Australia in The First World War - Forging an Identity

Australians at home were kept informed about the war by the correspondents at the front - journalists who often risked their own lives to report on the various campaigns. These reporters filed their reports or despatches from the front, but a typical despatch would be delayed for quite some time, as it had to be cleared by the military censors before making its way to the intended newspaper for publication.

Many of the reports were written in very evocative fashion, as they had to both inform the reader of the events of the war and to provide vivid descriptions of the context and conditions of battle, things which the readers of the articles would only be able to experience visually in very limited way. Another aim would have been to maintain the morale of the Australian public by emphasising the virtues of Australian soldiers in battle.

This style of writing helped to create the idea of the Australian solider as a distinctive kind of fighter, who could be distinguished from both friend and foe by a set of values and physical attributes. These values would later become synonymous with an Australian national identity.

Below are two accounts written by First World War correspondents, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Charles Bean, about the Australian soldiers. Barlett’s account is of the landing at Gallipoli in April 1915, while Bean writes generally about the virtue of the Australian soldier.

Gathering Information

Read C.E.W. Bean’s The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915 (11th edition, 1941) 

Analysing information

C.E.W. Bean’s 'The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915 (11th edition, 1941)'  

  1. Charles Bean spent a great deal of his time at the front recording his observations of the Australian forces. List some of the motivations of the soldier that he outlines in the extract.
  2. Identify the clues in the extract that suggest that the Australian soldier has a moral code. Why does Bean find it necessary to point this out?  
  3. Bean has a strategy in the extract for reducing the idea of the Australian soldier to a characteristic. How does he do it? In the last paragraph, Bean paints the picture of the Australian soldier. What single quality/attribute can you find to describe what motivates this soldier?    

Working with your findings

  1. Referring to your work in the Introductory Activity, use a Venn Diagram to compare the qualities in your group’s advertisement with the description in Bean’s extract.
  2. Describe the similarities and differences in a powerpoint presentation to the class, concluding with your observations of how prevalent the characteristics of the ANZAC are in Australian identity.


For the teacher | Background | Introductory activity | The origins of the First World War | Convincing Australians | Forging an identity | The conscription debate | ANZAC in contemporary Australia