From one of our most gifted storytellers, a novel about the impact of war on those left behind, set in Australia and Europe in 1918-19.
Kirsty Murray is the author of eleven novels for children and young adults, such as Market Blues, Walking Home with Marie-Claire, the 'Children of the Wind' quartet of historical fiction, Vulture's Gate, India Dark, and The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie. Her books have won numerous awards, including the WA Premier's Award and the NSW Premier's History Award. She has been a Creative Fellow of the State Library of Victoria and an Asialink Literature Resident in South India. She lives in Melbourne in a house full of books and spooky puppets.
The day Tiney Flynn turns seventeen, bells ring out over Adelaide to announce the end of World War One. Tiney and her sisters go into the city to join the celebrations, and there follows a six month hiatus as the world leaders negotiate peace. Soldiers are returning home, some damaged and many changed. Tiney’s sister, Nette, marries a soldier who takes up a soldier settler farm at Cobdogla in the Murraylands. Thea goes to Art School while Tiney and Minna help prepare for a masked ball to celebrate peace. But the family is still subjected to prejudice because of their German heritage. During the day, Tiney works at the Cheer-Up hut, where soldiers can find some companionship but Tiney begins to find this cheerless, as the long peace negotiations drag out. They are devastated when they learn that their son and brother, Louis has been killed in France within weeks of Armistace. Her father hides in his study putting together a scrapbook of their brother’s life and Tiney gets the idea that the family should go to Europe to find their brother’s grave to bring them some relief from their overwhelming grief.
In the background, we see the girls coping with a changed world. Tiney’s world becomes smaller as her sisters leave home and is ecstatic when her aunt and uncle give her the money to accompany friends of the family in their search for their dead son’s grave. Her dream has been realised.The reality of war hits hard as she walks across battlefields with bodies being exhumed for reburial, discovers mass graves, bombed villages and people like her searching for their war dead. This is a wonderfully astute look at the changing fortunes of young women at the end of the war, a time of change for them as well as society as a whole. The story of Tiney and her sisters reflects many of these changes as Nette marries someone she really does not know, Minna escapes to Melbourne to avoid the unwanted overtures of a returned soldier, and Thea goes to art school, where her friend, Seb commits suicide.
The determination of Tiney in bringing some sense to her family after their momentous loss holds them together in a time of desperate need. And at the same time, Tiney develops as a person, going from a naive seventeen-year-old to a more politically aware, confident and assured young woman ready for the new world.Amongst the many books about Australia’s involvement in war, this is a standout. Not only a good story about one girl’s development, but a harrowing look at the family at home, desperate for news about their son at war, while the thread of their German heritage, reminds the readers that Australia is a land of immigrants, with some treated in a manner which does us no credit.
A wonderful stand alone, this book could also be used in a literature circle, in which a number of books with war as their theme are presented to a class. Secondary students will find Tiney’s story engrossing and, along the way, learn a lot about war and its impact on those at home. Murray has skilfully incorporated historical detail into the story, making this a luminous addition to the genre of historical fiction.
Fran Knight, Retired Teacher Librarian, Adelaide SA 5000
When exploring the Great War, storytellers have commonly focused their energies upon depicting the horrors experienced by soldiers on the battlefield and, to a lesser extent, the role of women (Vera Brittain) acting in medical service roles. However, it is the period after the armistice, particularly from the Australian context, that has been scantly covered in literature. Kirsty Murray’s story The Year It All Ended explores the aftermath of this significant episode in history, through the eyes of a 17-year-old Australian girl Tiney Flynn. Tiney lives in Adelaide and begins her story describing the overwhelming joy of Armistice Day. This elation is swiftly overshadowed by the homecoming of survivors; men whose lives are irrevocably impaired by their physical and emotional injuries. The war has left Australia facing economic and social challenges further complicated by the Spanish influenza epidemic. The new age that Tiney enters is both scary and exciting and it is one where the hopes and dreams for her future are uncertain.
The Year It All Ended effectively supports the Australian Curriculum for History, specifically at Year 9 level. In this situation, excerpts of the text might be utilised for close reading to investigate the period of history described. Although time constraints may limit a complete examination of the text, this could be offered to select students as an extension task within this subject. Similarly, the story could operate as an engaging text for class study within English, and if undertaken at Year 9 or 10, provides numerous opportunities for cross-curricular links to History. The story delivers obvious comparisons to war poetry (Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen), film (Gallipoli), or other war novels depicting the period (All Quiet on the Western Front). Furthermore, senior students might find this an appealing text for independent analysis, and one that is effortlessly paired with the likes of Jackie French’s A Rose for the ANZAC Boys (Allen & Unwin, 2008). Written in sensitive prose, The Year It All Ended is an emotionally moving account of Australia poised precariously on the edge of social change.
Tanya Grech Welden, Secondary English/History Teacher, Gleeson College SA 5125
With the centenary of the commencement of WW1 this year, it is pleasing to see a story which focuses on the lives of young women during this time, and the impact of the loss of brothers, cousins and husbands on families on the other side of the world from the battlegrounds.Through Tiney’s eyes, we experience the difficulties of life in Australia with so many young men absent. Aspects not often remembered include the consequences on German migrant families, of which there were many in areas like the Barossa Valley, and the internment of many men of German and Italian heritage. Also the disastrous effects of the influenza epidemic which spread throughout the world in the aftermath of the war, and the calamity which was the resettlement of soldiers and their families in most inappropriate farming areas.
The character of Tiney – feisty, caring, thoughtful and strong – develops as she grows from teenager to young woman in a way that many female readers will relate to. Her desire to play her part, and to relive the last weeks of her dead brother’s life lead her on a brave quest to the battlefields of Belgium and France.My only criticism might be that too many issues were canvassed through the lives of the Flynn family. Kirsty’s research was very thorough but maybe too much was included here at the detriment of character development? A small quibble.
Heather Boundy, Woodleigh School, Langwarrin South VIC 3911
The Year It All Ended begins with a childhood of innocence, a metaphor for Australia prior to World War 1. It then jumps forward to Armistice, the year the war ended along with Australia’s innocence. The story follows Tiney Flynn’s discovery of a changing world, as she moves from adolescence to adulthood. It intricately blends fact and fiction to also take the reader on a journey that explores not only the issues for the whole country, but the trials faced by the women who were left behind.This novel deals with post-traumatic stress, suicide, financial hardships, readjustments and grief that followed the war, along with the new found independence of Australian women. While this is a book about grief and the loss of innocence, it is also about joy and survival in a changing world.
The Year It All Ended is ideal for senior English classes but would be particularly beneficial in NSW classrooms as it deals with the concepts of journey, change and discovery. As a related text for the new HSC Area of Study, the novel explores the world’s discovery that everything has changed, the changes in the returned soldiers, Tiney’s physical discovery of her lost brother, cousin and their secrets, her discovery of her own inner strength, as well as the reader’s discovery of the rapidly changing laws post World War 1 (such as reminders that prior to the end of the war, women in Australia were legally required to leave their jobs once they married).
Bernadette Coppock, Heathcote High School, NSW 2233
The Flynn family is central to this story, especially 17-year-old Tiney. Like many other families in wartime Australia, this family and the people around them had to make great adjustments during and after the First World War.After effectively establishing the characters and the time (1918) The Year It All Ended moves on to ‘what happens next’. The book covers the excitement of armistice celebrations, the relief of all that the war has ended and the realisation of loss as told through the eyes of Tiney Flynn. It is Tiney’s perspective which makes the book particularly accessible to teenage girls as she comes to terms with a very different future from the one she might have imagined.The Year It All Ended offers the reader a realistic feeling for the time while addressing the role of the women who were left to deal with the domestic aftermath of war. Readers are often presented with stories about the men and women who fought or nursed those who fought far away from home. This book values the emotions of those who waited and shows the reader many of the ways people of this era dealt with their emotions.
It would be an appropriate book for English, History and Issues classes at a secondary level. Students could research or write:
• Placing themselves in the role of any of the characters and writing about how they felt.
• Making comparisons between the effects of modern war and how families feel who have lost a son or daughter in modern day battles.
• The effects of the great time delay in getting any news faced by those in 1918.
• The role of women in Victoria in 1918.
• The relationship between the First World War and the rise of suffragettes.
• It is a particularly interesting book for boys of 15 plus to read to help them understand how families feel when their sons don’t come home.
Alexia Gibbons, Teacher Librarian, Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School, Ivanhoe VIC 3079
It is Martina’s (Tiney) birthday, 11 November, and there is great excitement in Adelaide. A rumour that the war is over is spreading like wild fire and the Premier is set to make an official announcement.After four long years, the war has finally ended. Tiney thinks now that it is all over, everything can go back to normal, the young men will come home and things would be as they were before; but that is not the reality.The reality is completely unexpected for Tiney and her family; they find out that Louis was killed a few months before the Armistice, but they don’t hear about it until almost Christmas. The soldiers coming back are quarantined because of the Spanish Flu, so they don’t arrive for many months, and many of them are changed physically, mentally or both. They cannot find work and schemes to help them back into the workforce that the government had promised are not in place. They are lost, angry and many cannot cope.
Life for Tiney and her three sisters turns out very differently from what they had imagined before the war. Nette marries Ray who has returned from the war damaged physically and mentally, Minna leaves Adelaide suddenly without a word of explanation, Thea falls in love with a wonderful man but he cannot cope with the after effects of the war and takes his own life. Tiney’s parents are having trouble coping with so many upheavals to the family. More than anything Tiney wants to go to France with her family to find her brother’s grave, she believes that this will help heal the family.After Tiney recovers from a serious illness, she is sent to her Aunt and Uncle in the country to recover, and when her cousin Paul suddenly leaves for Germany vowing never to return, a family decision is made to send Tiney to France in the hope of finding Louis’ grave and perhaps she can also find cousin Will’s grave, who was conscripted into the Germany Army while studying in Germany, and her cousin Paul. There is also photo of the woman and baby that Louis had in his personal effects, can she find out who she is and how she is connected to Louis? Tiney’s travels, almost a year after the end of the war, give a very confronting view of how devastating the war was and what a monumental effort is needed to rebuild after such an event, it also brings some much needed closure for her and her family.
This is a wonderful book that illustrates the effects of war on ordinary people, and is very appropriate as this year is the 100th anniversary of the commencement of WW1.
Jan O’Sullivan, Library Technician, Yarra Hills Secondary College, Mooroolbark VIC 3138
I loved reading this Australian War novel. Written from the point of view of a young girl, it clearly depicts the effects of war on the families of those who went away to fight for the 'motherland' in World War One, whether that was England or Germany. The minutiae of life for girls and women of the time is keenly observed and presented in a detail which enriches the reading experience. It is a 'coming of age' story, set in my adopted home town, and accurately depicts city and rural scenes in South Australia, particularly the Barossa Valley, which are still recognisable. We are currently experiencing the beauty of the Jacaranda fall in Adelaide, and this strong image resonated with me early in the novel. The setting is both familiar and strange, particularly with respect to transport and communication modes, and social attitudes towards girls and women.
The central character is one of five sisters, as am I, and is called 'Tiney' by her family, since she was actually very small, as well as being the youngest. Tiney idolises her brother and her cousin, both of a similar age, both passionate, exciting young men. We witness Tiney’s doubts, questioning, experiments, and growth, and how she changes during the events, travels, and experiences of this rich novel. As a novel which is about girls and women of the times, Murray also gives us other stories of the life journeys of Tiney's sisters, adding social detail such as the Returned Soldiers Settlement programmes, and of the love stories of the sisters.
Murray provides a clear perspective on the lives of citizens of a country which is still almost a ‘colony’, a nation caught up in a World War just after independence. Australia is part of the British Empire, fiercely loyal to Mother England, but with immigrants from other nations equally fiercely loyal to them, including to the enemy nation of Germany. The politics are presented with empathy and with that sense of justice and ‘doing the right thing’ that comes naturally to many when they are young. Through the parallel actions of the two cousins, Louis and Will, and to a lesser extent Paul, we see the difficulties faced by young men who feel honour bound to serve. We also see the torn emotions of the families; those who love the young men they are almost certainly doomed to lose.
Helen Wilde, Hectorville, SA 5073
Kirsty Murray takes her readers on a moving, challenging ride through the dusty, war-torn roads around Adelaide and the Barossa. The depth of the year is only revealed as the story unfolds. Inspired by the poetry of Dame Mary Gilmore, The Year it all Ended takes a detour into the fabric of society in South Australia – a state with a strong German cultural tradition – and the impact patriotism had on relationships. Having been to the Western Front on a study tour to find lost relatives, I found the novel especially captivating. I could empathise each step of the journey. In all the fervour of the Centenary of World War I and the lead-up the Centenary of the Gallipoli Landing, Murray has produced a sensitive, gently confronting novel which delves into the heart of society and the issues facing it in times of conflict.
Novels provide a window for the teacher. The view each teacher and each student gets from that window is different. In the classroom I would be developing an integrated unit which incorporated the poetry of poets at home, both during and after the conflict(s) – such as Mary Gilmore – a study of demographics in Australia – the ethnic make-up of our communities; nomenclature around the time of the First World War; and our community’s ‘contribution’ to the war in volunteers and lives – and an investigation into Soldier Settlements with the aim of evaluating their success as a social experiment in rehabilitation, for example.Murray’s novel provides much food for thought in discussing what and how our attitudes and values are shaped. As such, it is a wonderful book just to share with students on a Friday afternoon as they draw, doodle or write in journals in response to what they hear!
Michael Cruickshank, Hellyer College, Tasmania