Book Review: Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC, by David Hastings

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_odyssey_for_the_unknown_anzacWho is this ANZAC?

David Hastings’ Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC is a great deal more than a fascinating story of a lost soldier of the First World War who was ‘rediscovered’ and reunited with his family 10 years after the end of the war. It is also a commentary on how the British Empire saw war then as an extension of Greek mythology, of how the colonies of New Zealand and  Australia saw themselves at the beginning and during the war, and particularly how psychiatric medicine was still in its infancy.

Actually, George Brown’s case was a stuff-up right from the beginning. He should never have gone to war to fight in Gallipoli and the Western Front,  because of his psychiatric condition. It was recommended by army medical staff on the ship going to war that he should be discharged. Someone lost the paperwork.

After bitter experiences in both theatres of the war, he was found wandering the streets of London, wearing civilian clothes and an Australian army hat.

From the London streets, David Hastings unfolds the often dark story of George Brown as he is sent to Australia and more or less ‘lost’ in a medical institution for returned soldiers.  No-one really knew who he was or where he came from – was he an Australian from the outback or a kiwi from Eketahuna or Stratford? It was not until a photo was eventually published  in the Sydney Sun  in 1928 that  the mystery of who George was, and where he came from, began to unravel .

This book and the way Hastings, a journalist by training has written it, reminds the reviewer of another journalist, Simon Winchester and his book The Surgeon of Crowthorne where the connection is made between a reality, in this case brutal war,  as opposed to a brutal murder, and mental illness. Both books explore the context of the times, conflict and tragedy and its affects on family and individuals.

David Hastings has added a timely addition to New Zealand’s war writing. In this book, he allows us to understand that war and conflict cannot always be told in the poetic  heroics of the Odyssey and the Iliad, but rather can also be told in terms of deep personal loss and tragedy.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC
by David Hastings
Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869408824

 

Book Review: The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie, by David Hastings

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_many_deaths_of_mary_dobieOne sunny afternoon in November 1880, on the road near Ōpunake in Taranaki, visiting Englishwoman, Mary Dobie, is brutally murdered, with her throat cut so deeply that she was all but decapitated. It was a horrific crime by both contemporary and modern standards. Wellington’s Evening Post called it a “shocking outrage”. Speculation was rife – about the nature of the crime, the behaviour of the victim, and the motive of the perpetrator.is an in-depth account of this fascinatingly awful story.

The backdrop to this sad story is the rumbling unease as tensions escalate at Parihaka. The ploughmen have been increasingly active and the pākehā settlers are calling upon the government to take action. Many at the time suspected that there were political motives for Mary’s murder, as she was the sister-in-law of a captain stationed at Taranaki with the Armed Constabulary. A confession is quickly elicited from a young Māori horse wrangler, Tuhi, and he is committed for trial.

Hastings is a journalist by background and has employed all of the talents in his arsenal to comprehensively research the events in the book, drawing upon many first-hand accounts in newspapers, court records and diaries. Sources are meticulously documented in the Notes and Bibliography, leaving no doubt that this tale is well-researched. The inclusion of photographs and drawings, some by Mary herself, bring the story to life and serve as a sobering reminder that these were real living people, and not merely fictional characters in a sordid whodunit.

This is a fascinating tale of a gruesome killing, made all the more interesting by the surrounding political climate of the time. I confess I had not before heard of the poor ill-fated Mary Dobie, but I will no longer be able to drive around the Taranaki coast without thinking of her. This is a story that stays with you for some time.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth Century New Zealand 
by David Hastings
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN  9781869408374