John Monash: A biography
MUP, $27.50,, 600 pp, 0 522 84239 9
Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.
Fortunately, the Bennett family withheld the papers for longer than an ‘indefinite’ period. In 1975 they granted Geoffrey Serle exclusive access to produce the first comprehensive, thoroughly grounded Life. Equally fortunate is the deposition of the papers in the National Library in Canberra.
Serle speculates in his preface that Monash himself ‘would take exception to little that I have written’. This biography by invitation rather than commission, written by a senior post-World War II historian rather than a writer of Monash’s generation, still draws heavily on the conventions of the traditional, authorised Life.