A History of the Australian Military

From the First Fleet to the Modern Day


Jonathan J Moore

New Holland Publishers 2018

Paperback   256pp   RRP: $32.99


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, August 2019


This work reviews almost 250 years of military activity in Australia. The tactics of the original Australians in outwitting the marines that arrived with the First Fleet, the law-unto-themselves New South Wales (Rum) Corps and their replacement, the British Red Coats, are examined in detail. Unease in world stability spawned colonial volunteer rifle and mounted rifle regiments being formed in the eastern states in the 1850s. One of the last actions of the Redcoats was the quelling of the rebellion at the Eureka Stockade in 1854. Australians individually volunteered for the New Zealand (originally known as the ‘Maori’) Wars in 1863.


The first overseas service was by the1885 NSW Sudan Contingent who saw little action in a three-month period. The 1899 Boer War saw personnel from all states volunteering, and in 1900 South Australia sent a light cruiser to Shanghai to assist the British put down the Boxer Rebellion. At the same time, the saga of ‘Breaker’ Morant and his fellow officers ensured that with Federation Australia legislated to have its service personnel under its own jurisdiction in any future joint service.

From 1901 Australia saw merging of state entities into one army and one navy and the disappearance of the existing multitude of uniforms and standard weapons being adopted. Mandatory cadet training was introduced in 1909 and the Royal Military College, Duntroon was established in 1911. The major features of the First World War are summarised: Gallipoli, Sniper Billy Sing, the futile attacks at Lone Pine and The Nek, the Western Front campaign against German trench warfare, the downing of the Red Baron, and the Egypt and Palestine campaigns featuring the 1917 Light Horse charge at Beersheba.

The exploits of the 9th Division in Libya, Tobruk and El Alamein, Greece and Crete; the South West Pacific: the fall of Singapore and Rabaul, the bombing of Darwin, the Battle of the Coral Sea, the battle for the Kokoda Track and the kamikaze attack on HMAS Sydney and Japanese midget submarines in Sydney Harbour are all included in the period of the Second World War.

The Cold War saw Australians in action in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, Vietnam and the Indonesian confrontation. Battles mentioned are Kapyong, Long Tan, Fire Bases Balmoral and Coral. Peacekeeping missions, the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Emergence of the slouch hat as a symbolic part of Australian military dress, and a succinct run down on the development and use of weapons, armoured vehicles and aircraft used in the last 100 years round out the work.

A free-flowing writing style has been used in all descriptions, and two sets of photographs cover the Sudan (1885) to peacekeeping in the 1990s. There is a small Select Bibliography, but maps and an index are two noticeable absences.

Whilst there will no doubt be comments about what should have been included and what could have been omitted, the author has provided a great starting point for those wishing to explore Australia’s military history. The Bibliography provides access for expansion in areas where the readers seek additional information.


The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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