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Digger Smith

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Books | 0 comments

Digger Smith coverDigger Smith and Australia’s Great War (Murdoch/Pier 9, Sydney, 2011)

I got the idea for this book from the research for Men of Mont St Quentin. C.J. Dennis was a close friend of the Robertses (he wrote The Sentimental Bloke in atheir back garden at Sunnyside). Frank Roberts fed Dennis snippets of AIF slang. Soon after Frank was killed at Mont St Quentin Dennis published Digger Smith. Hoping to find something of Frank’s experience in the text I naturally read it. It didn’t reflect much of Frank’s time on the Western Front (and why would it – it’s about a man who returns maimed from the war). But Digger Smith did suggest a completely novel and, I thought, fertile approach to Australia’s experience of the Great War.

Why had Dennis chosen to call his main character Smith? Because the name represented everyman, of course. But who was the real Digger Smith? What if we investigated how Smiths of all kinds experienced the war? A bit of preliminary digging suggested that this approach could indeed be promising. I established that about 5000 Smiths served in uniform (and soon realised that many served under Smith as an alias). I also realised that the question could be applied to all Smiths, not just those in uniform, and that the idea needed to encompass the Schmidts if it was to reflect the experience of Australia as a whole.

Diana Hill at Murdoch liked the idea, and the research seemed to go like smoke in 2009-10. The book appeared in August 2011.

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