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Salute to the Aussie Digger (2005)


Actor Jack Thompson leads the listener through an historical overview of engagements by the Australian Defence Force in various conflicts and peacekeeping events. It is accompanied by a variety of musical compositions including traditional tunes, classical pieces and popular songs performed and arranged by the Australian Army Band – Sydney.

Curator’s notes

The recording opens with the familiar voice of Australian actor Jack Thompson, whose award-winning performance in Breaker Morant (1979) as Major JF Thomas was one of the reasons he was requested for this narrator role. Thompson, who has a keen interest in Australian history and poetry, has also recorded the work of Australian poets such as Banjo Paterson, CJ Dennis and Henry Lawson, all released on CD.

Thompson details the human cost of Australian military conflict in which ‘more than 100,000 lives’ have been ‘lost in the bid to serve our nation and the quest to defend freedom and democracy’. Beginning with the colonial period the narrative leads us chronologically through various conflicts over 22 tracks.

General Peter Cosgrove – Chief of Defence at the time of recording – also contributes, reading a piece called 'Modern Times/Peacekeeping’, a summary of various recent peacekeeping activities by the Australian armed forces.

The idea for the project was conceived by Captain Rod Mason of the Australian Army Band – Sydney. It had come to his attention that there was a lack of awareness of the history of the activities of the Australian Defence Force. Mason not only researched the history but conceived how it could be delivered in terms of the choice of compositions and sound effects.

The resulting project incorporates spoken word and archival sound from the Australian War Memorial, with music performed by the Band, outlining the broad sweep of the history of the defence forces. The musical choices include traditional tunes, classical pieces and popular music but also compositions from Australian Army Band Corps members Corporals Greg Petersen and Matt Chilmaid. Fittingly, it is a military band that has produced a musical way of presenting the history of these conflicts, drawing upon their large musical repertoire and expertise.

The role of the Australian Army Band Corps, which is one of the largest employers of musicians in Australia, is to contribute to morale and esprit de corps in the army by performing music for state and military ceremonial occasions as well as occasions for the general public. The bands are made up of professional musicians capable of playing contemporary genres such as rock, jazz and theatre titles as well as classical works and traditional marches. There are nine ensembles in the Australian Army Band – Sydney, including folk bands, jazz sextets, classical quintets, an 18-piece big band and a 35-piece symphonic band.

The tone and perspective of this recording is one that attempts to avoid glorification of war whilst acknowledging the contribution made by the armed forces. The track 'A Time to Reflect’ incorporates a Christopher Marlowe quote, ‘Accursed be he who first invented war’, which is followed by the statement that this dedication is not about glorifying war over peace. It is a dedication that honours the memory of those men and women who laid down their lives.

There is so much information in each track about theatres of war or specific conflicts that it is useful to pause and replay tracks to absorb the significance of each involvement. The CD was featured in the student magazine Studies of Society and Entertainment (2008) which poses questions concerning the nature of war, politics and Australian identity. It addresses not only the history and politics but also the music choices of the CD. Captain Mason assisted in the preparation of the feature and reading it while listening to the CD prompts reflection as well as debate, enriching the whole experience.

In 2008, Salute to the Aussie Digger won the Australian Army its first Gold ARIA Award.