26 September 2023

Life So Full of Promise: further biographies of Australia’s lost generation

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Ross McMullin, Scribe, $49.99.

Award-winning historian Ross McMullin reveals an enlightening and an intensely moving social history: the lost generation of World War I, which was a defining era.

Biographer McMullin combines prodigious research and narrative flair in this sequel to Farewell, Dear People, the winner of multiple awards including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History.

The aims and approach of both the books are similar, containing a collection of interwoven stories highlighting some of the exceptional individuals who did not survive the conflict.

Each story establishes the outstanding pre-war potential of one of the main characters, describes what happened to him during the conflict, and underlines the profound sense of loss for his nation as well as for this family in the aftermath.

The extraordinary Australians in Life So Full of Promise are unknown today. Their names and their achievements, as well as their radiant but unfulfilled promise, are unfamiliar to later generations.

“The deeply researched and revelatory stories in these pages seek to rectify this unawareness, while also illuminating what the war was like for Australians at home and at the sharp end, as the families and friends of the main characters are also conspicuous in the narratives.”

The rich cast includes a talented barrister whose outstanding leadership enabled a momentous victory in France; an eminent newspaper editor who kept his community informed about the war while his sons were in the trenches; an energetic soldiers’ mother who became a political activist and a Red Cross dynamo; an admired farmer whose unit was rushed to the rescue in the climax of the conflict; the close sisters from Melbourne who found their lives transformed; a popular doctor who was more fervently mourned than any other Australian casualty; and a bohemian Scandinavian blonde who disrupted one of Sydney’s best-known families.

A feature of the book is its coverage of cricket and cricketers of the era.

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