Big-noting: The heroic theme in Australian war writing
Melbourne University Press, $34.95 hb, 294 pp
At a time when critics are becoming increasingly interested in Australia’s war literature Robin Gerster turns to it for an understanding of how national legends are created and perpetuated.
With World War I, European and English writers recognized that the development of technology in weaponry and munitions enabled military bureaucrats to destroy on a dimension never before envisaged. The historical concept of dying for the honour and glory of one’s country was abandoned in literature about ‘the common soldier’ where the individual was seen as passive rather than active, a victim rather than a hero. Australian writing was also anti-war but the individual was given a heroic dimension. He too was a victim but his individuality, his Australianness, was celebrated. The collective result is a literature which, if not actually propagandist in tone, is the stuff from which mythologies are made.