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The essay examines the literary consequences of an Australian need for an enemy in the nation-building and myth-making process, and traces how perceptions of the enemy have changed in Australian poetry and prose of war since 1885. It also compares Australian with some British and American war literature from the same period.
Surveys poetry and verse, personal narratives and popular novels written by Australian women about the Great War. Finds as major preoccupations and concerns in this type of literature: fear of threats to their class and race caused by war; fear for the family; glorification of White Australia; concerns about the future of the British Empire.
Discusses a number of war novels which, rather than focussing on military conflicts, centre on the ways in which war has shaped Australian experience. Argues that while in a first stage of writing about the First World War the focus was on positive myth-making, on the growth of Anzac male myths of a national 'coming-of-age', these later novels highlight the often destabilising effects of war on specifially Australian experience.
A number of authors of war literature were sent a questionnaire by ALS, asking them to write about why they had turned to war as a subject or vehicle, what challenges they had encountered in treating the subject of war, what kind of research and/or other elements (such as personal experience) had been involved, and in what way their books related to war in general and to Australian experiences in particular.