“So homesick for Anzac”? Australian Novelists and the Shifting Cartographies of Gallipoli

Christina Spittel

The scene is Anzac Day 2025, Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. Seated amidst the official party at the Australian ceremony, a Professor of History awaits his turn to speak. As his thoughts roam back to the Minister’s address delivered at dawn, his eyes take in a Peninsula transformed beyond recognition. Ridges have been cut away, hills and gullies levelled, formerly isolated posts cemented over. While the Professor ponders the Minister’s words and the backpackers gathered around the memorial, his own thoughts also wander off to an inscription gleaned earlier on a headstone for an Australian soldier. This scenario is taken from Bruce Scates’ On Dangerous Ground: A Gallipoli Story (2012). This novel’s final, unsettling moments make a useful starting point for this chapter. They remind us not to equate official rhetoric with private remembrance and not to dismiss too easily those who gather to listen. Scates’ Professor can see why the Minister’s speech might resonate, “why these proud, homesick people wanted to believe it.”1 More importantly still, they demonstrate powerfully the capacity of the literary, and of fiction in particular, to look beneath the bitumen of public rhetoric and chart what Scates has

C. Spittel (*)

University of New South Wales, Canberra, ACT, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

K. Ariotti, J.E. Bennett (eds.), Australians and the First World War, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51520-5_12

elsewhere called “the unruly tussle between popular and unofficial roads of remembrance.”2 Scates, a Professor of History himself, has made similar points in his scholarship. Here he reaches for the novel to embroil his readers in the lives of several characters which all intersect with the Gallipoli Peninsula, across a time span of over one hundred years, in the crammed space of a single book.

This chapter reads Scates’ novel alongside two others that re-imagine Australia’s Gallipoli experience, Brenda Walker’s The Wing of Night (2005) and Fiona McIntosh’s Nightingale (2014). These books reflect some of the key concerns of Australian First World War fiction since the 1990s. As Australia transformed itself into the commemorative superpower it now is, and especially since it joined the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and embarked on what is now its longest war, Australian novels about the First World War have increasingly focused on the cost of war and on war’s aftermath. The experience of grief and loss, central to fiction produced in the war years themselves, bubbles up again in these recent texts and their ambit widens (again) to include the stories of men and women, and even the former enemy.3 At the same time, Scates, Walker and McIntosh are vastly different writers and their approaches to the Peninsula reflect some of the diversity of First World War fiction available to Australian readers today. Where it has been discussed at all, Australian writing about the First World War has been described in terms of sameness and continuities. Most recently, confirming findings of earlier scholars, Clare Rhoden has registered a “prototypical Australian view,” “a unique and lasting Australian perspective” across a period of one hundred years: “Australian works position World War I, especially as represented by its symbol Gallipoli, as not only a tragic catastrophe, but also a starting point for the nation’s history.”4

For war correspondent and official historian Charles Bean, often evoked as Australia’s key mythographer, Gallipoli was “the most striking battlefield of that war”; for military historian Jeffrey Grey, the Gallipoli campaign remained “the most overrated, overwritten and overwrought event in the history of the Great War.”5 But when Scates began researching his novel he was surprised to find a dearth of Australian novels that take Gallipoli as their subject: “There are surprisingly few fictional accounts of Gallipoli and none as evocative as David Williamson’s screenplay Gallipoli.”6 Rather than feature as a stable point of reference, an enduring symbol for Australian writers, as Rhoden suggests, it is only now, in the years leading up to and including the centenary, that Gallipoli is beginning to predominate in Australian novels about the First World War. During this period Anzac Day became Australia’s national day; the Peninsula, as Mark McKenna has put it, “Australia’s Jerusalem,” the backdrop to “the nation’s inviolable foundation story.”7

My reading of the three novels takes its cue from recent discussions in literary and memory studies which foreground the question of scale. Pondering the relationship between Australian literature, the world, and world literature, Robert Dixon has called for more flexible approaches to “the cartographic imaginary” of Australian writing. Instead of presuming the nation as a text’s only horizon, we might ask how a text imagines its space and its contexts. Does it invite being read at a local, regional, national or global scale?8 Likewise, Astrid Erll has warned that to consider sites of memory as fixed, stable and solid is to miss their “inner complexity ... their vertical and horizontal divisions,” the very fluidity and movement across time and space on which their survival depends.9 To track the “mnemonic itineraries” of Gallipoli through three Australian novels, then, is to ask how they conceive of the war’s meaning, its place in Australian lives, and Australia’s place in the world.10 This reveals how the Peninsula is by no means settled on a map with fixed co-ordinates, but rather reimagined in terms of shifting cartographies and changing scales—national, yes, but also global and regional.

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