Historian, Writer, Commentator, Consultant.

The Remote Garrison

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

Remote Garrison coverThe Remote Garrison: the British Army in Australia, 1788-1870 (Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986)

In 1979, recently graduated with a Grad. Dip. Ed. (in that quintessential 70s subject, ‘Integrated Studies’) I was wilfully unemployed. Though qualified to teach I felt scarred by unhappy experiences as a student teacher and was quite happy to regard the dole as a research grant while I indulged myself by conducting research rather than going out after a proper job. I was one of Malcolm Fraser’s “dole bludgers”: except that I had never worked as hard as I did that year. Early in the year, inspired by a telephone conversation with Brigadier Maurice ‘Bunny’ Austin (Clem Sargent referred me to Bunny – he had just published his book on the British Army in Australia in the 1840s). I decided to write a book about the British Army in colonial Australia and spent my days in the National Library of Australia, walking to and from my digs in O’Connor. By the time I eventually got a job – as a ‘base grade clerk’ in the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network – ACTION, geddit? – I had enough material to write a book.

I wrote it in 1982-83, working in the evenings. After being rejected by Osprey Books (then the pinnacle of my publishing ambitions) I approached Henry Rosenberg at Kangaroo Press, pitching it as an illustrated book for family historians. I was very fortunate to have met Lindsay Cox, then a Telecom technician and a collector of imperial German militaria, now curator of the excellent Salvation Army heritage collection in Melbourne. Lindsay did an impressive job of interpreting my interpretation of the uniforms which British soldiers probably did wear in colonial Australia (as opposed to the uniforms that were supposed to have worn).

The uniform illustrations aroused some huffing and puffing from the late Colonel Ralph Sutton, who thought that even men guarding convict iron gangs in the bush of New South Wales should have shaved, and he thought it disgraceful that they should have been shown wearing patched trousers or straw hats. I responded to this critique with an article in Sabretache discussing the sources and arguing that my interpretation was justifiable.

But if Colonel Sutton disliked The Remote Garrison, family historians seemed to like it. Even though Kangaroo Press remaindered it within weeks of it appearing (something I never understood, though it clearly had a lot to do with the economic of small publishing) they continued to buy and use it. For a time I ran a ‘British Army in Australia Research Group’, mostly comprising family historians. I still get letters from people chasing red-coated ancestors.

One of the best illustrations in the book is Lindsay’s interpretation of a soldier of the 40th Foot casing bushrangers from Bothwell in Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1820s (based on descriptions of Sergeant Anderson in the official records). When in 2010 I finally visited Bothwell, I found that the local historical society had appropriated Lindsay’s work to illustrate their signage on the site of the former British barracks.

Reviews

‘This attractive production … will be gratefully received … a work that reflects the high standards of both author and publisher’
Sandy Yarwood, Sydney Morning Herald, 1986

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