Out of Work: A VC’s Relief
I listened this week to a 2012 interview Professor Bruce Scates gave about ANZAC Day:
It got me thinking about what ANZAC Day means, how it’s commemorated, and how that commemoration has evolved over time.
Prof Scates mentioned a soldier who had been awarded a VC after Gallipoli, but returned from war a pacifist. He was apparently invited to open a war memorial and proceeded to advocate pacifism in his keynote speech. I was intrigued, having grown up in WA I’d never heard of Throssell. A quick search of Trove took me to this article about his return to WA— subtitled “Out of work, but never so pleased to lose a job in my life.”
The journalist hoped Throssell would share his story in public…that he did in a way.
Throssell was a well-connected West Australian. He was the son of a former Premier, and married to the already-famous novelist Katharine Susannah Pritchard. A war hero, he was destined to remain in the public eye. Perhaps post-war Perth wasn’t quite ready for his message. Sadly, Throssell took his own life in 1933. Like many veterans he struggled with the physical and psychological scars of war, never really recovering.
As Prof Scates said, ANZAC day is a day of remembering. But it’s not just the heroes, or those who died on the battlefield that we should remember. It is the myriad of stories, with twists and turns like Throssell’s, that comprise the ANZAC tradition.
My first #TroveTuesday post…and I’m sticking to family history.
I’ve been researching the life and times of my great-great-grandfather—nicknamed Brickie—on and off for a few years now. It’s been a somewhat frustrating search, as most of the narrative I’ve found leads back to a setting-the-record-straight-letter Brickie himself wrote to J.J.Kenneally, author of The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (1929). Being a lover of evidence to back up a story and an argument, I want more than his word for it.
The official record tells us virtually nothing about Brickie’s early life, but he burst onto the public scene in spectacular fashion in 1878 when he was arrested and charged—along with Ellen Kelly—with the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. The events of that night, confused as they were, snowballed and lead ultimately to Ned’s famous last stand. Was Brickie just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he close to the Kelly family? My Trove search tonight dug up an interview with Ned Kelly from 1880 which I hadn’t seen before:
I loved hearing Ned’s voice; the Q&A format gives the interview an aura of authenticity, leaving little room for journalistic interpretation. Ned described Brickie as “not related to us; he occupied land at Greta.” Maybe Ned was just trying to do Brickie a good turn by dissociating him from the Kelly family, but it strikes me as a dismissive assessment of Brickie’s role. But that’s my interpretation, isn’t it?!
Like most families, mine has a few skeletons in the closet. Finding those skeletons has made me question whether I should really be digging up and exposing episodes in my ancestors’ lives that they most likely wanted to keep private, even secret. Is it really fair to their memory? I think the answer lies in what I do with the information. In Brickie’s case, I know that he was ultimately pardoned, so I want to finish the job and put the events of 1878 in context by finding out all I can.
P.S. Trove also pointed me to the fact that the proceedings of the Royal Commission into the Victorian Police Force which ultimately granted Brickie his pardon are available at the State Library of NSW—easier (but much less fun) than the trip to the PROV in Melbourne I thought I’d have to make!
I’m looking forward to seeing the National Gallery of Victoria’s Napoleon exhibition in Melbourne in a couple of weeks. I studied Napoleon earlier this year and while I had the chance to re-assess his actions and legacy, I’m not sure I really changed my mind about him. But I did realise just how much I had been brought up with the ‘English’ version of Napoleon.
I scoffed audibly during a lecture when I read Napoleon’s words “Is there any point on which I could be attacked and which a historian could not take up my defence? My intentions perhaps? He has evidence enough to clear me. My despotism? He can prove that dictatorship was absolutely necessary. Will it be said that I restricted freedom? He will be able to prove that licence, anarchy, and general disorder were still on our doorstep. Shall I be accused of having loved war too much? He will show that I was always on the defensive.” (From The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from his Written and Spoken Words, edited and translated by J.Christopher Herold (Columbia University Press, 1995)).
Always on the defensive?? But to put Napoleon’s early years in context, he was ‘installed’ at the point at which the Revolution was in danger of falling apart. France was surrounded by monarchies and Empires desperate to defeat the upstart revolutionary, ‘new’ nation. Napoleon fought the war to save the Revolution on many fronts. He succeeded in salvaging the Revolution. So initially he can perhaps justifiably claim to have been on the defensive. Unfortunately he went on to instal himself as Emperor and to sacrifice the lives of countless young men in his pointless push into Russia – it is for this military debacle that he is perhaps best known in England.
Napoleon was and remains a polarising figure. I look forward to seeing what the NGV makes of him.
This is a test, my first post. I’ve written what I aim to do on this blog under the ‘About Me’ tab. Now all I need to do is think about my first substantive blog post – watch this space! As I’m a perfectionist, it’s taking me a while to get this blog looking how I want it to look, less important than the substance I know, but every time I sit down to write, I just keep fiddling around with settings!