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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Getting the ANZAC story Write

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Mark Dappin

Calling young creatives in the northern rivers! Your opportunity to win $1000, mentoring, and an appearance at Byron Writers Festival 2018.

In a call to young creatives the Byron Writers Festival presents writer, historian and journalist Mark Dapin, who has written and edited numerous books on war. Dapin’s work has seen him shortlisted for the Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award Military History Prize.

Dapin believes that military history has particular relevance for younger generations because it’s about understanding how to stop wars, not how to fight them.

‘I am torn really because I do genuinely believe commemoration is important, even though I think the First World War was a horrible disaster and murderous calamity, and the men who fought and died. It wasn’t a sacrifice worth making but I still believe they should be remembered from a practical point of view – remembering that the government sends millions of people to war and remembering that government ideas can have murderous consequences. People lived short lives because of political systems at the time. I don’t believe it’s ancestor worship, but we have to acknowledge the story.’

His research on war writing led Dapin to the conclusion that there were marked differences between British and Australian war writing.

‘That deep kind of abhorrence of militarism and war that comes through in the great works of Sigfried Sassoon and Robert Graves barely existed in Australian war writing. Contemporary Australian writing was more directed toward low-key patriotism. The Australian writers settle into a kind of feeling that the war was something to be handled, and when it was over, it wasn’t a bit thing.’

In approaching his books Dapin wasn’t looking for material that was the most historically significant; he was looking for the best written. ‘I was staking claims for Australian war writing, especially from the Second World War. Some was journalism that first appeared in collections and then from soldiers. There were some excellent war correspondents such as Kevin Slessor the poet; Donald Friend the painter kept a diary and George Jonston, who wrote My Brother Jack. Even Patrick White wrote a memoir of his time in the army.’

The hero stands strong in the popular concepts of ANZAC writing, but in reflection on the real human stressors at the time Dapin drills down to what it means to be a hero.

‘There’s a fine line between heroism, madness and suicidal behaviour,’ says Dapin. ‘A hero is someone in war, someone who puts the interest of the collective before their survival, someone who goes out to dress the woulnds of a dying man.’

Interestingly, in his research Dapin has discovered that oral histories aren’t always reliable.

‘I am hugely sceptical of the value of oral history; people don’t seem to remember things clearly or at all. I certainly interviewed people a number of times, especially in subsequent conflicts, and the things that they believed happen to them couldn’t have possibly happened, or things they remembered when they weren’t present. There is literature around a collective history that tends to become expressed in fighting men where they adopt the stories of others as their own. This is clear, through all oral history in conflicts, in all nations.’

That is why for Dapin it was important to source original writing from the time of the conflict, as reflection was often wildly inaccurate or misremembered.

When Dapin gives his lecture at the launch of Northern Rivers’ Memory of War: Stories of then, told by people of Now he will also be available for Q&A.

Mark Dapin on the Anzac legacy | Thursday 8 March | 4–5.30pm | Whitebrook Theatre, Southern Cross University, Military Road, Lismore | Free | Bookings: byronwritersfestival.com/anzac

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