Sunday, February 9, 2014

Songs as historical markers: Martin Simpson's Jackie and Murphy and the Anzac legend

The myth of Anzac was promulgated to enable Australians to live with the otherwise unbearable carnage of WW1   
Marilyn Lake 
Somethings never change Jackie/But perhaps they never will/While the bloodless fools in Whitehall/ They sit in judgement still/ 
Martin Simpson (final lines from Jackie and Murphy)
Martin Simpson's song Jackie and Murphy is not just a magnificent tribute to John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey Murphy. It is a song that speaks forgotten truths about the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

In recounting the life story of John Kirkpatrick Simpson, the song describes the horror and carnage of the Gallipoli campaign (where Simpson was a stretcher bearer for 4 weeks before he was killed). The song also demonstrates the ways that the history of the campaign and the terrible suffering of ordinary soldiers is used to serve political and military agendas. 

When I was at primary school the story of Simpson and his donkey was used to indoctrinate us about the history of the Gallipoli campaign and to conceal the truth about Australia's invasion of a sovereign nation and the horror of war. We were schooled into an interpretation of Gallipoli that affirmed a contemporary and conservative view of Australian identity.

As Joan Beaumont argues this emphasis on Gallipoli and a particular view of the Anzac legend is a distinctive and powerful part of Australia's political culture.
'The Anzac legend today serves particular purposes. One is to reinforce those values which court the Anzac legend such as endurance, sacrifice, mateship. Those values continue to be very important to Australian governments who are trying in a very materialistic and secular and individualistic society to still persuade Australians to be willing to volunteer for war or even to serve as police officers or fire fighters'
 Joan Beaumont also argues that constant commemoration of  Gallipoli and the ANZAC legend works to deflect debate about the legitimacy of war.
'This was very obvious during the Iraq intervention of 2003, when the then-prime minister John Howard made it difficult to criticise the war because it was suggested you would thereby be criticising those who chose to serve. With that goes a silencing of debate about the reasons that those soldiers are being deployed, and that is a concern to a number of commentators.'
Joan Beaumont has a new book out Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War which challenges the way that Australia's war experience is presented as the predominant historical narrative. 

A review of the book by Marilyn Lake is here.

You can listen to a live version of Martin Simpson's song here:

Jackie and Murphy by Martin Simpson
(copyright Martin Simpson)

There's a statue of a donkey on Southshield sea front
He's a decorated donkey
and with him stands a man

and the man's name is Jackie he has no decoration
though he was a war hero.

Down on the sands Jackie sold donkey rides
His favorite was Murphy
and they waited on the tide 
to give rides to little children and flirt with the pretty girls.

And he's joined the merchant navy and he's off to see the world.
Well he sailed the wide world all over Jackie
till he came to Newcastle in NSW
he'd had enough of stoking coals, rollin seas and heavy gales.

So you changed your name to plain John Simpson
So you jumped ship and you rambled all down the shore
shearing, droving, larrikin and a new recruit for war.

Give a dog a bad name Jackie
Somethings never change 
a hundred years are almost gone
Not a medal to your name
Somethings never change Jackie
They give a dog a bad name
but your a hero still.

Well I signed up for this army Murphy
Thought I might catch a troop ship home
Maybe change my name again and never more to roam.
But we didn't sail to England Murphy
We sailed right into hell
Now I am a stretcher bearer in the bloody Dardanelles.

Now I don't like taking orders Murphy
That's not the way I am
But now we've got this job to do and I'll do the best I can.
You and me are mockers here Murphy
Down here on the sand
I'll whistle and we sing our songs and we'll march to the beat of the band.

Jesus you know I am tired Murphy
Breakfast wasn't ready today
They said they would keep dinner hot
Come on lads we are on our way
Down to shrapnel gully again
To the land of blood, flesh and bone
You have been there so many times
You can damn near fetch them on your own.

Did you hear the machine guns rattle?
Did you feel those bullets tearing through?
I pray that peace and quiet and dark are the last things you know
You saved 300 wounded men
You and Murphy on their own
You died to save the very last but Murphy fetched him back alive.

Give a dog a bad name Jackie
Some things never change 
a hundred years are almost gone 
Not a medal to your name
Somethings never change Jackie
But perhaps they never will.
While the bloodless fools in Whitehall
They sit in judgement still


Michael Diehl Breen said...

I am so moved by this song. It is in the tradition of great protest songs and with a genuine Oz feel. The dialgoue is so poignant. It ia a panageric for the spirits, the lives and spirit of adventure of exploited young men. But the Judas kiss is the rebranding of the whole series of crimes against humanity, as making our nation great. At least the poor young baterds and their families deserve a better memoriam than a nauseating pastiche of lies exhonerating the Australian Government and the British Empire. But for a while now we have a chance as the hysteria and political rave ramp up, for many of us to keep focussing on stores like this and supporting people like Lake and her colleagues who are fighting for the authentic story.

Colin Penter said...

Wow, thanks Michael for your wonderful illuminating comments. You are spot on about the exploitation of the suffering of ordinary men as a justification for the tyranny of colonialism and Empire. Sadly it still goes on. Here is another magnificent live version of the song, with some introductory comments by Martin Simpson. warm regards

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