Farewell Dear People by Ross McMullin is indeed an impressive book. True, it took me a while to read, but that’s because there’s so much to absorb. It contains the stories of 10 individuals who “exemplified Australia’s gifted lost generation of World War I” (to quote from the blurb). They’re from different backgrounds and various parts of the country and range from the son of a poor tram worker from Sydney (Tom Elliott, see page 108) to a member of what McMullin describes as a Melbourne “cultural dynasty” (George McCrae, see page 8).
It won the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, and it’s easy to see why.
I was fascinated by the amount of detail, especially the insights it gives to the life of such a range of people in that era. Amongst other things, this includes a detailed description of life at Duntroon in the first couple of years of its existence, the goings-on in the (then) VFL in the years immediately before the War (and the role that George Challis had) and a comprehensive outline of the Perth “establishment” in that era. Obviously the effort research has been phenomenal and McMullin’s tribute to the input from numerous sources that he received makes it clear just how much effort was obviously involved.
Perhaps understandably (given that the author also wrote a biography of him), there are a lot of references to Pompey Elliott.
The book certainly really illustrates just how much talent was lost the the nation because of WW!. Although it’s readable, just occasionally I wondered if there was “too much detail”. I noticed one comment that perhaps the book needed a good editor, to cut down on some of the superfluous detail. But, that said, as a collection of historical biographies, this isn’t a major issue and of course the reader is always free to skip some of the detail if he or she so desires.