King’s clangers contrasted with the balanced Villers-Bretonneux story by War Memorial historian, Aaron Pegram, in another Fairfax paper, the Canberra Times. Pegram, by the way, warned of the dangers of hyperbole, sentimentalism and sensationalism in writing about battles. Ross McMullin, distinguished biographer of ‘Pompey’ Elliott, also picked up the King-standard clangers in the prime minister’s Villers-Bretonneux speech.
King having been sprung, Honest History’s past president, Peter Stanley, and distinguished supporter, Paul Daley, were among those who were aghast (see their Twitter feeds) at what had slipped through whatever checking system the SMH and Age and other Fairfax titles have in place. The present writer recalled something that journalism academic, Sharon Mascall-Dare, wrote some time ago about how Anzac stories are often left to the junior journos; seems that checking may be done in that quarter today also.
Honest History has made rather a thing of busting ‘storians. See, for example, the current writer’s analysis of the style of Peter FitzSimons and Peter Stanley’s review of Rusty Crowe’s The Water Diviner, a piece which was viewed tens of thousands of times from here to New York. (Coming soon, an Honest History review of FitzSimons’ book on Le Hamel.)
Just visible through the Anzackery fog, however, are two worthy articles about Anzac by Geoff Davies and Marilyn Lake. The present author’s chapter in The Honest History Book (there is an edited version here) distinguishes between Anzackery, the noisy, jingoistic, sentimental – and frequently inaccurate – bastard child of our history, and Anzac, a much quieter, potentially more useful thing.
All in all, though, vox pop nailed it, with Martin Williams of Ocean Grove, Victoria, saying in The Age, ‘We have emerging here the worst jingoism of the First World War reappearing a century later in 2018. Australia is the lesser for it.’
30 April 2018 updated
Hmmm … that is some series of corrections by Fairfax on the article mentioned. Many publications and periodicals are increasingly seeing the effects of cost-cutting sub-editors and editors from their staffs. It does such enterprises little good to have extensive online presences IF the text that is put out is so riven with inaccuracies.
Almost makes one contemplate cancelling the SMH subscription.