Beyond the Front Gate – The WA Digger Book

Beyond the Front Gate – The WA Digger Book

Council & Volunteers General

Before the National Trust acquired heritage places open to the public with the resulting property and garden volunteers, other volunteers had been diligently working away to fulfil Objective d in the Schedule – Objects of the Trust as outlined in the National Trust of Australia (WA) Act 1964. This task was

to compile and preserve suitable records of buildings, places and things, of national or local historic interest or which traditionally are held or believed to be identified with the arts, crafts, history, legends and mythology of early inhabitants and pioneers of the State of Western Australia or the Commonwealth of Australia.

 This task has been continuously undertaken by volunteers in an unbroken record of service since 1964, currently under the delegation of Council, to the Classification Standing Committee (CSC). Working within CSC coordination are the Art Deco, Defence Heritage, Trees and Public Art Committees which provide additional professional expertise. In any year, there are up to 50 volunteers actively contributing to the Heritage Classification program of the National Trust.

This assessment is one of a series related to objects, memorials and intangible heritage associated with the Centenary of Western Australia in 1929. Its format differs slightly from that used for the assessment of places to ensure comprehensive documentation of particular heritage significance. It is the first book to be classified by the National Trust                                                                                                                            

The WA Digger Book

The W.A. Digger Book has a venerable place in Australian Digger and Anzac literature arising from the First World War 1914-1918. This literature emerged during the war as a form of trench and troopship journal or newspaper (often handwritten) that contained witty news articles, poetry and cartoons commenting on active service life. It was this form of literature that began to cement the Digger as writer and wry observer of his predicament. These journals also began to cement the forms of Digger tradition that were absorbed into the wider traditions and ideology of Anzac.

Through yarns, poetry, songs and illustration, Digger writing emphasised the distinctiveness of the Australian soldier and by extension Australian culture and it began to map emerging Australian nationalism in terms of Digger demeanour, attitudes, and derring-do in the face of danger. Probably the most famous and influential of Digger publications from the First World War was The Anzac Book published in 1916 with Charles Bean as the chief editor. Bean was an instigator and enthusiastic force in establishing the Australian War Memorial. The Anzac Book was intended for a wide domestic readership as well as soldier consumption offering Bean’s “particular view of Anzac and its meaning”. [1]

The idea for the WA Digger Book appears to have risen at the 1928 Western Australian State Congress of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) where it was mooted that a publication “along similar lines” to The Anzac Book could be compiled and published. It was further suggested that it should be a project to mark the State Centenary and profits directed to the floundering State War Memorial funds. An editorial committee was hastily formed under the leadership of I T Birtwistle the secretary of the Press sub-branch.[2] Contributions were to be directed to the offices of the Western Mail newspaper. The book was to contain contributions from ex-service people as well as the public on “narratives of life in the A.I.F., humorous and otherwise, sketches, jokes, war verse and songs and numerous illustrations”.[3] Particularly welcome were marching songs and snapshots taken during the war. The publication of the W.A. Digger Book was coincident with the unveiling of the State War Memorial in November 1929 and was then slated to help fund the State War Memorial tablet fund. Three thousand paperback copies and three hundred hard back copies were printed. It was boasted that it was constructed to resemble The Anzac Book in size and number of pages but emphasised Western Australian participation in the war “in a manner never before attempted”.[4]

The W.A Digger Book is clearly an attempt to firmly place Western Australia’s war effort and involvement into the national story. Perhaps the most telling testimony of this is on the front cover where Colonel Collett’s cheery grinning portrait replaces the usual images of a soldier and sailor on the RSSILA insignia. A cheeky Western Australian subversion of the national RSSILA emblem.

Beyond the Front Gate – The WA Digger Book

[1] Seal, Graham. 2004, Inventing Anzac: The Digger and National Mythology. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, p. 70

[2] ‘WA Digger Book: A Centenary Project’, Western Mail, 29 November 1928, p 30.

[3] ‘The WA Digger Book’, Western Mail, 31st January 1929, p. 48.

[4] ‘W.A. Digger Book: RSL Centenary Publication’, West Australian, 20 November 1929, p. 16. The boast about the number of pages was vaguely correct. The Anzac book had 169 numbered pages and the W.A. Digger book 163.


A Pdf copy of the WA Digger book can be downloaded from The National Library.

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