Stephens, David: Review note: Ted Egan’s The Anzacs: 100 Years On in Story and Song

David Stephens*

‘Review note: Ted Egan’s The Anzacs: 100 Years On in Story and Song, Honest History, 18 September 2020

Update: Mr Egan offers free copies of the book to worthy causes. Contact.


Ted Egan is what was once called a ‘troubadour’, a travelling singer of songs and teller of tales. He was born in 1932 – which makes him an elderly troubadour – and has lived in Alice Springs since 1948. He has been entertainer, writer, historian and TV presenter, and was Administrator (equivalent of Governor) of the Northern Territory from 2003 to 2007. He has an AO.

Mr Egan was kind enough to send a copy of this book (including sheet music and accompanying CDs) to Honest History on the basis of our shared interest in the performance of commemoration. The book and music had been published in 2014, updating an edition of 1986.

Mostly Honest History confines its reviews to reasonably recent publications, but this package piqued our interest for a couple of reasons. First, the format of story, songs and narration between songs (by Gallipoli veteran Jack Nicholson, died 1986) was like that planned but never realised by the reviewer’s father, John Stephens  (2/6th Battalion, died 1996). He had a rich baritone voice and often sang ‘Pack up your troubles’ and ‘Tipperary’ while shaving.

BSecondly, Mr Egan’s three uncles, Jack, Bob and Martin Brennan, were all Light Horsemen, like the reviewer’s great-uncles, Sid Campbell and Sid Ferrier. Jack Brennan and Sid Ferrier were both at Hill 60 on Gallipoli, August 1915. Sid Ferrier was wounded there, died later of gangrene, and was buried at sea. Jack Brennan survived Hill 6o but died of wounds in October 1915 and was also buried at sea. (Sid Campbell also died of wounds received at Gallipoli and was also buried at sea.)

Mr Egan’s book is an easy read, telling a fairly conventional story of Gallipoli, the Western Front, the Middle East, nurses, the home front, and the aftermath. An old furphy gets a run, though: the ‘Those heroes that shed their blood …’ words are attributed to Atatürk when there is no credible evidence that he ever said or wrote them – and lots of evidence that they came about in a very different way, with a key phrase in the most common English translation being made up by an old Digger in Brisbane in the 1970s. They are nice words, of course. (The evidence in short form.)

Most of the photographs are familiar. The highlight is the music, from the traditional tunes like ‘Tipperary’, ‘The Rose of No-man’s Land’, and ‘Pack up your troubles’ to Eric Bogle (‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’) and Judy Small (‘Mothers, Daughters, Wives’). Mr Egan’s ‘De Profundis’ and Nerys Evans’ ‘Song for Grace’ are memorable.

Mr Egan’s book is available from the publisher, but not from the War Memorial shop (although it is in the Memorial’s library). On the other hand, After the War, a 2018 selection featuring Lee Kernaghan, John Schumann, some military musicians and others, with puff by then Director Nelson, can be picked up at the shop for a cool $19.99. There are troubadours and troubadours, it seems. Perhaps the strong anti-war, anti-arms manufacturers passages in Mr Egan’s book sat badly with a Memorial that pulls punches on the horrors of war while continuing to tout for donations from gun-runners.

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