Author(s): Robert Holden
Cast aside all thoughts of computer-age technology and its resources for entertainment and try to imagine Australian life back in the first decade of the 20th century. At that time the country was still enjoying its infancy as the world's youngest nation. This was a society in which families provided much of their own amusement: anyone who could play an instrument, or who had a passable voice, or could recite, was valued, as well as expected to entertain. In those days, having a piano in the parlour became the mark of a cultured household. Playing the piano, singing, performing or reciting poetry learned in school elocution classes were a staple of family as well as of community life. And so, when the men of this young Australia marched off to war a typical call was, "Are you a singing man?". "Can you elocute? Can you spin a funny yarn? Can you play a mouth organ, concertina a or any other instrument?" Those who answered this second call to arms became the morale boosters of the First World War. Impromptu entertainments, sing-alongs, yarns and story-telling and recitations were all part of a homespun repertoire which accompanied these men to war.
And The Band Played On seeks to re-create and pay homage to that camaraderie and to that innocent enjoyment and spontaneous entertainment which lifted the spirits of the ANZACs whether they were under the shadow of the pyramids, in the trenches of the Western Front, on board battleships, recuperating in hospitals or even in POW camps.
Robert Holden is a historian, curator and author of more than 30 books. He has been awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Literature Board of the Australia Council and has been a Mitchell Library History Fellow. He has also curated an exhibition that has been shown in Bologna in Italy, the Australian Embassy in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His most recent book for Hardie Grant was the highly acclaimed and beautifully illustrated May Gibbs: More than a Fairy Tale (5,000 copies sold).