A paper delivered at the American Civil War Roundtable of Australia some time past.

When on the 18 July 1864 Joseph E. Johnston handed command of the Army of Tennessee to John Bell Hood, it numbered 64,000 effectives, 47,000 infantry including the Georgia militia, 13,000 cavalrymen and 4,000 artillerymen with 187 guns. Five months later, what remained of the army went into bivouac at Tupelo, Mississippi, south of the Tennessee River with fewer than 18,000 men, half of whom were shoeless and unarmed, possessing virtually no artillery and but a few wagons. Such was the reduced state of this gallant army after the Battles of Atlanta and the disastrous Franklin/Nashville campaign.

An examination of Australian enlistment numbers and motivation in the First World War

Australians enjoyed a duality of identity in 1914 as Australian-Britons. Despite a burgeoning parochial national sentiment in the early part of the twentieth century, Australians were just as prone to be moved by images of John Bull and Union Jacks as they were of Kangaroos and sprigs of wattle. One did not cancel out the other. The men who enlisted in 1914 didn’t question the relevance of Empire or the roles of Britain and Australia within it. In all likelihood most men believed Australia had an obligation to the defence of the Empire and believed Britain’s reasons for going to war were reasonable and honorable.

On St Valentine’s Day 1916 one of the worst examples of soldier unrest occurred in Australia’s military history when an estimated 10,000 volunteers took leave of their training camps at Casula and Liverpool and marched in protest through the city of Sydney. The day would end in tragedy with the death of a soldier but it was a day that also saw widespread disruption to the city’s activity and destruction to numerous properties. This mass demonstration on the part of the soldiers was variously described as a strike, a mutiny and a riot. In truth it was all of these things. It was an extraordinary and spontaneous explosion of disaffection on the part of the volunteers and one which alarmed civic leaders, military commanders and the police.

Paper delivered at the ACWRTA conference ‘Reconstruction’ on 19 March 2016


For 150 years the idea of the unreconstructed rebel has run consistently through popular literature and film and the clichéd caricature is no better illustrated than through such exaggerated creations as Yosemite Sam as we have just seen. Yet as those of us who have travelled to the South will readily attest Yosemite Sam is not that fictitious. Sad but true. The notion of the unreconstructed rebel took root almost as soon as the banners of the Confederate armies were lowered.

Paper delivered at the ACWRTA conference ‘1864’ in March 2014.

In the story of 1864 the names of Grant and Lee have become almost synonymous. The armies of the two men would be locked in a death struggle for nine months, grappling and clawing at each other from the Rapidan to the trenches of Petersburg until the guns fell silent at Appomattox. In this bloody window of time one tends to rarely mention one without the other.

Paper delivered as a summer scholar at the Australian War Memorial in February 1994

It seems an incontestable fact that in early 1942 many Australians feared a major attack from Japan. The basis of this fear lay chiefly in the rapid string of military successes Japan attained, following its opening gambit in December 1941, which brought the Second World War to Australia’s doorstep. The Japanese advance into Papua New Guinea placed the Australian state of Queensland squarely as part of Australia’s defensive front line.

The Australians who sailed to war in 1914-18 carried White Australia with them. Protection of White Australia was uppermost in their minds. Support Britain and ensure British support in holding back the Asiatic hordes should they strike south. Even those who opposed entering a European War argued that it would open Australia to invasion as well as seeing Australian workers undermined by the introduction of cheap coloured labour.

Diggers and Doughboys: Australian and American troop interaction on the Western Front, 1918.

Lecture delivered at the ACWRTA June meeting, Melbourne, 2012

In June 1862 the achievements that built Lee’s fame lay in the future. The general, who succeeded Joseph E. Johnston on 2 June following Johnston’s wounding at Seven Pines on the outskirts of Richmond, was largely unknown and as much a mystery to southerners as he was to northerners. The future in early June 1862 did not look bright. As Ross Brooks so ably demonstrated last month, southerners in May 1862 despaired over the Confederacy’s prospects and felt God had forsaken their cause. Tennessee was lost, New Orleans captured, southern ports were blocked and there were numerous Union incursions along the eastern seaboard and now McClellan’s Union army, after a painstakingly slow advance up the peninsula, lay only five miles from the Confederate capital. Little wonder chronicler Mary Chestnut could not put pen to paper at this critical time as the Confederate government made arrangements to flee.

“It might be my imagination, though I think not, but did the nation’s celebration of Australia Day go up a notch this year? Without the aid of extensive survey material on the subject I can only hazard an educated guess and my conclusion is that it did.”

“What I thought I would do was to just reflect on the place and role of the things we have come together to celebrate tonight – bush poetry, the bush ballad and Australian song – their importance over the years to our culture and specifically to our supposed national character.

It is worth noting that these things represent an Anglo-Celtic history and their appeal, I suspect, remains largely to audiences with an Anglo-Celtic heritage.”

“Paul Keating’s view that Gallipoli is an inappropriate defining point of Australian identity has drawn an emphatic string of rebuttal from, among others, leading labor politicians who ought to know better (Age 1/11).

In declaring his position, Keating has merely echoed an opinion that was actually argued by many (but not all) returned soldiers who fought in the First World War of which Gallipoli was but the beginning for this nation.”