The Honest History Book

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       June 9, 2017


Author  edited by David Stephens, Alison Broinowski

Distributor:      New South Books
ISBN:                 9781742235264
Publisher:         New South Publications
Release Date:   April 2017  


In this collection of 19 essays we are introduced to another, perhaps more intimate, and definitely factual look at the basis of what has become in Australia, one of the country’s most influential, widely celebrated cultural and historic events, that of Anzac Day and the legend, folkloric, the myth, the barbarism that has created the legend of Anzac and what is often referred to as ‘Anzackery’.

But what is it that has created such a modern day juggernaut of an event, where actions both heroic and appalling, more than 100 years old are celebrated, are remembered, as are the men and women who gave their lives, their sanity, their all, to go to a foreign country and enter into a fight that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, all in the name of King and Country, certainly not in the name of Australia!

Each of the essays takes a very salient point from our Anzac history, dissecting the events, placing them into context and then aligning them with modern times. What is presented is extremely confrontational, certainly presents a far wider view of the issues which started the events in the first place and in many cases, explodes the myth, the legend, which has grown up around an event to gloss over, make far more palatable, the very unpalatable issues which many would say should be better left undisturbed.

The words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, (1881-1938)recalled some 15 years after his death by Sükrü Kaya (1883-1959), which are now embedded in history, is one such case where politics far overrules reality and goes a long way to gloss over the very real tragedy that was Gallipoli.

The central point to this collection though, is not to degrade what is a right and fitting remembrance of the wars Australia has been involved with right up to current commitments, the right to look back and remember and pay tribute, but to put into place that far more has gone into Australia’s history than just wars fought overseas on behalf of other countries.

The reality is presented poignantly by Paul Daley in chapter 17, Our most important war: the legacy of the frontier, where he looks back to the beginning of the white settlement in Australia and the horrific events that took place over many years and almost succeeded in completely wiping out the indigenous people of Australia.

So much more, goes into building a country that eventually came of age as Rebecca Jones presents in chapter 10, devoted to the harsh climate of Australia where year’s long droughts can wipe out communities, which are then often followed by rains that create massive flooding, then the devastation of bushfires takes its terrible toll; all these factors  and many more bring out the resilience which is what the Anzac legend, myth, folkloric is really all about : the mateship when the going gets tough, almost impossible, the strong resilience that allows the rebuilding, the faith and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine and things will begin to get better.

There is definitely more, far more, to the tradition of Anzac than the involvement in wars far from our shores. As each chapter unfolds you will find that you have developed a fresher, far more balanced and informed understanding of exactly what it is that makes up the wonderful, glorious tradition of ANZAC, but you will also have a better understanding that there is considerably more to Australian history, to the Australia people and character, than one period in the timeline of modern Australia (1770 –   ), that of World War I, which most certainly set the standard, so very long ago.