My Brother Jack by George Johnston

Each read of this fifty-six-year-old classic reveals more nuances about the Australian identity. Set in post-war Melbourne suburbs, this seminal piece is a retelling by David Meredith of his life. His mother is a nurse who houses Gallipoli invalids including Meredith’s father. Suffering PTSD, he is a brutal alcoholic who displays unpredictability and weakness. The circumstances are so familiar, like an echo from within the walls of many homes from that time. Still to this day jingoism and heroic idealism is trotted out every Anzac Parade. Millions of dollars are syphoned into war memorials and ceremonies to recognise the tragedy of those who died. What this novel does is look at the consequences for those who survived. The family violence such as typified by Meredith being beaten unconscious by his father; the mother living in fear of her life; the grotesque disabilities of those men she nursed who could not survive independently; split open the myth of winning and national pride. Meredith’s brother Jack, considered the moral compass of the family, yearned for active service. When he was injured on home ground and could not participate, he felt this was an affront to his manliness and lost his way. We also get to be voyeurs of Meredith’s awful treatment of his wife. This is a consequence of his own epiphany about the emptiness of the suburban dream. Johnston’s writing evokes a melancholic nostalgia of the sprawling suburbs. The anti-war message is achieved simply by describing the reality of Australia at that time. The reverberations of these wars are still felt today, and Johnston’s observations still have chilling relevance.

Leave a Reply