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3 myths about Beersheba


Meme from social media*

In my unpublished book, Beersheba: the untold story of how three myths, two units, and one charge captured our imagination, I go into a lot more depth about the myths that continue to perpetuated about the Australia Light Horse charge at Beersheba, but the media coverage about today’s centenary of the charge is getting my goat, so I wanted to summarise my thoughts in this blog post.

First, I’m not surprised Paul Daley has penned an article claiming that the Battle of Beersheba is only getting it’s moment in the sun because of the ‘politics of remembrance’. Although I dispute his premise that Beersheba was ever forgotten — as reviews of his book pointed out, how can an event that’s produced two movies claim to be ‘forgotten’ — I agree with his general point that there are many perspectives on history. And his article does provide a good general overview of the many operational moving parts leading up to the 3rd Battle of Gaza, which the Battle of Beersheba was actually the preliminary operation for.

A glimpse of the myths I explore in my manuscript are:

Myth One: Taking Beersheba was a fluke

In the mythologising of the charge, the ‘vibe’ is that Australians were innate, natural soldiers. Yet, most of those who charged had been at Gallipoli, and some were Boer War veterans. And for those who hadn’t been there or weren’t veterans of earlier conflicts, such as the Reinforcements, there was initial and ongoing training ‘in-country’ for them and their horses, which meant they weren’t expected to simply ‘know’ how to ‘soldier’. And that’s before we go into the debate about whether they were light cavalry, mounted rifles, or mounted infantry.

Myth Two: Taking Beersheba was about the water

You’ve probably heard in the media coverage that the charge was because the horses needed water, that they ‘sniffed it in their nostrils’. Even Daley doesn’t buy this; in his article he summarises the months of preparation that went into ensuring there was water available for the Battle of Beersheba. In fact, due to the lack of water in Beersheba (which they’d anticipated to a degree), operations to attack Gaza were set back a week, as the most of the forces had to retrace their steps many kilometres so as re-water before the bulk of the force could advance from Beersheba to Gaza.

Myth Three: Taking Beersheba helped win the war

This is the biggest myth that continues to be perpetuated, even in the current media coverage. Daley also points out that Beersheba was part of the third attempt to take the city of Gaza. Put simply, from my perspective, if the charge — as part of an entire day of military operations to capture the town of Beersheba — helped win the war … why did it take another year for the Armistice of Mudros to be signed?


* This image of an Ian Coate artwork is doing the rounds again on social media … I only share it here to illustrate how the last line also perpetuates a myth (albeit carefully worded to try and refute claims that it continues the myth) … that ‘never would history see such a full-scale charge again’ … when Wikipedia has a reasonable list of notable charges throughout history, and does include the Australia Light Horse charge at Beersheba (though it doesn’t include when the US Special Forces took horses into Afghanistan in 2001).


Obviously this is barely a sample of the detail explored in my manuscript, which I’ll be self-publishing in coming months. But if you’re interested in why my book’s not out for today’s commemoration activities, please refer to my other blog posts:

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The Journey Map for my Beersheba book

I really have been bad with this blog. Please know though that I’ve promised myself that once the Beersheba book is out, I will find a regular blogging rhythm.

I’ve used a few things to try and motivate myself into focusing on finishing the adult non-fiction, Australian military history book I’ve begun about the Australia Light Horse charge at Beersheba in World War One, but it seems I’m still struggling.

I promised myself that I won’t work on my first novel until the Beersheba book is published.

I won’t embark on my freelance business idea of delivering workshops, coaching and mentoring.

I won’t do a masters course till the book’s published.

I won’t get my quill tattoo until it’s published.

But it seems the recent, and hopefully the final, motivational trick is that I now need to find a new publisher; and the centenary of World War One is upon us.

So, I thought it was time I tried to bring you along for the journey, hence the post’s title of a ‘journey map’:

  • October 2007As part of a group project for the RMIT University Graduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing I was completing, I presented our group’s idea about a book devoted to the charge of Beersheba. The day after, an independent publisher that one of my classmates worked for approached me to turn the idea into reality.
  • October 2008 — After a year of discussing the proposal, the contract was signed. I resigned from my job in book publishing and spent three months researching full-time for the Beersheba book in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Armidale and Tamworth.
  • January to December 2009 — As my then husband worked full-time as an Army officer, I had the freedom to take time off work to prepare the first draft while in Darwin. I originally thought it would take me three to six months, but it ended up taking the whole year, even though I was working on it full-time. I did have another research trip to Canberra but spent a lot more time using the inter-library loan service of the NT Library.
  • February 2010 — My publisher gave feedback that the first draft needed quite a bit of re-working and I agreed.
  • April 2010 — My husband and I separated. This threw my world into a tailspin and the last thing I could focus on was anything creative.
  • December 2010/January 2011 — Over New Year’s I tried to work on the book, but couldn’t find the voice needed for the second draft.
  • July 2011 — I attended the ‘Million Dollar Expert’ program run by Thought Leaders and was reinvigorated with ideas. Using some of the techniques from the course, I restructured the book and decided to ‘own’ that it wouldn’t be strictly an ‘official history’, but not like the books produced by journalists either.
  • September 2011 — I attended military history workshops conducted by Dr Peter Stanley and Dr Maria Hill at a major writers’ festival. This helped reinforce, for me, my new approach to the Beersheba book.
  • July 2011 to July 2012 — Around the same time I was engaged to freelance publish War in the Valleys : 7th Battalion Battle Group (MRTF–1), Afghanistan, October 2008 to June 2009. This turned out to be quite an involved process, as outlined in my blog post ’10 Steps in Publishing a Book’.
  • December 2012/January 2013 — With the freelance project finished, I revisited my Beersheba book to put together a few pages in the new style of writing I’d come up with 18-months earlier.
  • February to November 2013 — I worked on snippets every few months but didn’t make much headway as I was waiting for direction from my publisher. By the end of the year though, we’d amiably parted ways.
  • December 2013/January 2014 — With the hunt on for a new publisher, I’ve rewritten my proposal and worked out that the unsolicited manuscript process means I need at least the first 50 pages rewritten in the new style.

So, with the centenary of World War One upon us, I’m endeavouring to get the draft sorted so that the timeliness of a publication release isn’t lost. I’ve now also gone public with the process. So, I must get on so that once the book’s published, I’ll be able to do the things I promised myself I wouldn’t do until the book was published. 😉


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My Top 15 Favourite Australian Female Writers

Last week, the Aussie Women Writers group asked tweeps (Twitter users) for their Top 10 favourite Australian women writers across all genres.

Of course, I couldn’t keep it to 10, so here are my Top 15 (note: in no particular order).

Non-Fiction (mid­–20th century to now) 

  • Leigh Sales — her book on David Hicks, Detainee 002 is, in my humble opinion, one of the best examples of Australian creative non-fiction around. It’s well-researched, fair and balanced, and well-written. You can’t ask for more than that.
  • Germaine Greer — I nearly listed Germaine in the Pioneer section below for, of course, her work The Female Eunuch is a seminal piece of work in the feminism movement. I also enjoyed her wit on the lawns of the NT Museum and Art Gallery at the NT Writers’ Festival in 2009.
  • Chloe Hooper — I think Chloe and Leigh are together the best creative non-fiction writers in Australia. Chloe presented in a clear and fair-mannered way, in her award-winning book The Tall Man, the story of Cameron Doomadgee’s death in custody on Palm Island.
  • Maria Hill — A professional female military historian in the Australian marketplace, yay! Maria is bubbly in person and has great drive to bring a woman’s perspective to a traditionally male category. Check out her book Diggers and Greeks about Australians in Greece in World War II.

 Pioneer Fiction (late 19th–early 20th century)

  • Katharine Susannah Prichard I was introduced to her novel Coonardoo during my undergraduate literary studies and loved the book. I can’t believe it’s not held in as high esteem as …
  • Stella Miles Franklin My Brilliant Career is clearly a stalwart of Australian literary studies. I’ve also thought of it as our version of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Henry Handel Richardson Maurice Guest is another work that looms large in the Australian canon and that all lovers of Australian literature should read.

Contemporary Fiction (mid-20th Century to now)

  • Kate Grenville — My favourite is Idea of Perfection. It’s a great romp through rural life and how romance changes throughout life. This isn’t to ignore her other work, but I think this book is often forgotten.
  • Libby Gleeson — When I was in my early teens, Eleanor, Elizabeth opened my eyes to the beauty of young adult literature. It’s one of the few books in that category I’ve ever read (no, I haven’t read Harry Potter or Twilight).
  • Hazel Edwards —this is a more personal favourite, as I met Hazel in Darwin in 2008 and she was very encouraging of my writing ambition and even helped to brainstorm some titles ideas for my book on Beersheba.
  • Andrea Goldsmith — again, another more personal favourite. I met Andrea through a novel-writing workshop series run by the Victorian Writers’ Centre in Melbourne. Her book Reunion is an daring work about friendships and relationships across life.
  • Leonie Norrington — yep, another personal one. Leonie was the President of the NT Writers’ Centre when I joined the committee in 2003. She’s an incredible person and writer. Her recent book The Devil You Know is another I’d recommend for young adults.
  • Jennifer Scoullar — a personal inspiration. She’s made anthropomorphic writing to a fine art — dare I say she’s even Kafka-esque. Jenny’s now part of the distinguished Penguin rural author stable and I encourage you to check out her latest book Brumby’s Run.

Poetry (late-20th century to now)

  • Dorothy Porter — another pioneer of genre with her verse novels, especially The Monkey’s Mask and Akhenaten. I also fondly remember her as being kind enough to respond to my email questions when I was a second-year undergraduate student writing an essay about books turning into movies — in her case, The Monkey’s Mask.

Short Stories (late-20th century to now)

  • Cate Kennedy — sure Cate’s now written novels (which I also highly recommend) but she managed to grow a public profile from her short stories first. That’s rare in today’s crowded literary marketplace. Her collection of short stories Dark Roots is a must for any writer and reader of short stories.

There are many more Australian female writers I’d like to list including — May Gibbs, Marion Halligan, Elizabeth Jolley, Anita Heiss, Alexis Wright, Delia Falconer, Susan Johnson, Jackie French, Patsy Adam-Smith, Helen Garner … and the list goes on!

Indeed, Wikipedia has some 442 Australian women writers, which is missing some of my top 15.

Who are your favourite Australian women writers, in any category?


10 Steps in Publishing a Book — or What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Rewriting Beersheba

Why haven’t I been working on my Beersheba manuscript for the past several months?

Well, I took on a freelance project, my second one under Ryter Publishing.

The project has been to publish a high-quality, photographic coffee table book for a Defence client, titled — War in the Valleys : 7th Battalion Battle Group (MRTF–1), Afghanistan, October 2008 to June 2009.

I have prioritised this freelance project over my Beersheba book, thankfully with the blessing of my publisher Andrew Kelly of Red Dog Books (!).

I thought some of you might interested in how a book develops, so I wanted to share what it’s taken to get this book to print.

My main role has been as the project manager, which was being the conduit between the designer, printer and client. I was also the editor.

Stat Check

  • Physical specs — A4 (landscape); hardback (paper laminated case); 140 pages; four-colour
  • Word length — 44 articles, ranging in length from 120 to 4,500 words; and ranging in style, from informal, light-hearted tone to formal Defence writing — Total manuscript length: 45,000 words; that’s about the same length as my Beersheba book.
  • Photos — Some 1,260 photos were whittled down to 106 photos, and the page number for each photo was stipulated. The client put in a huge effort to get this done; over the Christmas break no less!

The Process

Step One — Set-up the project

  1. My tasks — Evaluate project and source suppliers. Receive brief, files and source a designer and printer
  2. Designer — Extracted the manuscript from the initial design that was prepared

Step Two — Manuscript Development (Structural Edit)

  1. My tasks — Conduct initial structural edit; Establish style guide; Propose/develop the glossary and acronyms list, organisational chart and new book order
  2. Designer — Prepared next text design
  3. Client — For the 7RAR birthday parade, the client was able to take the new text design and book dummies to show the lads that the project was indeed happening!

Step Three —1st page proofs

  1. My tasks — During Step 2, I Identified that two articles were alike in subject and the client decided that these two articles should be ‘merged’. That was fun ’cause one article was serious in tone, the other light-hearted
  2. Designer — Prepared 1st page proofs for the manuscript, except the newly merged article and photos

Step Four — Pick photos!

  1. My tasks — Proofread 1st page proofs. Edited and merged the two articles
  2. Client — As mentioned in the stats, the client spent the Christmas doing this, which displayed exceptional dedication to project!

Step Five — 2nd page proofs

  1. My tasks — Proofread 2nd page
  2. Designer — Insert the selected photos to produce 2nd page proofs
  3. Client — Chase-up a team photo that was stubbornly not in the main group of photos and was too small for a book print

Step Six — 3rd page proofs

  1. My tasks — proofread 3rd page proofs — this was my last chance to ensure consistency and pick-up spelling errors. So of course, the corrections was three-times as extensive as what I did for 2nd page proofs. *Groan*
  2. Designer — Take-in 3rd page proof corrections to produce the final set of proofs
  3. Client — Let’s include the nominal roll. Superlative idea!

Step Seven — Print-ready files

  1. My tasks — Give the final set of proofs the once-over
  2. Designer — Prepare the absolute final, print ready files


Step Eight — Printer proofs

  1. Me — Look over the printer proofs (a.k.a. ozalids) to make sure that nothing’s abruptly dropped off during the printer’s processing of the files

Step Nine — Advances

  1. Me, Designer, Client  — Receive advance of the book from printer. Approve bulk stock delivery. HOORAY!

Step Ten — Bulk Stock Delivery

  1. The lads receive a high-quality coffee table book that could be sold in the shop if they so chose.

That’s it!


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