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Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Saturday, 19th April 2014
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

Desert Sands Jungle Lands: A biography of Major General Ken Eather

By Steve Eather, Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2003, 236 pages, paperback, $35.00. Reviewed by Richard Gehrmann in the August 2004 issue.

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In recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in Australian military history of the second world war, and a corresponding increase in research and publication on this aspect of our past. Desert Sands Jungle Lands falls within the strong tradition of military biographical studies that has seen a range of accounts of the lives of former soldiers such as Vasey, Blamey, Honner and Potts. Readers will now have the opportunity to assess Australian history with this biography of Major General Ken Eather. While for some readers Eather may be a name associated with victory at Kokoda, this book paints a much more complex and fascinating picture. The author (incidentally a distant relative of his subject) is a well established writer of military history who with this book has created a well written and carefully researched account of the life an Australian citizen soldier.

Denied by his age the opportunity to fight in the first world war, Eather combined his civilian work as a dental mechanic with service in the part time army. He trained hard and was rewarded with promotions that reflected his diligence and tenacity in an era when his lack of experience in battle made him an anomaly in an army dominated by returned servicemen of the 1st AIF. For many who read this book as a study of successful leadership, there might be a wish for more detail on Eather's character at this formative stage. Sparse archival records have contributed, but the link between the leadership in peacetime and in war raises interesting questions.

In 1939 Eather sold his practice at a loss to assume command of the 2/1st Infantry Battalion. While he later progressed to command of the 25th Brigade and the 11th Division, his place in the development of the new 2nd AIF was an achievement that is perhaps under recognised compared to his later successes. The training and shaping of an army of predominantly civilian volunteers was not an easy task, and Eather's work in giving life to an 800 strong battalion was as important as later campaigns. In an era of professional armies, we forget that most men and women who served between 1939 and 1945 had little or no prior military experience. This hard training bore fruit in early 1941 when his soldiers played a key role in the Australian victory at Bardia. Success was followed by failure. An infantry battalion is an organic entity, and Eather's troops fought in the disastrous Greek campaign without their pneumonia-stricken leader. In a masterly understatement, the author notes that the fact that only 70 returned played heavily on Eather's mind.

Kokoda has grown increasingly significant to the lay reader of history since Paul Keating's 1992 call to reorient Australian remembrance. Popular works are complemented by Desert Sands, Jungle Lands in that like Edgar's biography of Potts and Brune's of Honer, the campaign is viewed from the commander's position. It was as a commander at Kokoda that Eather made his greatest mark on Australian history, and enthusiasts will greatly enjoy this section of the book. In September 1942 Eather made the decision to withdraw to Imita Ridge, the last line of defence only 42 kilometres from Port Moresby, thus precipitating a command crisis between Blamey and MacArthur. The role of the commander at Kokoda is superbly emphasised by the use of an evocative contemporary photograph on the book cover.

Later campaigns are followed in some detail, while the lengthy recuperation of Eather and his brigade is given little attention. Less eventful than the fighting in New Guinea, the extensive period of retraining was significant, and like many accounts this one does not dwell on more than a year of inaction in 1944-45. Perhaps there is scope for future military historians to undertake work in this area, as while the role of the commander and soldier in combat is usually given attention, periods of quiescence are more typical. There are valuable lessons to be learnt which would be of interest to both historians of world war two and even to contemporary soldiers who spend most of their time training for wars that they never fight. The need to retain reader interest naturally dictates that the long period of stagnation on the Atherton Tableland is not described in detail, but Eather's task in maintaining both his own focus and that of his troops was arguably as great as his achievements as a fighting commander.

After the accidental death of Vasey created a series of vacancies in the Australian command structure, Eather's talents were recognised, and he was promoted to Major General in the final stages of the war. In civilian life, Eather made further contributions by taking steps to bridge the gap between the Vietnam generation of returned soldiers and those of his own war. A useful glossary and excellent command assessment as an appendix complement this most readable account of Major General Eather's life and career -- Australian history is well served by Steve Eather's book.

Citation

  • Richard Gehrmann. 'Review: Desert Sands Jungle Lands: A biography of Major General Ken Eather by Steve Eather' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), August 2004. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 19 April 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • Ken Eather was one of Australia's foremost soldiers. Serving in the pre-WW2 militia he was one of the first officers appointed to the AIF. He led a unit in the key initial assault at Bardia, the Australian army's first major battle of World War 2. After further service in North Africa and Syria he returned to Australia as a brigadier and was one of the senior officers serving on the Kokoda Trail. After further action he was given command of the 11th Division and led the Australian contingent at the 1946 Victory Parade in London.

    Ken Eather was born in 1901 and after an unremarkable childhood he left school at the age of 14 to become an apprentice dental mechanic. As boys from the age of 12 had to join Army cadet units, young Ken had an early taste of soldiering. Graduating from cadets when he turned 18 he was transferred into the conscript Militia (today's Army Reserve) where he became noted as a keen and able soldier. At a time when commissions were largely offered to World War I veterans Eather turned heads when he was commissioned at an early age.

    When war was declared in 1939, Eather was just the third soldier enlisted into the AIF from New South Wales. He formed the 2/1st Battalion of the AIF and later led it with considerable distinction in the AIFs first major battle of World War II - Bardia. He later fought in the battle to capture Tobruk. Promoted to Brigadier he was given command of the 25th Brigade and soon led that formation in the critical and highly contentions actions at Ioribaiwa and Imita Ridge before Port Moresby. His troops later spearheaded the re-capture of the Kokoda Trail before participating in the bitter fighting at Gona. After Japans surrender, and now a Major General, Eather became military governor of New Britain and New Ireland. On 9 May 1993 at the age of 92 Major General K.W. Eather died and was buried with full military honours in Sydney. He was Australia's last remaining World War II general.

Visitors' Responses

  • Review - Desert Sands Jungle Lands
    A quick note to thatnk Richard Gehrmann for his kind review of my recent book.

    His comments are much appreciated and I can only agree with comments that related to lack of records to work with in some cases.

    Regards,

    Steve
    Steve Eathe (20/04/1110)

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Network Review of Books

Allen and Unwin

  • Allen & Unwin commenced publishing in Australia in 1976 as part of the UK-based parent company of the same name. In 1990, following the purchase of the UK parent company by HarperCollins, Allen & Unwin's Australian directors effected a management buy-out and the company became fully independent, owning the Allen & Unwin imprint throughout the world. This year we will publish 220 titles, ranging from fiction and general non-fiction through an academic list specialising in the social sciences and health, to the Allen & Unwin children's list.

NRB August 2004

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