We’re All Australians Now
A.B. (Banjo) Paterson
Angus & Robertson, 2015
hbk., 32pp., RRP $A24.99
It is said that the events at Gallipoli throughout 1915 and later on the Western Front are what forged the bonds that forged our nation. Even though the six states had united under Federation in 1901 there was still a lingering colonist attitude with a greater allegiance to the Mother Country than to the fledgling nation of Australia.
At the outbreak of World War I, A. B. “Banjo” Paterson travelled to London to try to get a post as a war correspondent building on his reputation and following as a poet and writer that he had established in Australia. When he was unsuccessful in that, he worked as a volunteer ambulance driver on the Western Front and eventually he became an officer in the AIF in the Middle East. And from there he witnessed the coming together of young men from each state and disparate backgrounds into a unique and united force that took the enemy on under
Our six-starred flag that used to fly,
Half shyly in the breeze,
Unknown where older nations ply
Their trade on foreign seas.
So in 1915 he wrote an open letter to the soldiers that acknowledges their diversity and their willingness to put that aside to answer the call to arms.
The old state jealousies of yore
Are dead as Pharaoh’s sow,
We’re not State children any more
We’re all Australians now!
He recognises their bravery across all the theatres of the war from Gaba Tepe to the Battle of Cocos where HMAS Sydney defeated the Emden, and emphasises the pride those at home had in the boys overseas.
And now we know what nations know
And feel what nations feel.
Even though this may have been one of Paterson’s less well-known poems, bringing it to life again in 2015 is a master stroke as we focus on our identity, who we are as a nation and what we stand for. But, powerful as Paterson’s poetry is, the illustrations of Mark Wilson add so many more layers to the words that it’s like an onion – each reveals something more underneath. There’s the little girl diligently knitting a sock yet thinking about the letter from her daddy juxtaposed with her daddy burrowed into a trench writing it; the vignettes of the soldiers from all over answering that call; the battle fields and mate helping mate – every single picture, every colour choice, every carefully-considered layout adds another thread to the tapestry that is woven between author and illustrator. Even the cover where the picture of the soldier picking poppies is more important than the title, the author and the illustrator underscores the focus of this book.
There is a saying that every cloud has a silver lining and the lining of the centenary of this time in our history is that the very best of our authors and our illustrators are creating exquisite picture books that are so much more than the story of our heritage. We’re All Australians Now is in that top echelon of the best of the best and I would not want to be one of the CBCA judges having to decide this year’s picture book winner!