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Australia's National Identity and Wartime Experience

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1524 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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Analytical Response

Analyse, evaluate and compare the language used to represent Australia’s National Identity through wartime experience.

For Australians, their national identity was forged through adversity and struggle. From federation, Australian troops have been involved in all major wars. It is this involvement that has shaped the image of Australians to both Australians and foreigners. Many different works have been represented Australian’s involvement in the First and Second World Wars as well as Vietnam and the Gulf Wars. Two of these works include the films Gallipoli (1981) by Peter Weir, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008). Not only have films represented Australia’s identity, but also books including: Kokoda by Peter FitzSimons and True Blue? On being Australian, edited by Peter Goldsworthy.

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Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981) was a film that is like no other. Instead of portraying the Turks soldiers as the enemy, Weir places the British in that position. In fact, in the film, the Turkish are rarely seen. This is completely juxtaposed to other texts written about the Gallipoli campaign of World War One. So one could say that weir’s intent was not to accuse the Turkish as the enemy, but the British. To portray this, weir used many techniques to establish and demonstrate their meaning.

One theme in the film is Australia’s coming of age. This is shown throughout the film but is shown early on through the scene when Uncle Jack is reading by The Jungle Book and how Mowgli has grown up and has to leave his family; the pack of wolves that have raised him all his life. Just as Mowgli, Australia has grown up and no longer has to seek protection from England. In his interview on the special features of Gallipoli (1981), Mel Gibson said “Gallipoli was the birth of a nation…” (Weir, 1981); this idea is also shared by many others including the British Generals at Gallipoli.

“Though many were shot to bits, without hope of recovery, their cheers resounded…They were happy because they knew that they had been tried for the first time and not found wanting.” (Manne, 2007).

Loyalty is a value that Australians hold very dear. Weir links this value and waste of potential that Australia suffered. Weir draws a parallel between Australia’s sporting ability and their loyalty to the war effort, with a recruiter for the Light Horse calling the war “the greatest game of them all” (Weir, 1981). The opening scene shows Archie undertaking his pre-race routine; he then practices the 100 yard dash in record time. This image shows the potential that Archie could have had, yet he is loyal and joins the war effort. Then in the final scene, Archie is in the trenches at Gallipoli when the whistle for them to charge was blown. It shows Archie leaving his most prized items in the trench; his medal and his watch. The medal is symbolises Archie’s potential, what life could have been like and the watch symbolises that Archie’s time has run out and how he is now sacrificing his life for his country; the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of loyalty. Peter FitzSimons also refers to the sacrifice that is made by the diggers in Kokoda.
…They died so young. They missed so much. They gave up so much: their hopes; their dreams; their loved ones. They laid down their lives that their friends might live. Greater love hath no man than this. (FitzSimons, 2008)

This next scene depicts Archie running unarmed across the battlefield. This run is metaphorical, and is used again to show the potential of Archie. When Archie is shot, there is a freeze frame which creates the appearance that as though Archie is breasting tape.

Another text that represents the Australian national identity is Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008). Australia follows the life of an English aristocrat that travels to Northern Australia in 1939 to force her husband to sell his failing cattle property. However before she arrives, he is murdered for his 1,500 head of cattle. The story then continues on with her taking over ‘Far Away Downs and competing for the Army beef contract. The film continues through the struggles of the outback and then finds the cattle ending up in Darwin and loading the cattle on the ship. It then moves into the segment that provides the war time experience; the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese in 1942.

Courage is the biggest value that is demonstrated inn Luhrmann’s film. After the bombing raid by the Japanese, the drover and Magarri sail across to Mission Island to investigate whether Nullah survived. Though this is not historically correct, the Japanese never actually set foot on Australian soil, the act by the drover and Magarri was courageous because in the film this area was inhabited by two Japanese carrier divisions. The idea of courage as an aspect of the Australian identity is also shared by other composers in their representations of Australian identity. Robert Manne wrote that:
“General Birdwood told the writer that he couldn’t sufficiently praise the courage, endurance and soldierly qualities of the Colonials…” (Manne, 2007).

It was the courage shown by all ANZACs on the battlefields of Gallipoli that earned that the title of courageous and it has stuck with Australian’s through to present times. Courage was shown through the struggles that Australian diggers faced in World War Two; especially Kokoda. Alister Grierson’s film Kokoda also focuses on the topic of courage when the Australian diggers held of the advances of the Japanese army. It is commonly accepted that their bravery and courage helped to stop Australia from being invaded Japan.

Through the works of many composers since Australia’s federation, Australia’s national identity has been represented and forged through wartime experience. From World War One to the present time; courage, loyalty and bravery have represented Australians. This has been shown through Australian’s willingness to protect their country and to rather die than surrender the ground they had so dearly fought for. The final aspect and most likely the most important, is Australian’s willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice.


Barrowclough, A. (2008, November 18). Video Review: Australia,The Movie . Retrieved August 10, 2009, from Times Online: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article5178513.ece

FitzSimons, P. (2008). Kokoda. Sydney: Hodder Australia.

Grierson, A. (Director). (2006). Kokoda [Motion Picture].

Luhrmann, B. (Director). (2008). Australia [Motion Picture].

Manne, R. (2007). A Turkish Tale. In N. A. Limited, True Blue? On Being Australian (pp. 63-65). Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

O’Hara, M. (2008). Australia Study Guide. Melbourne: Australian Teachers of Media.

Weir, P. (Director). (1981). Galliopoli [Motion Picture].

Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (2009, August 1). Gallipoli (1981 film). Retrieved August 11, 2009, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli_(1981_film)#Themes



Strand connection is English Communications Project


Text sources are Australia, Baz Luhrmann (Director), Gallipoli, Peter Weir (Director), Kokoda, Alister Grierson (Director), Kokoda, Peter FitzSimons and True Blue? On Being Australian (Editor Peter Goldsworthy)


Critical Analysis




The purpose of my response is to record my current understanding of the focus question in the strand: Australia’s national identity as represented by many composers in works about Australia’s wartime experiences.

Reflective Response

Which texts that represent Australia’s national identity through wartime experience had the greatest effect on me?

There are many texts that focus on the topic of an Australian national identity. These range from colonial texts through to contemporary texts like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) and Peter FitzSimon’s Kokoda (2008). One thing that is commonly mentioned throughout the texts is that Australia’s national identity has been forged by wartime experiences. All but a few of the texts that I studied for this topic had a profound effect on me, whether they are fiction of nonfiction. From Gallipoli to Afghanistan, Australia has played a crucial part in every major world conflict since federation in 1901.

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Peter Weir’s movie, Gallipoli (1981) is a good example of a text that represents Australia’s national identity and is a text that has a great impact on me. When Archie signed up to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), I thought about the potential that is being wasted and then thought about my potential in life, and whether it is being wasted.


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