Marked men

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  • Published 20150505
  • ISBN: 9781922182807
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

GERMAINE GREER’S FATHER never hugged her. Born just before World War II, Greer’s childhood was overshadowed by a father who had served in military intelligence and survived the protracted horrors of the German siege of Malta, and returned suffering the effects of anxiety disorders and near-starvation. Greer found him cold, reserved and distant, unwilling or unable to respond to her desire for familial intimacy. Her story of a father altered as a returned serviceman – alienated and aloof, seemingly out of place in the feminised space of home and family – is one echoed in the stories of Australians from many walks of life. War service may have been mythologised and enshrined in the national narrative, but the private experience of return is all too often suffused with personal ache and anguish, marking out a profound generational and inter-generational legacy of psychological loss.

Twenty years ago, when I first began to research the experiences of returned Australian servicemen from the major wars of the twentieth century, evidence of the costs of war – material and emotional – surfaced in abundance. Official archives contained numerous reports of the pressures on widows and children struggling to survive when breadwinners had fallen in combat, or the burdens on wives and mothers caring for severely injured and ill veterans. More commonly, however, these dusty files held disquieting accounts about the strain of living with those demobilised soldiers who were seemingly fit and healthy, but had returned moody and withdrawn – by turns sullen and violent, prone to fits of rage, unable to hold down jobs and salving their private torments in drink or drugs.

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