Classic revisited

December 23, 2017

George Johnston’s ‘My Brother Jack’ is a great read, accoring to Lee Stephenson.

Here is an iconic picture of working-class Australia in the first half of the 20th century, written more than 50 years ago and still available in bookshops today.

A biography of the author and his family, it gives us a tough picture of Melbourne between World War 1 and the end of World War 2; and although our values have changed hugely, it is a no-holds-barred look at how it was for our forebears.

Few people owned a car and public transport was frequently a long way from home, but walking, or shanks pony as it was commonly referred to then (and still today by some), was the way people got around.

The conditions in the Great Depression of the 1930s will shake the complacency of any who think our ancestors had it easy, and it is an unsettling thought that those conditions finally changed because Australia went to war, again.

Once more paying jobs became the norm for those working-class people who had survived 10 years of terrible deprivation.

The personal story of the book revolves around the differences between two brothers. Jack was poorly educated but tough and uncompromising, and his brother found his niche in life as a talented newspaper journalist early on and prospered. Their ways of life were as chalk and cheese.

The women’s roles were vastly different from the norm of today, and thank goodness for that. If they had a job it was generally menial; spinsterhood was to be avoided at all costs, and a wife rarely worked outside the home, where she was usually a drudge.

If one good thing can be said about WW2, it’s that it marked the beginning of the emergence of women as valuable members of society in all levels of Australian life.

— Lee Stephenson

More in The Telegraph
Login Sign Up

Dummy text