Gripping diary captures pivotal moment in Australian history

IT WAS the day after the massacre at the Eureka stockade. The rebellious diggers were shocked and subdued. In his goldfields diary, 19-year-old Samuel Lazarus wrote that they “will bear a great deal before they will risk a repetition” of “the blood-stained lesson” they had been given by government troopers.
But, that night, a lone digger fired once into the troopers’ camp. The soldiers responded with a volley of 50 or 60 musket shots, fired indiscriminately among the miners’ tents.
Wrote young Lazarus the next day, Friday December 5, 1854: “Among the victims of last night’s unpardonable recklessness were a woman and her infant – the same ball which murdered the Mother (for that is the term for it) passed through the child as it lay sleeping in her arms.”
Another young woman “had a miraculous escape. Hearing the reports of musketing and the dread whiz of bullets around her, she ran out of her tent to seek shelter – she had just got outside when a ball whistled immediately before her eyes, passing through both sides of her bonnet.”
Lazarus’ historic story is now for sale. His original hand-written diary, which runs from September 1853 to January 1855 and vividly recounts the events leading up to the stockade and its aftermath, will be auctioned on Tuesday.
Now yellowed with age, the journal was written in a modest stock notebook of the time. It is expected to sell for up to $80,000, said Jonathan Wantrup, of Australian Book Auctions, but the market for historical artefacts was hard to predict: “It might sell for three times that or half that.”
When he wrote it, Lazarus was a young schoolmaster newly arrived from England. He was in Ballarat with a business partner and a tent that could hold 600 people, with which he wanted to set up an auction house on the goldfields.
He was an intelligent, literate man with a wry turn of phrase, a contempt for the Irish and a fine sense of what he thought of as British honour – something he thought had been disgraced by the cowardice of the troopers’ assault on the stockade, in which even unarmed men and those surrendering had been slaughtered.
He did not witness the attack himself but meticulously recorded the tensions leading up to it and what he saw when he walked through the gruesome scene later in the day.
He had witnessed the earlier burning of the Eureka Hotel and the flight of its landlord, Bentley, whom a corrupt magistrate was protecting from being charged with the murder of a well-respected digger named Scobie.
Writes Lazarus: “A short time before the (hotel) was set on fire Bentley sprang on a horse and galloped away without coat or hat . . . with a yell of rage the diggers pursued him . . . he rushed past me in his flight and I think I never saw such a look of terror on a man’s face.”
Sympathetic though he was to the diggers and their burning sense of injustice, Lazarus was still judicious in his assessments. Of a petition demanding the release of diggers charged over the hotel violence, he writes: “No man in his senses can believe for a moment that the Governor will recognise the word ‘demand’ in a petition – it is easy to guess the result.”
Mr Wantrup said it was rare to get such an eyewitness account, particularly in a nomadic community, as mobile populations were notoriously poor record-keepers. “It’s also rare to get participants’ accounts of any event that show such a degree of objectivity and intelligent judgement.”
Weston Bate is a historian who wrote a two-volume history of Ballarat including the book Lucky City, which describes Eureka.
He said Lazarus’ story was valuable because there were only a handful of eyewitness accounts of the aftermath, “and a lot of them are reminiscences (written later) rather than diaries written at the time”.
He believed Eureka itself was important because it marked a crucial turning point in Australia’s sense of its own identity. “Eureka is the beginning of Australia’s understanding that it doesn’t have to behave the way the English gentry would have liked it to behave . . . Eureka was more about injustice and civil liberties than it was about mining licences,” he said.
Samuel Lazarus was also present at the other key historic event of his century: he was foreman of the jury that found Ned Kelly guilty in 1880.
Historians have debated whether the jury foreman was him or another Samuel Lazarus of the day. But Mr Wantrup said family documents showed that Lazarus’ son, Julius Samuel Lazarus, wrote to his son in 1944 confirming that his father was foreman at the Kelly trial.
That son – Samuel’s grandson – was the architect and photographer Hugh Frankland, who had changed his name from Hubert Samuel Lazarus.
The diary’s history is a story in itself. It remained quietly in family hands until 1982. Then it came to the attention of Keith Ridout, a mobile librarian. He was chatting to people in Cann River about what a shame it was that a local family had burnt all the diaries of an elderly relative who had died.
The people he was speaking to showed him their little piece of history, Lazarus’ diary. It had come to them through a relative, but they were not his direct descendants, Mr Ridout said.
“I suggested the State Library should at least know about it, but they didn’t want folks to know they had it. I persuaded them to let me send it down to the State Library and allow it to be photocopied, as long as I didn’t let the library know their name or where it came from.”
In 1996, the diary was sold to a Queensland collector through Christie’s for $38,000. It is now being sold by the collector’s estate.
Jock Murphy, manuscripts librarian at the State Library, said it would be sad if the diary went to an overseas collector, but that outcome might be unlikely because of cultural heritage legislation.
On whether the library might bid for it, he said, “We will just have to see how it works out.”
A gruesome day
A large body of soldiers were entering the gully leading to the camp with three dray loads of dead and wounded . . . I guessed at once that the military had made an attack on the Eureka Stockade, but I did not guess that Englishmen in authority had made such a savage and cowardly use of their power.
I entered (the stockade) and a ghastly scene lay before me which it is vain to attempt to describe – My blood crept as I looked upon it. Stretched on the ground in all the horrors of a bloody death lay 18 or 20 lifeless and mutilated bodies – some shot in the face, others literally riddled with wounds – one with a ghastly wound in the temples and one side of his body absolutely roasted by the flames of his tent – Another, the most horrible of these appalling spectacles, with a frightful gaping wound in . . . his head through which the brains protruded, lay with his chest feebly heaving in the last agony of death. One body pierced with 16 or 17 wounds I recognised as that of a poor German whom I have often joked with. Newly-made widows recognising the bloody remains of a slaughtered husband – children screaming and crying around a dead father – surely the man that polluted the early dawn of a Sabbath’s morning with such a deed of blood and suffering must have a stony heart if he does not think with keen remorse on the desolation of many a widowed heart his merciless work has left. But this sanguinary carnage, revolting as it is to the mind, is not half so sickening as the savage wanton barbarity of the troopers. Did not turn their swords on armed men, but galloped courageously among the tents shooting at women, and cutting down defenceless men . . . (A) trooper galloped up to Mr Naslam (reporter for one of the papers) and ordered him to join the government force. He . . . gave an excuse (which was strictly true) that he was unwell, when the wretch at once levelled his carbine and shot him in the side. Not content with this wanton barbarity he handcuffed him and left him on the ground weltering in his blood. Another man . . . awoke by the firing, went out of his tent in his shirt and drawers and seeing the savage butchery going on cried out in terror – “for God’s sake don’t kill my wife and children”. He was shot dead.

First published in The Age.

An equal history

PROFILE – Marilyn Lake, Feminist Historian


IF MARILYN LAKE regrets one thing about her youth it is how scornful she was. Smart, sassy and giddy with ’60s feminist hubris, she was contemptuous of the women she thought she wanted to help.She condescended to older women in floral dresses making tea and scones and selling raffle tickets for women’s auxiliaries. As for the housewives she and other women’s libbers had targeted for consciousness raising, they were seen as “a group like sheep, who didn’t have a particularly high IQ and had to be helped through the hurdles”.

She winces again recalling one of the placards carried in demonstrations calling for women’s freedom: “Smash the family!”

“How insensitive it was to carry those banners when Aboriginal people were trying to resuscitate their families, which had been smashed systematically for decades,” she says now.

She pauses and, in a vignette of the domesticity she once despised, gets up from her kitchen table to check the banana cake in the oven before taking an overseas phone call from her elder daughter, who wants Mum’s advice on what to do about her accommodation problems.

There’s the difference between 20 and 50, the age Lake turned this year: more patience, more tolerance, and an understanding that life cannot be reduced to absolutes.

But Lake’s feminism still burns strong, a defining force in her life and in the shaping of Australian public discourse.

Lake, a professor of history at LaTrobe University, is probably the nation’s most prominent female historian. She is certainly one of our best-known in international circles, her profile abroad higher than that of many others who are household names in Australia, such as Henry Reynolds.

She has built much of her career injecting the untold history of women into the national story (pre-feminist Australian history courses having been, as fellow academic Miriam Dixson so drily puts it, “Stag Studies”). Lake’s latest book, published this week, is Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism.

The flourish of confidence represented by the definite article in the title is not only factually accurate – there have been no other such histories – but typically Lake in its assertiveness and challenge. Who would dare to follow up the history of anything?

According to her younger sister, Pamela Gatenby, Lake was bolshie from childhood: “She was a terribly argumentative child from a very, very young age, and often would express strong and determined views that at times would drive people crazy coming from a small child. She had a strong sense of purpose, and that was acted out in her relationships with me and her brother and our parents.”

By the age of nine Lake had vehement views on right and wrong; by 14 she was giving out on contemporary political issues; by 16 she had entered university; by 19 she had done honors and married. Her husband is Sam Lake, now professor of zoology at Monash, whom she met while studying at the University of Tasmania, and with whom she has two daughters. She won a personal chair in history at 45.

“I did everything very young,” she says. “It’s a funny feeling; it’s as if I’ve had a very long life.”

But she was also typical of her generation. She married in 1968, “the year, demographically, both in which the highest proportion of Australian women ever married, and the year that saw the lowest age at marriage. I was statistically average.

“Marriage then signified escaping your own family, and it signified sex. It was about falling in love, and I fell passionately in love. I only knew Sam six months. He said I should try for an overseas scholarship, but I was very impetuous and said, `No, no, I want to marry you!”‘

Her feminism was born partly of the marriage – Sam had feminist colleagues on campus who introduced Lake to the fledgling women’s liberation movement in Hobart – and partly of having been “a witness” to her mother’s life.

“My mother was the classic 1950s mother and wife. She wasn’t economically independent; she didn’t have her own income, therefore she had limited options. But she thirsted to go to university herself; she yearned for the bigger world. And so I took for granted that I must get a job and an income.”

Most feminists of Lake’s generation can cite a particular book as having profoundly influenced their outlook. For Lake, it was Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics. “We assumed – we libertarians – that sex was meant to be liberating. But books like Kate Millet’s showed that in fact masculine power was encoded into the way heterosexuality was enacted in our daily lives. As (American feminist) Catherine McKinnon famously said, `You might have a good f— but we all know that getting f—ed is getting f—ed’.”

But over time she also learnt where ’70s feminism got it wrong. Mothering was not something women did because society coerced them; she found it deeply pleasurable. “That strand of feminism didn’t know what it was talking about in the sense that, for me, it was not about guilt if the kids went into the creche. It was about my own conflicting desires; I equally desired to be with them and I desired to do the intellectual work.”

In her intellectual work Lake became increasingly preoccupied with the invisibility of women.”Women’s politics are not taken seriously as politics, so it’s written out of political history. History is constructed as the record of public men’s deeds, as the history of parliaments and the main political parties.”

Her attempts to redress the imbalance have sometimes drawn fierce criticism. “Is feminist history bunk?” asked the headline of a national newspaper article written in 1995 by John Hirst, reader in history at LaTrobe University. Hirst was responding to Creating a Nation, a general history of Australia, foregrounding the role of women, co-authored by Lake and three other historians.

Hirst argued that history’s higher purpose was to explain the processes of change, and that the chief human actors in transformation were usually men. Feminists could not simultaneously declare that women had been excluded from power and that they must have an equal place in history. “Since feminism’s claims about the past treatment of women are true, its claims on history cannot be realised,” he wrote.

As for Lake’s analysis of the Anzac myth as a misappropriation – in that it was women, not men, who literally gave birth to the nation – Hirst wrote: “This is not history of any sort – it is a feminist wail.”

Hirst, says Lake crisply, has no conception of how women might be historical actors who helped shape the nation. She wrote in reply to him that “Men used to accuse women of taking their jobs; now they say we’re taking their history”.

Today she says, “They don’t mind you doing your own women’s history, as long as you go over there and do it, but this wasn’t a history of women. We had been audacious enough to occupy the high ground of the general history. That’s why he moved in to defend the territory.”
She was similarly attacked when she wrote on 19th-century socialism, arguing that it was animated by men’s desire to rescue their “manhood” because capitalism had humiliated them.

“I was one of the first historians to write about the history of masculinity, and that engaged men like nothing else,” she chuckles. “Men paid attention because it was about them, and they’re important.”
Eventually she decided to abandon the topic: “I suddenly thought one day, `This has just reinstated men at the centre of history. I don’t want to do this any more’.”

Fellow historian Henry Reynolds says Lake’s most controversial work was probably an article about the early Bulletin magazine and masculinity: “She attacked all the heroes of late 19th-century Australian left-wing intellectual life, pointing out their misogyny and how their talk about equality was based on misogyny. That was most confronting and provocative; it’s not surprising that many, many historians who looked favorably on these people got pretty upset.”

Personally, he admires the way Lake stirs the possum: “It’s a pity there isn’t more of it in Australia.”

Lake and Reynolds share a similar strength, or weakness, depending on your perspective. Liberal Senator Nick Minchin has described Reynolds, a passionate advocate of Aboriginal land rights and reconciliation, as a partisan player whose public pronouncements “color his record as an objective historian”.

Lake, too, could be accused of caring too much about the issues she analyses. She warmly admires early feminists, whom she sees as having created a “maternalist” welfare state in Australia, and who were among the few voices protesting against white abuse of Aborigines, including the stolen children, in the first half of this

Lake believes no one is completely objective. “Everyone writes from a particular perspective. So John Hirst writing on federation, which might be more acceptable to John Howard and Nick Minchin (than Reynolds’ work), is nevertheless writing out of his own desire. John just loves that sort of history and those founding fathers.”
Many of the early feminists Lake documents wanted an equal “moral standard” for men and women: for them, it meant asking men to be as sexually chaste as women. Lake, as a modern-day feminist, seeks an equal moral standard in a different way; she agitates for men to become as responsible for housework and children as women, and for a shorter working week for both sexes.

She recently debated on radio the merits of an advertising campaign to shame men out of the office and home to bath the baby at 5pm. Perhaps it could show the Prime Minister ironing his own shirts?

In your dreams, honey. But then, she’s used to that; a feminist historian is a dream-catcher.

The launch of Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism will be on Friday, 8October, at 6pm at the South Melbourne Town Hall. For further details call the Victorian Women’s Trust, 9642 0422.


Marilyn Lake

1949: born in Hobart.

1965-8: BA honors at University of Tasmania.

1975: publication of first of eight books.

1976-82: PhD in history at Monash University.

1988: appointed founding director, Program in Women’s Studies, La Trobe University.

1995: appointed to a Personal Chair in History, at La Trobe. Elected as a fellow to the Australian Academy of Humanities.

First published in The Age.

Over the top: men at war

WAR is hell – except for the pleasures of slaughter, almost sexual in their cycles of tension and release. This, says the historian Dr Joanna Bourke, is the untold story of the battlefield; that ordinary decent men, who loved their families and lived unremarkable civilian lives, routinely experienced an almost ecstatic exhilaration when they killed in wartime.

Take Henry de Man, writing of his experiences in World War I: “I had thought myself more or less immune from this intoxication until, as trench mortar officer, I was given command over what is probably the most murderous instrument in modern warfare

“One day … I secured a direct hit on an enemy encampment, saw bodies or parts of bodies go up in the air, and heard the desperate yelling of the wounded or the runaways.” He yelled aloud “with delight” and “could have wept with joy”. “I had to confess to myself that it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Looking back, he mused, “What were the satisfactions of scientific research, of a successful public activity, of authority, of love, compared to this ecstatic moment?”

Other soldiers reported killing to be like “getting screwed for the first time”; it gave men “an ache as profound as the ache of orgasm”. Reported one US marine, a Vietnam veteran: “I was literally turned on when I saw a gook get shot.”

In World War I, men caressed their bayonets lovingly and thought of their women as they thrust the blades into the enemy.

Bourke’s new book, An Intimate History of Killing, certainly lives up to its name.

Her interest was sparked when writing a previous book that required her to delve into the Great War. Reading soldiers’ letters, she found the elements traditionally reported in military histories: “Trauma, horror, mud, lice, fear, shellshock and breakdown.” But she was startled to also find persistent accounts of bloodlust, and some men’s diaries revealed that they never felt so intensely alive as when they were killing other men.

She believes guilt over this murderous pleasure, so illicit in peacetime, is the reason many veterans refuse to discuss their war experiences with civilians, whom they feel would never understand.

Not surprisingly, the book has angered Britain’s military establishment and veterans’ organisations.

“It’s something that people have difficulty talking about, how `We enjoyed mass slaughter, we got off on it, we weren’t just doing it to save the world from Nazis or communism or whatever, and that we committed atrocities too’,” says Bourke. “Some people will read this and say, `Joanna is critiquing us; is she saying that we’re just as bad as the Nazis?’ No, I’m not saying that.”

In fact, she was forced to abandon some half-baked pacifist assumptions about men and war. “I believed all the cliches. I think I always looked very warily at the military as somehow different to the rest of us. And, being a feminist, I regarded (war and killing) as the dark side of manliness.

“But I sat there in an archive reading the letters of people who are just like my friends, like me. I would read letters from a man to his wife. He would say, `I felt really horrible yesterday. It was the worst day of my life; my neighbor has gone crazy with fear. However, I had my first battle. I have never felt so good. It was so exhilarating every time I bayoneted someone. I thought of you, my love. It is a beautiful sunset tonight. Goodbye, give my little daughter a kiss…’

“It was so distressing, because you’d be thinking, `What a lovely guy’, and then you’d come across one of these descriptions. These men were very human and much more complex than the traditional feminist/pacifist line gives them credit for.”

Bourke came to some uncomfortable conclusions about human nature, which she believes apply equally to women. “We like to believe that it’s difficult to kill; that the army is somehow different from us, that (soldiers) have had lots of training, or are people with an authoritarian personality anyway. But it’s not like that. Ordinary people – most of these men were conscripts – who are put into battle enjoy killing. Given the right conditions, anyone could.”

Except for soldiers who committed atrocities, the highest rates of psychiatric breakdown were in soldiers who never fought.

Bourke’s findings seem to support Freudian theories of two basic human drives, sex and aggression. But she does not subscribe to instinct theory. She explains the intensely sexual nature of men’s descriptions of killing as partly due to the adrenalin rush of the fight-or-flight response: “Tension builds up and there’s a sudden catharsis that feels subjectively like orgasm. Men after battle often say they just want to go to sleep.

“The more important explanation is that most of these men had probably never written a letter before. They are trying to explain to the people back home something that is outside all of their experience, and the sexual metaphor is the closest one they can find to convey (the drama of it). And killing is a rite-of-passage experience, just like your first sexual encounter is.”

Bourke’s previous books include works on Irish history and the working class. Her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse; they travelled the world as missionaries before settling in very unsettled Haiti when she was five. She loved Haitian life but its violence and bloodshed was also part of the backdrop of her childhood. Later she studied in England before completing her PhD in Australia. She returns here every year or two to write.

Her book examines how soldiers deal with the battlefield’s moral questions and how they resist becoming brutalised, despite the potentially seductive primal power of the experience. She analyses how military systems train and exploit men’s emotional responses and the factors that contribute to atrocities.

Her analysis of war crimes makes disturbing reading, not only because of the gruesomeness – the lighting of flares in Vietnamese women’s vaginas, the slicing off of Japanese women’s breasts – but because the perpetrators are “the good guys”: British, Americans and Australians. She reports that so many Japanese PoWs were being killed in the Pacific towards the end of World War II that an alarmed military bribed troops with offers of icecream and leave to keep prisoners alive.

The book’s worst atrocities involve American troops in Vietnam, the most lawless of the three wars she analyses. Some marines were encouraged to enlist by promises that they would be able to rape local women, and platoons on long stints of active service routinely kidnapped and slaughtered female villagers. Those who raped as well as killed were known as “double veterans”.

And then there is My Lai. In 1968, 105 American soldiers from Charlie Company entered the village and raped and sodomised women, ripped vaginas open with knives, bayoneted and scalped civilians and fired on unresisting crowds of old men, women, children and babies. They killed 500.

The lieutenant who led the attack, William Calley, was later sentenced to hard labor for life but, after a massive public outcry of support, was released, after less than three years of house arrest. Bourke contrasts this with the case of Dr Howard Levy, who served two years’ jail for refusing to teach medical techniques to Green Berets because he believed they would be used to harm rather than help people.

Australians were involved in atrocities too, she reports, citing rifleman Barry Kavanagh, from Avondale Heights, who told of a platoon in Vietnam opening fire on scuffling in the bushes. In the morning, “We discover it’s a party of schoolgirls who had been missing from a nearby village. The big Aussies shot the ones who were still alive so no one would start a nasty scandal.”

An Australian warrant officer, who used to protest every time an officer killed a Vietnamese prisoner, recalled learning to turn a blind eye: “Now, the officer just looks at the prisoner, and looks at me with one of those long, knowing looks. I go for a walk for a few minutes and when I come back they tell me the man was shot trying to escape.”

Again, Bourke points out that the men who did these things were ordinary people. A survey taken after My Lai found that more than half of civilian Americans believed they would shoot if they were a soldier ordered to destroy a village; so did one-third of Australians.

There were combatants who refused to cross the line into atrocity. An enraged US helicopter pilot who saw what was happening at My Lai landed and had his gunners hold Charlie Company troops at bay while he coaxed terrified villagers out of a bunker and took them to safety. In other incidents, soldiers warned villages of an impending attack.

Some resisted even legitimate killing, not firing their guns or firing over the enemy’s heads.

Bourke argues that most soldiers who killed did so not out of hatred for the enemy, but out of love of the comrades they saw killed and the commanding officers who were their father figures.

They resisted the numbing of their consciences: “Guilt is actually necessary in order (for most men) to be able to kill. Men who got pleasure from killing at the same time felt they should feel guilty for it. They say that their comrades who do not feel guilty for it are inhuman, and they avoid these people.

“To them, their guilt means that they are still human. They haven’t become animals. They still have a moral conscience. It allows them to go home unbrutalised (and is good for them) as long as the guilt isn’t crippling, which can lead to breakdown. It’s all about balance.”

Bourke does not expect her book to dent the warrior hero myth. “People need these myths in order to be combat effective. I don’t think they are ever going to die. We have to have them, otherwise war is just an overwhelmingly horrible experience.”

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in 20th-century Warfare, by Joanna Bourke, Allen & Unwin, $49.95.

First published in The Age.

This woman’s war

Betty Jeffrey must have been destined to live a long life. It’s hard to believe luck alone could have seen her through so much. Take the time she was sterilising instruments on a primus stove in a marquee on a tennis court in Malaya, where she was nursing wounded Australian troops in 1942.

She’d delayed taking cover when shelling started because the instruments were about to boil. A piece of shrapnel came whizzing into the tent, heading her way. One of the men cried out to her and, because she turned her head to answer, the hot metal missed her skull and merely grazed her cheek. The resulting welt lasted weeks.

Later that day, she took the walking wounded to a trench for protection during shelling. She recalls, “They were there for quite a while, and I thought, ‘It’s quiet now; I’ll go out and do their dressings.’
“I was halfway across the lawn when this lone bomber came across very low, just above the tree tops, machine-gunning the ground all the way. I just held the instrument tray above my head; it had a cloth with a red cross on it. He turned the gun off as he passed over me and then on again.”

Jeffrey was one of a group of Australian army nurses and other women and children captured by the Japanese and starved in prison camps on Sumatra for three-and-a -half years. Part of her story is being retold in a new anthology, As We Wave You Goodbye: Australian Women and War, edited by historian Jan Bassett.

The anthology includes a chapter from Jeffrey’s 1954 book, White Coolies, in which she described her years as a prisoner-of-war. Bruce Beresford’s 1997 film Paradise Road is based partly on her diaries.

Jeffrey, now 90, is still living alone and independently (she never married) in her sunny flat in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. She is uncomfortable with this latest round of publicity, conscious that she was just one of many and reluctant to make much of things that, at the time, simply had to be taken in one’s stride. This was a group for whom duty and service were paramount. She says quietly: “Every one of those girls can tell you stories like this. We were really in the war.”

“Those girls” are the army nurses who served on Singapore with Jeffrey. Most were evacuated safely before it fell to the Japanese in February 1942, but Jeffrey and 64 others had to wait for a second ship, the Vyner Brooke. They were not so lucky. They were attacked two days out of Singapore.

Jeffrey remembers: “There were three (Japanese) planes. They (machine-gunned) the lifeboats before they attacked; they were close enough to see that the ship was full of women and kids.

“They got a bomb down the funnel and then the ship itself. The bridge burst open and it went down in minutes.” Jeffrey and her matron were last off the ship, helping others into lifebelts, lowering what was left of the lifeboats and throwing overboard those too frightened to jump.

She and another nurse who could swim, Iole Harper, spent the next few hours tying fellow survivors to bits of flotsam and teaching them how to paddle in the direction of the low blue line that was the shore, 16 kilometres away. Jeffrey remembers no fear, but looking back, she says, it’s clear they were all in a blessed state of shock.

Her matron and the women and children on the matron’s raft were swept out to sea and never seen again. “Matron could do everything except swim and row,” she says sadly. “Nobody knows how many drowned. There were no records in Singapore.”

Jeffrey and Harper made it to shore. They cursed the coastal mangrove swamps through which they swam and trudged for hours, almost eaten alive by insects. They struggled from one fallen treetrunk to another until one of the trunks slid into the water with a splash – it was a crocodile. Eventually they were found by locals who took them to a village, where they were picked up by a Japanese patrol.

“Something goes wrong in your mind; you remember the good bits and you forget the awful bits.”

It was much later that they heard of the slaughter of other Vyner Brooke survivors further up the coast. Japanese troops had ordered civilian women and children and 22 army nurses to walk into the sea. Then they machine-gunned them from behind. The lone survivor, army nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, later joined Jeffrey in a prisoner-of-war camp. A total of 32 in the camp of 300 or so were survivors of the Vyner Brooke.

Jeffrey had wanted to be an army nurse from the time she was 12; she remembers hanging out of a tree and telling a visiting auntie so. She says she had always been adventurous and sensed that nursing troops meant adventure. So she signed up for the army reserve the moment she completed her nursing studies in 1937, aware that war was looming and nurses would be needed. “I thought, if there’s going to be a war, I’ll be in it! And was I ever.” She was called up in 1941 and sent to Malaya and then Singapore.

Ask Jeffrey today what life was like as a prisoner-of-war and she remembers first the camaraderie, the laughter and the makeshift games and concerts the women invented to keep their spirits up. “Something goes wrong in your mind,” says Jeffrey, “you remember the good bits and you forget the awful bits.”

The bad things come back into focus after we sift through the physical mementoes of her war. They are packed away in a small leather suitcase tied up with string and include copies of the musical scores, photo albums and a small, stained exercise book she stole from the desk of a Japanese officer. She hid the book throughout her imprisonment, filling it with sketches of camp life, Malay words she was trying to learn and dozens of recipes: cheese croquettes, breast of veal, chocolate eclairs.

The recipes were an attempt to ease the hunger and thirst, she says: “You wrote the recipes, your mouth would fill with water, you’d swallow it and then you’d feel like you’d had something to drink. In one of the camps there were 300 of us and one tap; it had no handle and only dripped.”

The women subsisted on a couple of handfuls of rice a day, supplemented by vegetable rubbish left over from the locals’ market stalls. The Japanese would tumble the shovellings straight on to the dusty road outside the camp, leaving them there two or three days in the tropical heat. “They were rotten, absolutely rotten,” Jeffrey says. “No wonder we all got dysentery.”

Sanitary arrangements were, at best, primitive and, at worst, in the final camp, non-existent; the flowing river that delighted the women on first sight turned out to be the public latrine for the whole region – and they were at the end of the line.

They were refused medicines and there was death after death from malnutrition, infected tropical ulcers, beri-beri and tropical fevers. Nurses who were so ill they could barely stand nursed dying comrades, unable to provide them with even basic comforts. Of the 65 young army nurses who left on the Vyner Brooke, only 24 came home to Australia.

After liberation in September 1945, the women discovered a nearby Japanese storeroom was loaded floor to ceiling with Western food and medicines, and that fresh fruit was rotting on trees outside the camp.

Jeffrey returned to Australia gaunt, weighing less than 30 kilograms. She had “all the malarias” and tuberculosis. After having been separated from her family for four years, she was forced to spend another two in hospital recuperating. She was well for several years after this, but her health collapsed again in the ’50s.

What does she think now of the Japanese? Her face goes blank. “I don’t think about them. I just don’t think about them.”

She visited Japan as a tourist after the war: “I was told by one of the doctors who was also a PoW, ‘You’ve got to get this out of your system; go to Japan. It’s a beautiful country’. I went to Japan and loved it. It did get it out of me, the hatred.”
But, while her rational mental processes have been brought to heel, there are other avenues to memory she finds harder to block. Smells and sounds – cooking aromas and chatter from young Asian neighbors – can throw her back unexpectedly and most distressingly.

Looking back, she says, there are no choices she would have made differently, but there is one thing she would change if she could: “I would bring all those girls home, instead of them dying in the prison camp. Bonza girls, they were.”

First published in The Age.

War in Peace

Holocaust, Hiroshima, Anzac, Changi: What should we tell the children? There is a price to be paid for portraying the Anzac legend as the birth of the Australian nation to spur patriotism and admiration for heroic efforts, writes Karen Kissane.

My friend, you would not teach with such high zest.
To children ardent for some desperate glory.
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est.
Pro patria mori.
(It is sweet and fitting to die for your country).
Wilfrid Owen: `Dulce et Decorum est’.

CHILDREN do not learn the old lie about today’s wars; it is hard to cloak battle in nobility when its reality sputters across the nightly news. It might be easier for some children if they did. During the Gulf War, counselling clinics treated children anxious that they or their families could somehow be hurt by this conflict that held the world transfixed. To be a child of the information revolution is to learn early the true nature of war; Holocausts and Hiroshimas, suffering, death and evil.

But war, at least as encapsulated by the Anzac legend, has always been central to Australian identity; Prime Minister Keating now wants to emphasise Anzac Day as Australia’s main celebration of nationhood. So what should children know about war, and when should they know it? For the very young, there is not so much an age of innocence as an age of incomprehension. Dr Graham Martin, the chief child psychiatrist at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at South Australia’s Flinders Medical Centre, says children aged between four and seven cannot understand the finality of death. If they saw killings on television, he says, it would be through a kind of “cartoon mode”; they would expect the victims to bounce back up again like they do in `Loony Toons’.

But small children are very frightened by even the threat of violence, Dr Martin says: “They feel somewhat defenceless and can easily translate an outside threat into a threat to themselves, giving them a minor reaction like a nightmare. They need to be protected against coming across that kind of material; if they do come across it, parents should provide them with the chance to talk through the issue.

It’s important to tell them that this doesn’t happen in Australia, and that it won’t happen to them.”
But even from children of this age, he says, parents will then face ethical questions about why war happens in other countries, and why individual murder is wrong but mass killing by armies is not. “The problem in the past has been that we have always taught kids that there are bad guys, whom we alienated and created a racist nickname for, like `Nips’ for the Japanese, dehumanising them. But when you get down to the nitty gritty, there were very few bad guys, and lots of good guys who got caught up in jingoistic rubbish.”
Children should be allowed to play with war toys, he says, because they deal with anxieties about this and other issues mostly through play. But parents should be watchful about children’s tendency to divide games up into good guys and bad guys, never wanting to be the bad guys themselves: “That denigration and objectification of others begins even at this stage.”
For older children and teenagers, the issues become more complex. When is battle noble, and when is it merely foolish and bloody? How should we pass on the Anzac legend, if we do at all? Should Australia’s sense of itself continue to be grounded in one incident in one war a long time ago? While Mr Keating might have no doubt about the significance of Australia’s war heritage, many educators are more wary. They see a touch of the big lie about the way the Anzac legend is passed on.

“Australians have been obsessed about teaching Gallipoli,” says Deb Hull, who is writing her PhD thesis at Melbourne University on how Victorian schools taught about war between World War I and World War II. “It’s never been, like so many other parts of Australia’s history, left for students to look up if they have an interest in it.”
Ms Hull says that earlier this century history was distilled into exemplary stories to try to instil virtues in children: “If you wanted to teach about the abuse of power, for example, you’d focus on one of the bad kings of England.” Today, she says, the way the Anzac legend is taught as the birth of the nation, to spur patriotism, is the last remnant of this approach to history as moral fable. Ms Hull says some politicians today echo the concerns of Victoria’s conservative Opposition in the 1920s, who were shocked when the pacifist Labor Government proposed banning teaching about war in schools. The Opposition argued that children would never learn to be patriotic if they were not taught about Anzac Day.

“I still get teary at Anzac Day services and speak in whispers at the Shrine,” Ms Hull says. “But history generally is not taught that way today … We should stop telling children what Gallipoli means and let them decide what it means.” The myth exacts a price, she argues. It does not encompass the experience of those who were cowards, or who died less glamorously of illness; it holds up an unreachable ideal for the generations of soldiers who followed. She was appalled to hear a former prisoner in a Japanese camp talk of his misery every Anzac Day, when he was forced to remember that he had spent most of World War II not fighting: “It is unspeakable that men who endured such hardship feel guilty or ashamed that they did not live up to an image that was unrealistic anyway.”
The veil that has been drawn over the slaughter inflicted by Anzac soldiers caused pain as recently as the ’70s, when Vietnam veterans found themselves ostracised. “Who’s the only person everyone knows from Gallipoli?” asks Ms Hull. “Simpson and his donkey. People back home wanted to think of their men as brave, but didn’t want to think of them bayoneting people, which is what Australian soldiers were very, very good at. So the image we have is of merciful mateship, the brave man who saved people, not of blood lust and fierce hand-to-hand combat … The Vietnam vets were greeted with, `Oh, how dare you! You burnt children!’ What did they think Australians did in war?” Patsy Adam-Smith, author of `The Anzacs’, holds a view that is more traditional but which she came to only after reflection. She says she used to be a relative unbeliever in elements of the Anzac myth: “When people spoke about `mateship’, I didn’t really know what that was. Not until I began my research.” Now, she firmly believes in the heroic aspects of the venture and the importance of acknowledging them. “We should be teaching children about heroism … There are people who give their lives for others in warfare.” She has no doubt that Gallipoli was the birth of the nation, and that a unique sense of mateship did develop among Anzac troops. “I have seen photographs of men with their arms around each other, almost resting in weariness, in utter trust … Australians did look after each other in adversity.”
Dr Sandy Yule, the co-founder of the Victorian Philosophy for Children Association and a lecturer in Melbourne University’s Institute of Education, has mixed feelings about what he sees as traditional teachings about war: that every so often war is inevitable, that it is forced upon us by aggressors, that it is heroic to defend ourselves and that this is the basis of our freedom and democracy.

Dr Yule believes fallen soldiers should be honored: “People get into difficult situations where moral choices are hard to make, and young people should respect the moral choices their elders make even where they don’t agree with them. The actual sacrifice of the hundreds who went and died in Vietnam, for example, should be respected just in human terms.”
He also sees value in the role of history as moral exemplar: “One of the potential problems in the more laissez-faire notion of community we have today is that we have less idealism, less willingness to sacrifice, and a lack of care for the greater good of the community. I think we are weak at building those values for ourselves in the next generation, yet they have played a powerful part in bringing Australia to where it is now.”
But he has little sympathy for the traditional notion of “My country, right or wrong” and says that when we build our own history, we should encourage an openness to the views and experiences of other nations, and try to develop a growing awareness
of world citizenship.

What of horror? How should young people learn about what the atom bomb did to the civilians of Hiroshima, of Jews and the Final Solution? If they are not to be overwhelmed, Dr Yule says, they should be introduced to war through the notion of peace, by someone who has already resolved his or her own attitude to these issues.

“Traditionally, we have introduced people to peace by telling them about war; peace is what happens when you stop the war. But you can tell a lot of stories about conflict and crisis and how it was resolved, and treat war as the story that needs to be told when peaceful methods failed.” Children’s fear, he believes, come more from a lack of context in which to place war, and sometimes from a sense that the adult talking to them is not being frank. “Horror and evil can be named appropriately; if you don’t do that, it comes across as
a dark shadow lurking behind what you are saying.

“We need to start and finish by talking about the coping strategies we have … about missed opportunities for peace. The important thing is to preserve a sense of human viability, to leave them with the knowledge that we do have choices about such situations, that there is some possibility of control.” By the end of their lifetime, today’s young will know whether this became the next big lie.

YEAR 6: How hard it was to be a soldier.

ELLEN DUSEK didn’t know it, but her great-grandfather was a hero. His story was in the folder of family memories she brought to school for an Anzac Day talk, in a letter that told why Private Matthew Thomas Hogan was recommended for his Military Medal. In 1918, the last of his team left standing, he kept firing against an enemy machinegun, capturing it and destroying its crew. He then turned the captured gun on the retreating enemy, inflicting heavy casualties. “His courage and coolness were magnificent,” the letter said.

Ellen listened, surprised, as the story was read out to the class. It was not part of her family lore. The war story she knows, and tells bubbling with laughter, is of her grandfather, one of the Rats of Tobruk, and his mishaps with army latrines.

Many of the other students in her class, year six at Sandringham Primary School, know that fathers or grandfathers were soldiers, but have heard little more. Perhaps it was too long ago; perhaps it is not long enough. Says Meagan Carr: “My grandfather fought in the Second World War and a couple of his friends died … He still doesn’t like talking about it.”
The children believe that war is bad but soldiers are good. “We need soldiers, because we have to stand up for ourselves against other countries,” says Michelle Bishop-Dyson. They are unanimous that soldiers should be honored for their sacrifice but find it hard to explain why.

But they also say, over and over, that war should be avoided. Fabian Bannister says: “I think it’s really uncivilised for people to fight in wars. It’s governments that decide to fight … they should try to be a soldier and see how hard it is.”
To these children, the Anzac legend is Australia’s war heritage. They all know of Simpson and his donkey – Steve Anderson’s great- grandfather was rescued by him – but the more recent World War II is distant to them. None has heard of Changi, the Kokoda trail, or Weary Dunlop. Only Jaya Prillinger can describe what happened at Hiroshima but when he begins talking about fallout these children of the nuclear age catch on. “Aah, radiation,” they murmur knowingly.

A couple have heard the term Holocaust: “Wasn’t that the war where they invented gas chambers?” asks Ben Robinson. Says Matthew Lawson: “They put the Jewish (people) in there and took them to concentration camps and shaved their heads.” They answer matter-of-factly, as they would about rainfall in a geography lesson; the facts known but not the reality.

Asked how many of them can imagine a world without war, three-quarters of the children put up their hands. Imagine.

YEAR 11 AND 12: Trying to look at war from both sides now.

IN WORLD WAR II, Fiona Kozub’s grandparents were taken from their homes in Poland by soldiers with guns. Neighbors looked on silently.

“It was all really hush hush,” she says today. “No one argued, no one put forward their views.” She and other VCE students at Sandringham Secondary College can understand why ordinary citizens failed to speak up about the Nazi concentration camps. You wouldn’t, would you, if you were faced by men with guns? They even have sympathy for the Nuremberg defence of soldiers charged with war crimes: “I was just following orders.” There were SS guards who were as good to prisoners as they could manage without endangering themselves, says Stewart Hore, who recently visited Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum. The survivors he met there told him of camp guards who were surreptitiously kind.

“The soldiers couldn’t say anything either,” agrees Alyson Innis.

Says Sacha Cody: “You can blame them, but you can’t. There was so much propaganda at the time.”
The students are conscious that what they learn as history is, in fact, the view of only one side in the conflict. Alyson says, “We don’t get educated about all the bad things the Americans and British did, just on the bad things the other side did … Our history teacher always tries to make us think about what’s wrong with reading only books in English. Sometimes things get lost in translation, and always it’s just the English perspective on it.”
They enthuse about the glory of Gallipoli. Their sharp criticisms of the Vietnam War – a stupid war that wasn’t ours, that we entered only to keep an ally happy – could be applied just as readily to World War I, but aren’t. It was the birth of the nation, they say, the first time Australia made its own decision to enter a war.

Stewart talks about how Australians were known then, and in Vietnam, as great fighters, and how they’re laconic, like bushmen. Where does that leave Australian women? “Cooking up the damper!” says Fiona, amused but exasperated.

Stewart, aggrieved, explains that he was just leading up to that: “The women are out of it with the wars and stuff, with Anzac Day – we need something where women can feel proud.”
Lara Flynn agrees: “Women were the ones who ran the country while the men were gone, so they should get equal recognition.”
Some of them see war as inevitable: “It’s in human nature to start being suspicious and then fight and be really evil towards each other,” says Fiona.

Lara can see an alternative: forget arms and alliances, she says, and forge new relationships with each other where disputes can be resolved peacefully.

First published in The Age.

A new Australian herstory

Karen Kissane reports on a new history of Australia that, for the first time, interweaves women’s stories with the more familiar yarns of our country’s past.

IN A HOBART factory in the early 1800s, a roomful of women simultaneously turned and slapped their bare bottoms at a sermonising minister. History records their outrageous behavior, but not what sparked it. That is typical of the way history has been written and studied until recently; by men, about men, and from men’s point of view. Women have had little or no place in mainstream history books, and women’s stories, which have only started to be pieced together in the past couple of decades, have largely been confined to texts on women as a group.

This changes with the publication of `Creating A Nation’, a book by four women historians with backgrounds in women’s studies. It is a new mainstream history of Australia that in many ways is quite a traditional narrative, but one in which women’s history is emphasised as much as men’s. The authors believe it to be an international first, with no equivalent in history books about other countries. They hope it will be used as a school and university text, but wonder, too, whether their new entity will fall between the cracks of different disciplines: too mainstream for women’s studies, too feminist for mainstream courses. Either way, laughs co-author Marian Quartly, it will still sit nicely in airport bookshops.

`Creating A Nation’ was written by Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath and Marian Quartly. It has all the familiar refrains of Australian classrooms _ Aborigines and settlers, governors and prime ministers, labor movements and immigration _ but with new harmonies.

Most histories are based on economics and politics; this one also examines the personal and the social. The writers have explored the links between the private and the public worlds of earlier Australians: the status and effects of marriage and divorce, families and childbearing, and the role of women in the home, in the workplace and in public debate.

“The so-called public/private divide is a fiction,” says Marilyn Lake, associate professor in history and director of women’s studies at La Trobe University. One example, she says, is the way “women’s determination to limit their families in the late 19th and 20th centuries led to a reformulation of public policy on immigration. The three million migrants after World War Two arrived directly as a result of individual, private women’s decisions not to have more children.”
Patricia Grimshaw, professor in history at Melbourne University, says women’s lives have traditionally not been studied because they “appeared not to have been event-driven”; women, it was thought, had had no effect on history and were passive creatures of their times. In fact, she says, women were frequent figures in the public world and have made up at least a third of the paid workforce since industrialisation. “Women had an enormous impact on the Arbitration Commission and the course of unionism, for example, because they constituted a threat to the working man’s conditions because they were forced to take lower wages than men. The shaping of the labor movement in Australia has been based on the existence of women as workers.”
The traditional emphasis on men in Australian history has, they argue, helped create a male mythology about what it is to be Australian.

“When people talk about the typical Australian, people think in terms of masculinity without realising it _ the bushman, the digger,” Marilyn Lake says. “They say `He’s laconic, laid back, tall and fair and gangly’. It’s a shock to hear someone say, `The typical Australian looks good in a bikini and lipstick’.” She finds it ironic that soldiers who fought at Gallipoli were said to have “given birth to the nation”; it was women urged to ever greater efforts to increase the population who literally gave birth to the nation. But it had long been felt that Australia would not win its own identity until it had been blooded; in 1906, long before Gallipoli, one public figure predicted that: “We will never have a true Australian nation until the blood of our sons is shed on the battlefields of Europe.”
But although maleness was to be sacrificed at need, it was to be preserved at all costs from the depredations of female advancement. In 1867, members of Victoria’s Legislative Assembly warned that: “Women’s suffrage would abolish soldiers and war, also racing, hunting, football, cricket and all other manly games”.

The book shows how much has changed, and how little. It seems that political leaders have always decried women’s refusal to devote themselves solely to home and family, at one point accusing them of “race suicide” because of their role in falling birth rates. In 1903, a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the problem and came to conclusions that sound familiar today: that women were having fewer babies because they were unwilling to submit to the strain and worry of children, because they wanted to
avoid the physical discomforts of pregnancy and birth, and because of “a dislike of interference with pleasure and comfort”.

Governments had tried retaliating by restricting sales of contraceptives and information about their use but in NSW, at least, this was stopped by a pungent judgment from the Supreme Court’s Justice Windeyer in 1888. He upheld the right of a free-thought lecturer and bookseller, charged with obscenity, to sell works on “preventatives” such as condoms, cervical caps and soluble pessaries. Such information had until then been the preserve of medical professionals. Ruled Windeyer, “Information cannot be pure, chaste and legal in morocco at a guinea, but impure, obscene and indictable in a paper pamphlet at sixpence.” But news does not seem to have spread fast; by 1935, Melbourne’s Royal Women’s hospital was admitting one woman with septic abortion for every two deliveries.

The female story in `Creating A Nation’ is not, however, confined to women’s noble fight for civil liberties. Women then, as women now, were not a homogeneous group, and some were just as likely to inflict oppression as to suffer it. White women abused black women by scouring their skin with kitchen pads or bathing them in boiling water in futile attempts to get them “clean” _ cleanness being confused with paleness in a society that created “racial hygiene laws”. Women who saw themselves as guardians of public morality, such as Frances Perry, the wife of the first Anglican archbishop of Melbourne, refused single mothers admission to maternity hospitals. Says Marian Quartly, associate professor in history at Monash University: “Middle-class women also oppressed working women, although not with the same viciousness as they did black women.”
Historians are just beginning to come to grips with the need for class and race analysis in any national story; the authors of `Creating A Nation’ hope that this book will make it impossible for others to write history without also examining the effects of gender. One of the stories that opens the book shows how enriching that process can be.

Governor Phillip is introduced through the story of Barangaroo, an Aboriginal woman more senior in her tribe than her husband Bennelong.

Bennelong told Phillip at one point that Barangaroo wanted to give birth to her child at Government House, a place the couple had often visited. Phillip refused, insisting that she would have “better accommodation” at the hospital. “Better accommodation” was not the point; Barangaroo probably wanted to deliver at Government House because birthplace was important in Aboriginal society, allowing a child special association with a site. “Barangaroo’s gesture,” says the book, “may thus be seen as a politically significant attempt to incorporate the introduced world into an Aboriginal one”. It is a lovely illustration of the mutual bewilderment of black and white, male and female, poor and privileged, and of the missed opportunities that have resulted.

`Creating A Nation’, by Grimshaw, Lake, McGrath and Quartly; McPhee Gribble, $19.95.

First published in The Age.