ANZAC & Gallipoli picture books
I reviewed these books for the SMH/The Age in 2015 – so it is a review of its time.
Thanks to Susan Wyndham for commissioning the review.
Gallipoli books for children open an enlightening window on the reality of war
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD/THE AGE April 25, 2015
By Joy Lawn
RUTH STARKE AND ROBERT HANNAFORD
Working Title Press, $29.99
The Beach They Called Gallipoli
JACKIE FRENCH AND BRUCE WHATLEY
Angus & Robertson, $24.99
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
ERIC BOGLE AND BRUCE WHATLEY
Allen & Unwin, $24.99
The Last Anzac
GORDON WINCH AND HARRIET BAILEY
New Frontier Publishing, $24.99
Every year for the past decade or so there’s been a stream of picture books published for children leading up to Anzac Day but this year there’s a torrent because of today’s commemoration of the centenary of the first Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
These impressive new books about the Anzacs should be a potent repellent against war for young people. The horror of past war, portrayed here with power and artistry, could deter readers from ever actively seeking or accepting war, without detracting from the sacrifice of Australians past and present who fight alongside our allies and defend our freedom.
The new Gallipoli books for young readers often build on the archetypal story of a young man, alone or with mates, who joined up in an outbreak of patriotism, trained near the Egyptian pyramids and experienced mateship while enduring the agony of the trenches, injury and death. Many augment this core narrative with the important roles of women’s and ethnic minorities such as Aboriginal and Asian-Australians.
Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford integrate these groups effectively in My Gallipoli. Their real and fictitious characters briefly tell their own stories, such as that of Turkish Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal who won the pivotal battle at Chunuk Bair. Turkish viewpoints have been shown in children’s literature in the past but understanding of the “other” point of view is growing. The charcoal, watercolour and gouache illustrations show the chaos of Gallipoli within a chronological timeline, leading us to Lone Pine Cemetery in 1990.
Australian Children’s Laureate Jackie French and artist Bruce Whatley take us further in The Beach They Called Gallipoli. Also structured chronologically, it opens in April 1915 where French eloquently sets the scene: “War snatched and battered many places. One was a Turkish beach.” She finely, yet uncompromisingly, describes the carnage of war until the times when pilgrims start coming to this symbolic place to remember and mourn.
Finally, the book brings us to Anzac Day 2015, when 10,000 stand together in commemoration. Whatley’s digitally manipulated photographs and pen, ink, watercolour and acrylic collages exemplify the outstanding quality of current Australian book illustrations.
Whatley also demonstrates his artistic range in his illustrations for Eric Bogle’s emotive song from 1971, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Whatley’s searing line drawings and allusive blood-splotches bring Bogle’s anti-war tribute to the injured and slain to a new generation. This protest-song, written about Gallipoli to highlight the waste of lives in the Vietnam War, is still relevant today. The lyrics, derived from our unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, are heartrending.
Even though bands still play Waltzing Matilda, as Bogle predicted, the time has come when “Some day no one will march there at all … And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong. ‘Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?'”
The last surviving Anzac from Gallipoli, Alec Campbell, died in 2002. In contrast to the sophisticated and explicit artwork of the books reviewed above for older children, Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey’s The Last Anzac protects its intended younger readers from the worst of war.
The illustrations here are more colourful and conventional, and injuries are appropriately glossed over in this tale based on the true story of a boy who travelled to Tasmania in 2001 to meet 102-year-old Alec Campbell. Their time eating together in warmth and comfort is interspersed with Alec’s memories of bully beef and hard biscuits in the trenches. Reminiscences of Alec’s enlistment at the age of 16 and time at Gallipoli near the end of the campaign in 1915 flow through their conversation.
Like the other, often unknown, soldiers encountered in these picture books, Campbell was a hero who has become part of our folklore and heritage. The Anzacs at Gallipoli created the possibility of victory from defeat. These books open an enlightening window into the sacrifice of war and importance of Anzac Day for children. Adults may also be surprised, sobered and deeply moved by the power of picture books.