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The Invisible Thread series: Peter Stanley

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Quinn's PostOne of the wonderful things about editing The Invisible Thread was discovering writers that I had previously wanted to read but had somehow never got around to. Like historian Peter Stanley. Indeed, reading for this anthology made plain what an incredible bunch of historians Canberra has nurtured. Bill Gammage, Charles Bean, Ken Inglis, Manning Clark, Hank Nelson, Keith Hancock, Humphrey McQueen, Tom Griffiths and, of course, Peter Stanley. They are some of Australia’s best historians, and The Invisible Thread has gems of writing from them all, including an extract from Peter Stanley’s Quinn’s Post.

Quinn’s was the size of a school playground but it was the key to the Gallipoli campaign and hundreds of men died there. When Peter first visited Quinn’s it had a profound effect on him — he describes it as a ‘road to Damascus moment’ — and he immediately decided to abandon the book he was planning to write in favour of a book on Quinn’s. In this interview he told me that the process of writing Quinn’s Post was unlike any other book: ‘This was an extraordinarily easy process…This was a book that seemed to fly.’ He wrote Quinn’s Post very quickly, ‘in a trance’, and I read it in a similar way. I would have read it in one sitting if the necessities of life had not intruded, but the benefit of being forced to stop was that in the spaces between reading — while preparing dinner or doing the washing up — I found myself reflecting on the events and stories Peter reveals.

Quinn’s was unlike anywhere else in Gallipoli because the trenches were just 10 yards apart. The Australians and Turks could hear each other talking, laughing, living. Ironic gifts of bully beef were thrown across no-man’s-land and into the enemy’s trenches. Peter tells these stories to deconstruct the mythology surrounding the Anzac story, to take us inside the reality of war. His book is fascinating stuff and I found talking to him equally fascinating (the Kiwis will love him for what he says). Don’t miss his musings on what he’d say to ‘Charlie’ (Charles Bean) if he could take him to dinner.