In the half-century preceding the Great War there was a dramatic shift in the mindset of Australia’s political leaders, from a profound sense of safety in the Empire’s embrace to a deep anxiety about abandonment by Britain.
Collective memory now recalls a rallying to the cause in 1914, a total identification with British interests and the need to defeat Germany. But there is an underside to this story: the belief that the newly federated nation’s security, and its race purity, must be bought with blood.
Before the war, Commonwealth governments were concerned not with enemies in Europe but with perils in the Pacific. Fearful of an ‘awakening Asia’ and worried by opposition to the White Australia policy, they prepared for defence against Japan—only to find themselves fighting for the Empire on the other side of the world. Prime Minister Billy Hughes spoke of this paradox in 1916, urging his countrymen: ‘I bid you go and fight for white Australia in France.’
In his vital and illuminating book, Peter Cochrane examines how the racial preoccupations that shaped Australia’s preparation for and commitment to the war have been lost to popular memory.
Meet Peter in conversation with Frank Bongiorno (The Eighties) at Muse.
Tickets: $12 (includes a complimentary glass of wine or soft drink)
Peter Cochrane’s writing about war includes the award-winning Simpson and the Donkey: The Making of a Legend; the companion volume to the ABC TV series Australians at War; and two studies of wartime photography, The Western Front, 1916–18 and Tobruk 1941. Cochrane is also the author of Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy, which won the Age Book of the Year award and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, and two works of fiction: the novella Governor Bligh and the Short Man and the recently published novel The Making of Martin Sparrow.