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Thursday, 10 November 2016
FROM DIGGERS TO DIGGERS: the challenges of returned soldiers turned farmer settlers in “The Last Battle”
They fought for their country in the “war to end all wars”, yet those who survived returned to another, unforeseen battle that many didn’t win.
“The Last Battle” by Professors Bruce Scates and Melanie Oppenheimer reveals the largely untraced history of soldier settlers who struggled to transition from the frontline to the farm, as part of Australia’s first soldier settlement scheme.
With a need for jobs for Australian soldiers returning from World War One, the government’s solution was to assign land where they could make a fresh start.
However, a lack of recognition of the traumas experienced, inadequate support services, and little strategic consideration of the land being allocated and appropriate training meant many soldier settlers were doomed to fail. Fewer than half succeeded in staying on their properties.
“A century on and we’re still learning about the impacts of war and its ripple effect upon veterans and the wider society” says Professor Oppenheimer, Chair of History at Flinders University.
“This book isn’t just a historical account; many of the challenges faced 100 years ago, such as access to services for those with physical and psychological injuries, have enormous relevance today.”
“How does society deal with the legacy of war? There’s a focus on the 50,000 who died, but what about the subsequent sacrifices of those who came home? They survived the war, but how did they survive the peace? It’s as powerful a question today as it was in 1916.”
Professor Oppenheimer says “The Last Battle” draws on recently uncovered archives to reveal very personal stories from the little studied inter-war period.
“It’s often said Australia was blooded in war; really society was transfomed upon the veterans’ return and that’s a story we don’t know enough about.”
“It’s summed up by the poignant words of one veteran who said he thought the Western Front was bad, but it was nothing compared to what he had to deal with coming home.”
“The government saw work as the solution, and little realised it was setting many up to fail. The problem was compounded because land was the province of the states, but the initative was federal,” Professor Oppenheimer says.
“There’s a widespread misconception that the men were ‘given’ the land, when in fact they were 'loaned' monies to purchase the blocks, stock and equipment - and many ended up going bankrupt.”
“From dealing with marginal land, droughts, floods and rabbit plagues, to the struggle of living remotely where access to services like hospitals could mean days or weeks off the farm – it’s clear that it wasn’t for lack of determination or courage that so many struggled and failed.”
“The book does, however, challenge the notion that the scheme was entirely a failure, and reflects on those who experienced success. For all those who left the land, there were those who stayed, some prevailing through nous, or the misfortune of others, or sheer luck. Many of those settlers’ lands can still be found in family ownership today, three or four generations on.”
“Some of the most important contributions were those of the women and children on the land - their physical and emotional support often making all the difference to their men; their hard toil often making the difference between success and failure on a holding” Professor Oppenheimer says.
The Last Battle: Soldier Settlement in Australia 1916-1939 (Cambridge University Press) is being launched at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra on November 11. It is available online and through all good book retailers.
Copies are available for media review upon request.
Professor Oppenheimer will deliver a public lecture in Adelaide on November 16 as part of Flinder University’s Investigators Lecture series.
About the authors
Professor Bruce Scates holds the Chair of History and Australian Studies at Monash University and is the Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies.
Professor Melanie Oppenheimer holds the Chair of History, and is Dean of the School of History and International Relations, at Flinders University.
For further information and interviews please contact
Karen Ashford, Director of Media and Communications, Flinders University
T: 08 8201 2092 M: 0427 398 713 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Media Release supplied to
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
The Consul-General of Greece, Her Excellency Christina Simantiraki joins with veterans family members and supporters witness the donation of the Grant and Moran WW2 collections to the State Library. Photo Craig Tolson 2016
Two Greek campaign veterans families have donated their extensive collections of memorabilia to Victoria's State Library.
Horsham's Private Syd Grant and Ballarat's Lieutenant Henry Moran served with the Australian 2/8th Battalion as it fought its way across the length of Greece in April 1941. This Battalion was mostly recruited from residents from Victoria's western district.
Both diggers fought in the great battle of Vevi in northern Greece, alongside British, New Zealand and Greek troops, facing German SS troops and successfully holding them up for three days. They went on to serve in the defences of the key passes through central Greece.
Henry was evacuated from Kalamata but Syd was not. Helped by local Greek villagers, he made his way down the Mani to the little village of Trachila where he was helped by the people until he was evacuated to Crete and on to Alexandria.
Henry fought on Crete, defending the Allied troops as they withdrew to the southern port of Sfakia, where he was eventually evacuated to Egypt.
Both soldiers had served in the battles of the western desert and returned to Australia.
Syd's collection encompasses over 300 unique photographs, correspondence home and written and audio memoirs. Henry's collection includes a rare copy of the Allied Crete newspaper - the Crete News - as well as video memoirs recorded by his daughter, Joan, who attended the donation ceremony today.
A number of the extended family of Syd Grant attended - including his two daughters, Catherine and Elisabeth and son David. The children of Henry Moran attended - Mick, Jim and Joan.
The Consul-General of Greece, Her Excellency Christina Simantiraki, talks with Catherine Bell, the daughter of Syd Grant. Syd’s son David at left and other daughter, Elisabeth centre. Photo Jim Claven 2016
Others who attended the event were members of Melbourne's Peloponnese community, including Ms Betty Kosmas of the Papaflessas Brotherhood.
On a personal note, it has been a pleasure to have assisted both the Grant and Moran families in making these important donations.
|Me (at left) join Christina Simantiraki and the Syd Grant extended family. Photo Ioanne Kikkides 2016|
|A gathering in Kalamata Greece of Greeks and a few Australians .G.Maxwell with hands on his hips. He is now a prisoner 28 April 1941. Syd Grant Collection|
Two of the many Greek girls who fed us with bread and water standing at the entrance of an old church at Trachila Greece 30 April 1941. Syd Grant Collection
A terror for the plonk at Neon Corinth [Neo Khorion or Neo Chorio] Crete May 1941. Syd Grant Collection
Greek campaign Veteran former Lieutenant Henry Bernard Moran holding his copy of the Crete News, 20 years ago. Courtesy of family of Henry Bernard Moran, 2015
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
& Member, Battle of Greece and Crete Commemorative Council