Shooting Blanks at the Anzac Legend

Australian women's war fictions

Donna Coates

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Format: paperback
364 pages
ISBN: 9781743329245
Publication: 01 Nov 2023
Series: Sydney Studies in Australian Literature
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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War is traditionally considered a male experience. By extension, the genre of war literature is a male-dominated field, and the tale of the battlefield remains the privileged (and only canonised) war story.

In Australia, although women have written extensively about their wartime experiences, their voices have been distinctively silenced. Shooting Blanks at the Anzac Legend calls for a re-definition of war literature to include the numerous voices of women writers, and further recommends a re-reading of Australian national literatures, with women’s war writing foregrounded, to break the hold of a male-dominated literary tradition and pass on a vital, but unexplored, women’s tradition.

Shooting Blanks at the Anzac Legend examines the rich body of World Wars I and II and Vietnam War literature by Australian women, providing the critical attention and treatment that they deserve. Donna Coates records the reaction of Australian women writers to these conflicts, illuminating the complex role of gender in the interpretation of war and in the cultural history of twentieth-century Australia.

By visiting an astonishing number of unfamiliar, non-canonical texts, Shooting Blanks at the Anzac Legend profoundly alters our understanding of how Australian women writers have interpreted war, especially in a nation where the experience of colonising a frontier has spawned enduring myths of identity and statehood.

Donna Coates was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She is an Associate Professor in the English Department of the University of Calgary, Canada. She is a long-term member of the American Association of Australasian Literary Studies. She has written extensively about the responses of women from Australia, Canada, New Zealand to twentieth-century wars.


Part 1: World War I fictions
Chapter 1: The Digger on the lofty pedestal: Australian women’s fictions of the Great War
Chapter 2: “Guns ‘n’ roses”: Mollie Skinner’s intrepid Great War fictions
Chapter 3: (Not) talking back: Australian women novelists lose the great (linguistic) war
Chapter 4: Lesbia Harford’s home-front warrior and women’s World War I writing
Chapter 5: Sleeping with the enemy: Patriot games in fictions by Lesbia Harford, Gwen Kelly and Joan Dugdale
Chapter 6: Demilitarising a military culture: Brenda Walker’s The Wing of Night

Part 2: World War II fictions
Chapter 7: Damn(ed) Yankees: The Pacific’s not pacific anymore
Chapter 8: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” in the film adaptation of Come in Spinner
Chapter 9: Country matters in the Little (Southern Steel) Company
Chapter 10: Reality bites: The impact of World War II on the Australian home front in Maria Gardner’s Blood Stained Wattle and Robin Sheiner’s Smile, the War Is Over
Chapter 11: Loving thine enemies: Representations of Italian prisoners of war in contemporary Australian women’s World War II fictions
Chapter 12: Lies, secrets and silences: Prisoners-of-war in World War II Australian women’s novels
Chapter 13: No hell like peacetime: Going (down) under in the land of the “fair go” Chapter 14: The new “Anzacs two” make their debut in contemporary Australian women’s fictions

Part 3 The Vietnam War
Chapter 15: Coming home: The return of the (Australian Vietnam War) soldier
Chapter 16: “All we are saying is give peace a chance”: The Vietnam war protest movement in Australian women’s fictions by Janine Burke, Patricia Cornelius, Nuri Mass and Wendy Scarfe
Chapter 17: ’O what a lovely war: No more shooting blanks in Helen Nolan’s Between the Battles: A Novel

Conclusion: Boomerangs do come back
Works cited

“Though largely overlooked, stories by women about and in war have always been significant. Donna Coates demonstrates that Australian women’s contribution to war literature in particular is diverse, intriguing, and often unexpected.”

Debra Adelaide  

“This capstone book of Donna Coates’s impressive and historic career will dramatically affect our ideas of the relationship between war and Australian writing. In her consideration of writers of the past such as Mollie Skinner and Lesbia Harford, and her reflections on how contemporary women writers are reframing the legacies of the two World Wars and the Vietnam War, Coates makes visible so much that previous critics had missed. Engagingly written and scrupulous in its attention to the archive, this wide-ranging and vigorously argued book reconceives our ideas of modern Australian literature.”

Nicholas Birns, New York University  

Format: paperback
Size: 254 × 178 mm
364 pages
Copyright: © 2023
ISBN: 9781743329245
Publication: 01 Nov 2023
Series: Sydney Studies in Australian Literature