Friday, February 16, 2007

A soldier of the Australian Light Horse Brigade gathers anemones

Palestine, 1918, Frank Hurley, official Australian war photographer. Wikimedia®
This photo makes me think of my Pa, Tom Butcher, who was a Gunner in World War 1. His asthma was really bad when he came back from the front. Some said it was the mustard gas. He died of an asthma attack early one morning in Invermay, Launceston Tasmania. I asked my Auntie about it the other morning: what did she remember? "I heard Mum screaming," she said. The radio was on... the news... 1956... the Hungarian uprising. He had fallen out of bed in the night. He was on the floor."

I am struck by the sharpness of her memory: the way the news broadcast stayed in her mind and located his death in historical time, in public history - and strangely in another violent armed struggle of European history...down here in Tassie, so close to the south pole, so far away from 'the centre'.

As I prepare for return to Tasmania for the next phase of the film: Aboriginal protocols, filming with elders from the community, my own family permissions...dialogue exchange - I think about historian Henry Reynolds and Ken Inglis's work who do we mourn in Australian history
in the public ceremonies? Reynolds asks why we don’t honour Aboriginal deaths in the frontier wars of the 19th and 20th centuries; Henry Reynolds: "If we make the centrepiece of our celebration, our invasion of Turkey, a country we knew nothing about and had no direct experience with, I can’t see why we can’t come to terms with our invasion of Australia...Now, if remembering deaths is important, then we have to do something to show we take their deaths as seriously as we take our own."

1 comment:

  1. Jeni, just to introduce myself, I was reading your blog entry regarding the Light Horse. What caught my attention was more your thoughts regarding reframing history and the media in which you are doing so as a practical expression of that philosophy.

    In essence we are working on the same project from different places and entry points.

    The Henry Reynolds comments are wonderful theoretical calls which tend to be meaningless if not followed by understanding and action. It is a realisable goal in a very incremental manner. I have been working at providing some of those increments.

    To give you an example, on my Light Horse blog, there is this entry:

    A careful examination of the list will allow the reader to discover the names of British and Turks, a reframing of a seminal and seen as an entirely Australian experience within the Gallipoli story. It is from this story of the futile charge of the 3rd LHB at the Nek that the film "Gallipoli" received its inspiration. By placing Turkish casualties on the list, the aim is to remove the Turk from the shadows and put a name to the man, thereby putting the experience into sharp relief, no longer an enemy but a fellow sufferer.

    At the moment, I am the only Australian historian utilizing the names found in the Turkish work:


    Sehitlerimiz is an expression conveying the sentiment of celebration of martyrs - Our Glorious Martyrs - in this case, Turkish dead as a consequence of the various wars in which Turkey has participated over the last century. By combining the casualty lists, as mentioned above, the aim is to humanise the experience, thereby making it difficult to demonise the antagonists. I suppose it is taking language into new forms and understandings, incrementally, slowly moving towards a noble goal.

    Anyway, I have waffled enough. If you are interested in furthering a dialogue, please feel free to reply.



    Australian Light Horse Studies Centre