This folder of typewritten copy and letters, written by Australian journalist Keith Murdoch during World War I, was donated by his son Rupert to the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where I photographed some of its contents. The letter below, typed by Keith Murdoch on a Corona 3 portable typewriter, is a justification for Murdoch's famous "Gallipoli Letter", which led directly and instantly to the commander of the Allied forces in the Dardanelles, Ian Hamilton, being relieved of his duties, in large part because of the unnecessary sacrifice of thousands of Anzac troops in the August 1915 Offensive. In this document, there is proof positive that Murdoch's typewritten letter was mailed to Australia, not cabled, as generally believed. If Gallipoli truly represents the "birth of the Australian nation", then surely typewriters were the midwives.
Today, January 26, is Australia Day. It’s still called Australia Day because on January 26, 1788, 231 years ago, the First Fleet of British ships arrived at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the Union Jack, the Flag of Great Britain, was raised at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. When I first came to Australia, going on 50 years ago, all of this seemed to be universally accepted. Now, however, a growing number of Australians are seeing January 26 as marking “Invasion Day”, or “Survival Day”, as the idea that Australia began life as a nation on January 26, 1788 – with the arrival of the first white people - is obviously a complete nonsense. Various alternative options have been put forward, and among the more sensible are: that Australia Day should be moved to January 1, marking the date of Federation in 1901; March 3, marking the 1986 Australia Acts (cutting some ties with Britain, but not the Union Jack from our flag); April 25 (Anzac Day, see below); May 27 (1967 referendum to change the constitution to allow First Australians to be counted in the census), or December 3 (Eureka Stockade uprising, 1854).
My suggestion, to settle this issue once and for all, is that Australia Day should be celebrated on June 23, to coincide with World Typewriter Day. I don’t agree that June 23 is the appropriate date for this anniversary, but it is what it is – the date in 1868 when Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Willard Soulé were granted the first patent (US79265A) for what would later become the Sholes & Glidden typewriter. I would have thought a more suitable date for World Typewriter Day might be March 1, when this typewriter first went into production (1873), or July 1, when it first reached the market (1874). But someone else settled on June 23, and so it remains.
Regardless of all that, there is one salient reason why I think Australia Day should be marked on Typewriter Day. Anzac Day, which marks the anniversary of the first attack by Australian forces on Turkish soil in 1915, has come to be seen as celebrating a coming-of-age for Australia as a nation, or as marking the advent of Australian nationhood itself. While many Australians have more lately come to regard January 26 as “Invasion Day”, the idea that events at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, heralded “the birth of the nation” has been around for more than a century. It was a favoured – indeed romantic - notion that a nation should be born amid oceans of blood and gore – or, as Henry Lawson wrote, “the lurid clouds of war”. Lawson also claimed, “We boast no more of our bloodless flag, that rose from a nation’s slime.”
The truth of the matter is, however, that Australians would have had little comprehension of its staggering losses, of the amount of its young blood that was spilled at Gallipoli, if it wasn’t for the typewriter. It was only through typewritten accounts of the full horrors of Gallipoli – written first by British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett on a green Empire aluminium thrust-action typewriter, and later by Australian journalist Keith Murdoch on a Corona 3 folding portable – that Australians (and Britons) got to grasp the full extent of the Gallipoli slaughter. This much, at least, is recognised in Robert Manne’s 2014 book (written with Chris Feik) “The Words That Made Australia: How a Nation Came to Know Itself ”
Ashmead-Bartlett at his Empire.
Ashmead-Bartlett typed his letter on September 8, 1915, in the fortnight following the abysmal failure of the August Offensive (Battle of Sari Bair) on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the massive loss of Allied life. Ashmead-Bartlett wrote the letter on Imbros (now Gökçeada) in the Aegean Sea, at the insistence of Murdoch, who was briefly visiting the Dardanelles. Murdoch took the letter with him, intending to personally deliver it to British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith at 10 Downing Street, London. British military authorities were tipped off that word of their incompetence was on its way to Asquith, and intercepted Murdoch at Marseilles, relieving him of Ashmead-Bartlett’s revealing letter. Murdoch continued on to London, where he typed his own version of the Ashmead-Bartlett letter, using his recollections of it as well as his own brief observations of the situation at Gallipoli. The Murdoch Letter was mailed (not cabled) to Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher in Melbourne.
Given the immediate impact of the Murdoch Letter, in both Australia and Britain (where it had already been printed and circulated to Cabinet members before it reached Fisher) the use of typewriters is of enormous significance. Without them, and without knowledge of what had been typed on them, the subsequent course of World War I may have been very, very different. And if an Australia nation was, as many still contend, born amid the blood on the beaches of Gallipoli, it was the typewriter which got word of that birth out to the world.
I thereby rest my case. Australia Day and Typewriter Day should be celebrated together – starting this very June 23.