EJANZH: Martyr on Lloyd and Rees

Clem Lloyd, and Jacqui Rees, The Last Shilling: a history of repatriation in Australia , Melbourne University Press, 1994.

This is a long-overdue piece of work. The history of repatriation in Australia has tended to turn up in a multitude of diverse forms – state-focused articles like Gough’s study of the repatriation of the first AIF in Queensland, chapters in monographs, and studies of aspects of repatriation such as the role of women, or of voluntary work and fund-raising. What Lloyd and Rees have done is add to this compendium of knowledge a thorough reporting of the contents of masses of Commonwealth archives.

I do not envy them for one instant. Government archives hold a fascination for a rare few, among whom I do not count myself. They are a valuable source, but can often be initially shied away from by the historian, no matter how conscientious, because of their sheer weight and plodding style of writing. It is far more palatable in many cases to have the basics of the documents in pre-digested form, from which the interested (or suspicious) historian may then attack the primary sources. This book is just such a jumping-off point. As an introduction to the available sources, and a *precis* of their contents, it will almost certainly prove a vital key to unlocking these archives for future studies of repatriation.

Lloyd and Rees, in concentrating so heavily on the governmental aspect, have written not so much a history of repatriation but a history of the Repatriation Department, later the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. On the other hand, this approach reminds the reader that repatriation, in its twentieth century form, is essentially a function of the modern state. Lloyd and Rees’ outline of pre-1900 attempts at repatriation shows only too clearly that wide-scale repatriation would only be effective under state jurisdiction, and even then those who slipped through the net of benefits suffered through the post-war societies of the 1920s-30s and then the 1950s.

The book has illustrations, and plenty of them, to brighten the occasional tedium – one of the hardest things about basing research on government documents is trying to make the conclusions lively and interesting. It is a thankless task, and one which the authors have done well at in most places. What surprises me is the relatively small amount of secondary material used overall. There is a small but comprehensive collection of secondary analyses of repatriation published in Australia – Gough’s 1978 article, and Lloyd Broderick’s 1990 commentary on the human cost of the Great War, are two examples which do not appear in this work’s bibliography. Nonetheless, Lloyd and Rees present the human face of repatriation – the chapters on ‘The Cyanide Gang’ and ‘Out of the Limelight’ are particularly harrowing, and the authors’ insights on physical disabilities and their consequences, such as ‘phantom limb’ pain, are fascinating.

Repatriation in Australia is, historically, a difficult and complex phenomenon, quite radically different from repatriation in the US and in Great Britain in many ways, one of which being its willingness to incorporate women in the services into the various schemes. Yet the national icon of the ‘digger’ exists in contradiction to the reality of the returned soldier, doctor or nurse trying to fit back into a community which, in some cases, would no longer accommodate them. Broken families, reunited families, orphaned children, the ‘silent cities’ of war graves overseas, the spectacle of nervous breakdown in front of uncomprehending wives and relatives, and the physical legacy of the maimed and limbless all form part of Lloyd and Rees’ history of repatriation. They fill out what would have otherwise been a rather dry and lifeless history, and make it one which is worthy of reference and consultation, if only a chapter at a time – there is a weight of information in this work, and it is one which needs careful reading. I hope it forms the basis of a great deal of future research in this area, because I believe there is still much which needs to be done.

Dr P J Martyr studied History at UWA, is a recent immigrant from the Mainland, and lectures at the University of Tasmania, Launceston.