Red Coat Dreaming: How Colonial Australia Embraced The British Army
Cambridge University Press, $39.95 hb, 196 pp
It is ironic that I am writing this review on the tenth anniversary of the comprehensive defeat of the Republican referendum in 1999. This book by Craig Wilcox sets out to tell us that the British army (the Red Coats of the title) was much more popular in the colony than we had hitherto thought. Indeed, on the evidence, it was more popular in Australia than it ever was in Britain, which, even in the nineteenth century, had no love for standing armies.
Wilcox’s thesis makes sense from the start. In the early colonies, the Red Coats represented order, some glamour with their frequent parades and marches, and could be relied upon to massacre the few Aborigines or convicts who threatened to get out of hand. Indeed, one Aboriginal leader, Bungaree, was dressed by Governor Macquarie in a red coat, and it is by no means certain that this was done for people’s amusement, or that Bungaree did not consider himself to have been honoured rather than to have been made a dupe.