Book Notes: "An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942" by Peter Grose

An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942 by Peter Grose

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I went to Canberra recently, and knew I would have a few hours of waiting, I absent-mindedly left my current book sitting on the table at home. It was after 5pm in Canberra, so of course my options for purchasing a book were limited. I found that Target at Belconnen was still open, and I thought that, worse case, this book might provide me with some historical knowledge. It did. But I must say that as I was reading, I found Grose's tone to be rather grating (probably like mine when I get on my high-horse about Australia and Australians). Grose doesn't pretend that he likes Administrator Abbott (the Northern Territory's head-honcho in the '30s and '40s). Indeed, he states that he finds it hard to like him. Grose, too, makes an inadvertent claim that "Canberra" did this and that in the early 1900s when appointing a man to run the Territory. Of course, "Canberra" was not the centre of the federal government until 1927 - it was run from Melbourne. I am sure that Grose knows this, but the anachronism grated. And having previously lived in Canberra for near-on twenty years, the use of the city's name to represent all that is bad in our political system still annoys me no end. As the book develops, Grose indicates that he was writing as a counter to Paul Hasluck's history. Hasluck saw the reaction of the people of Darwin to be a case of national shame. Grose brought me back to the fold when he mentions the popular Australian dislike of "reffos" (refugees) and the way "these people" behave. Grose tells us that when Australians, following the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese in '42 became "reffos", they behaved like every other group of refugees. The book was not everything I expected, and upon completion, I was pleased that it was not a "white" armbanding of the omnipotence of ordinary Australians who, unlike the rest of the people of the world, are somehow superior because they just are, and Grose was at pains to make this clear that he was not of that brigade. For this I was truly grateful. There are numerous historical facts and corrections to the record, and I have a much better historical understanding of what happened in the first attack on Australian soil since 1788. But I didn't like Grose's tone, especially where he puts his personality into his work. This is remarkable in that I do the same thing, yet here I am reacting as others do to my own work. Surely there is a lesson for me in the reading of this book. It is unfair to lump all of this on Grose, and given my lack of knowledge on the historical subject, I am hardly one to judge. Yet the lesson I have learnt from this book is very powerful, even though I lament readers' aversion to any form of personality in one's writing that does not display enthusiasm for a cause one way or another. As La Rochefoucauld wrote in 1665: "Enthusiasm is the only convincing orator; it is like the infallible rule of some function of Nature. An enthusiastic simpleton is more convincing than a silver-tongued orator". I suppose had I liked this book more, I would have respected Grose less.

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